14 Best Cheap and Free Online Dating Sites and Apps

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happy woman sending love text message on mobile phone with red hearts
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With the explosion of dating sites and apps, it seems like it would be easier than ever to leave the lonely hearts club behind. But looking for love online can be head-spinning. Is it worth it to sign up for a subscription when there are so many free dating websites and mobile apps? Are the biggest dating sites the best dating sites, or will a niche service make the experience less overwhelming? The answers, of course, depend on what you're looking for. We've brought together 14 of the best dating sites and apps, both free and paid.
man looking at his mobile phone while sitting on couch
Photo credit: tommaso79/istockphoto

There are plenty of dating sites and apps where you can look for love for free, leaving you more cash to put toward showing your date a good time. But keep in mind that free services have their downsides: They tend to attract more scammers who are after your money, not your heart, and users who aren't looking for anything more serious than a hookup. Some of the newer dating apps try to bolster their credibility by requiring users to connect their Facebook accounts, but that can be a no-go for anyone concerned about privacy. Also, it's common for free dating sites to tempt users with a paid premium membership that offers extra features. Think critically about whether you'll actually see any benefit before forking over your credit card number.
Tinder
Photo credit: Courtesy of play.google.com

Best Dating App for Casual Encounters

Pros:
- Liking or passing on potential matches is as easy as swiping right or left.
- Users have to pay only for premium features, such as the ability to undo errant swipes.
- Tremendous popularity means there are lots of members in most areas, not just in major cities.

Cons:
- Swipe-based platform puts a lot of emphasis on looks and encourages users to make snap judgments.
- May not be the best choice for those who want a more serious relationship.
- Users over 30 are charged more for premium features, although that may be changing: A California appeals court ruled that the pricing violates anti-discrimination law.

Takeaway: Tinder has become an archetypal dating app in part because it's so easy to use: Swipe left to pass, swipe right to like, and hope that potential matches swipe right, too. That ease of use also puts Tinder firmly in the realm of casual dating and hookups. In one sense it's like a modern "Hot or Not" that emphasizes beauty over brains. Still, everyone is doing it, so it's worth a try (or swipe).

Coffee Meets Bagel
Photo credit: Courtesy of play.google.com

Best Free Dating App for Serious Relationships

Pros:
- Users have to pay only for premium features, such as the ability to see how often potential matches chat with others, and when they have been active.
- Focuses on connections with friends of friends, which may add a feeling of extra security for some users.
- Reputation for cultivating long-lasting relationships instead of hookups and flings.

Cons:
- Shows users relatively few potential matches each day (men see 21; women see only five members who have already expressed interest in them).
- At $35 a month, the premium service is quite expensive compared with other free dating apps' upgrades.
- Reliance on Facebook for creating matches may lead to uncomfortable encounters with old acquaintances.

Takeaway: Coffee Meets Bagel is a go-to app for users open to something long-term. It caps the potential matches you can evaluate every day, so this isn't the app for swipe-happy users looking for tons of profiles to judge in seconds. The app's strategy of mining your Facebook connections to match you with people who travel in similar circles is a pro for those turned off by meeting someone "random" but a con for those who want to branch out or have privacy concerns.

Bumble
Photo credit: Courtesy of play.google.com

Best Dating App for Women

Pros:
- Users have to pay only for premium features, such as seeing who has liked their profile.
- Women have to initiate communication, potentially cutting down on harassment.
- Photo verification helps certify that profiles are real.
- Features platonic "Bumble BFF" mode where users can try to expand their circle of friends.
- Liking or passing on potential matches is as easy as swiping the screen.

Cons:
- Unless they pay for a premium subscription, women have only 24 hours to start a conversation before a match is lost (either person can make the first move in same-sex matches).
- Men may not like being forced to wait for women to show interest.

Takeaway: Like Tinder, easy-to-use Bumble lets users swipe to show their interest, but with a twist: If two users match, it's up to the woman to make the first move. In theory, this helps ensure a more even level of interest between men and women, since women are typically pickier when it comes to potential matches. The "BFF" mode is also a nice bonus for users looking to meet new friends, no romantic strings attached.

Happn
Photo credit: Courtesy of play.google.com

Best Dating App for Big City Dwellers

Pros:
- Unique approach to matching connects users who have crossed paths offline.
- Integrates with Instagram and Spotify to flesh out users' personalities.
- Requires users to "like" each other before allowing them to connect, helping ameliorate security concerns.

Cons:
- Since physical proximity is a big part of how the app works, users outside of cities (or those who prefer to stay home) may not have as many possible matches.
- A bad Happn match may make some users feel like they need to change their daily routine to avoid bumping into other users.
- No option to search for potential matches.

