What Is the Best Family Plan?

If you want a cellphone plan for multiple lines, the best choice for families comes from T-Mobile. Unlike other carriers that make people draw from the same shared pool of data, T-Mobile gives each person in a family plan their own pool of data — and it’s unlimited data, too (though with one important caveat about streaming video). 

If you don’t need unlimited data — or don’t want to stream video at lower resolution —, Verizon’s family plan is a compelling alternative, on the strength of that carrier’s superior network. Verizon’s family plans are reasonably priced, as its 16GB shared data plan costs $170 per month, once you include the access fees you’ll be required to pay access fees for each phone on the plan.

How We Picked the Best Family Plan: To compare carriers, we assembled plans for a family of four. You can opt for family plans for as few as two lines and as many as 10 with the major carriers. In addition to price, we also considered the reach and performance of a carrier’s network, including our own 4G network testing.

MORE: Best All-Around Phone Carrier

Top Family Plan: T-Mobile

Best Plan: Unlimited data, $160

Who Should Get T-Mobile: Families who want unlimited data and don’t mind lower-resolution video streaming

T-Mobile is our choice for the best family plan, thanks to its pool of unlimited data for every member of the family and its host of extras.

T-Mobile is phasing out tiered data plans in favor of unlimited data. For families, the carrier charges $70 for the first line, $50 for the second and $30 for each subsequent line up to eight lines. That would mean a family of four would pay $160.

The catch is T-Mobile’s unlimited plan streams video at 480p, a lower resolution that the carrier says is “DVD quality” and good enough on smartphone-sized screens. If you want higher-quality video, you’ll have to pay $25 a month per line — which can add up for families.

T-Mobile’s T-Mobile One unlimited plan is available starting Sept. 6. Until then, you can still get one of T-Mobile’s tiered data plans, though a plan that gives each family member 10GB of data would cost a family of four $160 — the same cost as the T-Mobile One unlimited plan (though without the restriction on video streaming).

MORE: Best 4G Data Service: 9 Carriers Tested

Best Alternative: Verizon

Best Plan: 16GB shared data plan, $170

Who Should Get Verizon: Families who want the best network coverage and flexible data options

The reach of Verizon’s network makes it a compelling alternative to T-Mobile, even with the Uncarrier now dangling unlimited data at potential customers.

Verizon subscribers share data from one pool. That makes the carrier’s 16GB, $90 monthly plan the most compelling for families of four. (A two-line family could likely get by with Verizon’s 8GB, $70 monthly plan.)

You need to factor in Verizon’s access fees, though — $20 for each phone on a plan. The extra $80 in access fees would bring a family of four’s monthly bill to $170 for 16GB of shared data.

Verizon has another incentive for customers to switch to its higher data plan. Opt for an 8GB plan or higher and the carrier will add an extra 2GB per line each month for as long that line remains active. Verizon also started allowing you to roll-over unused data on its new plans, meaning any data you have left over at the end of the month get tacked on to next month's allotment.

Unlimited Alternative: Sprint

Best Plan: Unlimited data, $160

Who Should Get Sprint:Sprint customers who want unlimited data

Sprint still lets its subscribers choose between tiered data plans and unlimited data, but given how low its priced the Sprint Unlimited plan, it’s an easy choice for families. Like T-Mobile, Sprint charges a family of four $160 a month for unlimited data. (The math getting there is slightly different: The first line costs $60, the second line costs $40 and each subsequent line costs $30.) Also like T-Mobile, your streaming video will be throttled down to 480p; Sprint also throttles streaming music and gaming.  

If that sounds unappealing, a 12GB shared data plan would cost a family of four $140 — $60 for the plan, plus the $20-per-line access fee Sprint charges for tiered data plans. You’ll get to watch video at full resolution, but the trade-off is Sprint's network, which lagged behind other carriers in our performance testing.

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Other Options: AT&T

Best Plan: 10GB shared data plan, $160

Who Should Get AT&T: Families that can take advantage of DirecTV bundles

Unless you live in an area with stellar AT&T coverage or you also subscribe to AT&T’s DirecTV satellite TV service, there are few compelling reasons to consider AT&T’s family plans.

As with Verizon’s family plans, you share one pool of data with AT&T. But AT&T’s plans are more stinting with data. A 10GB plan costs $80 a month, but adding the $20 access fee for each device, raises the total bill for a family of four to $160. For $10 a month, you can get a 16GB pool of data, matching Verizon’s best plan but without the bonus data Big Red dangles.

AT&T does offer an unlimited plan for wireless customers who also subscribe to either DirecTV or U-Verse for their TV service. The first line of this unlimited plan costs $100, with additional lines costing $40 each. However, AT&T currently credits the price of a fourth line on your bill, meaning a family of four could get unlimited data for $180 a month, access fees included, if AT&T provides their TV service, too.

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  • Rocketwoman
    Verizon's XL plan is a scam...a true bait and switch. Just switched to their XL plan in mid-November 2015. Promised 12GB data for $80 per month with a $20 per line access fee for a total of $160 per month for 4 phones. Just called them as the bill has been incorrect since signing up showing a $40 per line access fee per month not the $20 fee per line. After 85 minutes on the phone with Verizon customer service with much of the time on hold, was told by the supervisor that the $20 line access fee was a mistake on their part and we should look at page 17 of our bill that explains they are correcting their error and charging $40 instead. Looking to file an FCC complaint on this. If there's another route we should take we would love advice. This is just so infuriating to have such a large company advertise their new and improved plans since August 2015 to have this rip-off happen.
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