Takeaway: Happn is an interesting spin on dating, especially for urban dwellers with a romantic streak. It uses GPS to track your whereabouts and connect you with others nearby, aiming to replicate the chance encounters of dating yore with modern technology. But some people may be uncomfortable letting a dating app track their every move, and users who don't live in densely populated areas may find it an impractical way to find dates.

four people taking part in cooking class
Photo credit: izusek/istockphoto

Best Site/App for Platonic Relationships

Pros:
- Free for those who simply want to browse and join interest-based or social groups (although some group organizers charge their members dues or other fees).
- Large, diverse user base, even outside of big metro areas.
- Finding interesting meetups is easy with location- and interest-based searches.

Cons:
- Most member profiles don't contain a lot of information, limiting the amount users know about other group members before meeting them in person.
- Users who want to start their own meetups must pay organizers' dues starting at about $10 a month.

Takeaway: There are several friendship-focused apps out there, but many are thinly veiled hookup or dating apps. With local groups aimed at just about every interest or hobby you can think of, Meetup encourages platonic relationships with like-minded people -- unless, of course, you specifically join a group for singles (and there are plenty).

Plenty of Fish
Photo credit: Courtesy of pof.com

Good Free Dating Site Overall

Pros:
- Users have to pay only for premium features, such as the ability to add more images, see if emails were read, and browse ad-free.
- One of the largest user bases among mainstream dating sites, so there are likely to be lots of members in most areas, even outside of major cities.
- Powerful search functions let users be very specific about what they want in potential dates.
- Matchmaking personality tests.

Cons:
- Relatively quick sign-up process and no financial commitment make this a tempting service for scammers and those who want only quick hookups.
- Clunky site and app can be frustrating to use.

Takeaway: Since it's free and well-known, Plenty of Fish remains an especially good option for those who just want to dip a toe in the water of online dating. Although no one will say this site is easy on the eyes, it uses both detailed searches and personality tests to help find a perfect match. As with any free site, however, scammers can be a problem.

OkCupid
Photo credit: Courtesy of okcupid.com

Best Free Dating Site Overall

Pros:
- Users have to pay for only premium features, such as ad-free browsing and the ability to use the site while invisible to others.
- Robust matching algorithm as well as relatively specific search options.
- Detailed profiles do a good job of spotlighting users' personalities, taking some of the focus off looks.
- Zany matchmaking questions and features such as being able to see your "enemies" make the site feel a little more fun than the competition.
- Myriad gender and orientation options.

Cons:
- Relatively quick sign-up process and no financial commitment can make the site tempting for scammers and those who want only quick hookups.
- Recent decision to require users to go by their real names instead of usernames has spurred some backlash.

Takeaway: OkCupid has been around for quite a while, amassing a large and loyal user base. Its quirky profiles and personality questions make matching about more than looks (although it's worth noting that, as a free site, it attracts plenty of users who are after only a fling, too). It remains one of the best spots to look for love without forking over any cash.

person on both laptop and phone with hearts coming out
Photo credit: tolgart/istockphoto

With some online dating services, it's free to join and see who's out there, but you have to pony up for a paid membership to actually connect or communicate with anyone. Why pay when there are so many free dating sites and apps? For one, a financial commitment helps boost the chances that other users are serious about finding love -- or a date, at least. Paid sites often have larger member bases and more robust search or matchmaking features, as well.

Still, paid services are definitely not immune to criticism -- if anything, users' critiques are more brutal when money is on the line. One common complaint is that users sign up and find a bevy of inactive users or fake dating profiles, which some members suspect are there simply to lure them into a paid membership. Another frequent refrain: tricky subscription fees that automatically renew, sometimes even after users ask to cancel.

eHarmony
Photo credit: Courtesy of eharmony.com

Best Paid Dating Site for Serious Relationships
Price: $35/month for 6 months

Pros:
- Matching algorithm aims to boost the chances of a successful relationship by pairing users who have common priorities and compatible personality traits.
- Detailed sign-up process might help deter scammers and those looking for quick hookups.
- After 3 months, eHarmony gives unsatisfied users another 3 months free, subject to certain conditions.

Cons:
- Hefty subscription fee; this is one of the priciest dating sites out there.
- Users don't have an option to search; they have to put a lot of faith in the site's matching algorithm.
- Those looking for same-sex relationships are forced to use a separate site (called Compatible Partners).

Takeaway: EHarmony loves to tout its matchmaking system, with pages and pages of success stories from married couples who happily attest that it worked for them. So long as you're willing to pay the high price and be patient -- this isn't the place to find nightly hookups -- eHarmony is worth a shot for those who want something serious.

Elite Singles
Photo credit: Courtesy of elitesingles.com

Best Dating Site for Picky Professionals
Price: $28/month for 6 months

Pros:
- Highly educated user base; the site boasts that about 4 out of 5 members have a college degree.
- Detailed sign-up process might help deter scammers and those looking for quick hookups.
- Does a good job identifying users' "deal breakers" by having them answer lots of questions about potential mates.

Cons:
- Smaller than more mainstream sites, so users might not see many matches, especially outside of urban areas.
- No option to search for others; users have to put a lot of faith in the site's matching algorithm.
- App is reportedly glitchy and has fewer capabilities than the desktop version.

Takeaway: This European import uses an extensive personality test that focuses on fostering deeper connections, somewhat like eHarmony. It's cheaper than eHarmony and lacks the ultra-conservative stigma the better-known site has developed, but as a relative newcomer, Elite Singles may not offer a deep enough pool of potential matches for some.

Christian Mingle
Photo credit: Courtesy of christianmingle.com

Best Dating Site for Christians
Price: $15/month for 6 months

Pros:
- As one of the largest faith-based dating sites, it gives users who don't want to date non-Christians more chances to find a good match.
- A number of ways to connect, including personality tests and traditional searches.
- Less expensive than larger, mainstream dating sites like eHarmony.
- Only members who have recently logged in turn up in searches, helping users steer clear of inactive member profiles.

Cons:
- Has its share of glitches and is prone to crashing, reviews warn.
- Users who want to send messages to all members, not just paid subscribers, must upgrade to a pricier premium plan.

Takeaway: Although Christian singles definitely shouldn't ignore mainstream sites like eHarmony, those who put their faith first might not want to waste time filtering out those who don't. A recent redesign has given Christian Mingle a fresh new look, although users report some annoying ease-of-use issues like the having to re-scroll through profiles they had already skipped.

OurTime
Photo credit: Courtesy of ourtime.com

Best Dating Site for Over 50
Price: $15/month for 6 months

Pros:
- As one of the largest dating sites for seniors, it's ideal for those who are focused on finding someone who has more life experience.
- Connects users in multiple ways, including daily handpicked matches, traditional searches, and even Tinder-style swiping.
- Users who don't want to commit to a paid membership can still use some advanced features, such being notified when certain users log on, by buying single-use tokens.
- Streamlined, easy-to-use interface and simple sign-up are geared toward seniors who may find online dating a little overwhelming.

Cons:
- Reviewers report problems with inactive or fishy profiles and too many spammy emails.
- Senior dating sites may be a particularly tempting target for scammers who ultimately want to fleece lonely singles.

Takeaway: While seniors are likely to find a lot of older users on large, mainstream sites, OurTime caters exclusively to the over-50 crowd. This traditional dating site offers a fairly robust menu of features for users, who can search or rely on a matchmaking algorithm. It also suffers from the usual complaints about scammers and fake profiles.

Hinge
Photo credit: Courtesy of play.google.com

Best Dating App for Skeptics
Price: $7/month

Pros:
- Focuses on connections with friends of friends, which may add a feeling of extra security for some users; users can also suggest matches for their friends.
- Instead of quickly swiping through, users are encouraged to directly interact with others' profiles to show interest in them.
- Profiles fuse Instagram-like visuals and "getting to know you" questions in a way that allows users to show their personalities.
- Unique "Your Turn" feature can help keep conversations going by nudging other users to respond.

Cons:
- Requires all users to pay a monthly fee after a free trial.
- Not as popular as competing dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, which may mean less selection, especially outside of large cities.

Takeaway: The recently revamped Hinge dating app is trying to differentiate itself from swipe-happy Tinder and its ilk by forcing users to slow down and consider the profile in front of them. That's meant to take the focus off hookups and put it on relationship potential. It also mines real-world connections for matches, which could comfort some potential users who are wary of meeting total strangers.

Zoosk
Photo credit: Courtesy of zoosk.com

Good Paid Dating Site/App Overall
Price: $12.49/month for 6 months

Pros:
- One of the least expensive options among mainstream paid dating sites.
- Established service with millions of users, making it a good bet even for those who don't live in a large city.
- Refines potential matches based not only on answers to questions but also on users' actions on the site.

Cons:
- Search options aren't as detailed as on some competing sites.
- Some users have reported issues with fake profiles and too many spammy emails.
- "Zoosk coins," which are available at an additional cost, are required for some premium features.

Takeaway: Zoosk is a solid option with an appealing and easy-to-use interface for anyone who wants to try online dating. It has a more lighthearted, social feel than other sites, with a Tinder-like "carousel" and the ability to "wink" at someone to show interest. It's also less of an investment than competitors like eHarmony.

Match.com
Photo credit: Courtesy of match.com

Best Paid Dating Site Overall
Price: $19/month for 6 months

Pros:
- Boasts one of the largest user bases among mainstream dating websites, meaning there are likely to be lots of members in most areas, not just major cities.
- Powerful search functions let users be very specific about what they're looking for in potential dates.
- Detailed sign-up process might help deter scammers and those looking for quick hookups.
- After 6 months, Match gives unsatisfied users another 6 months free, subject to certain conditions.

Cons:
- Subscription fees can add up over time.
- Some users complain that they have to wade through too many inactive profiles; others have encountered fake profiles.

Takeaway: For many, online dating is about odds: The more members a site or an app has, the greater the chance of finding someone you click with. That's the main strength of Match.com: As one of the most established players, it's a ubiquitous presence on the online dating scene. It's also one of the most feature-rich platforms for users serious about finding someone special.

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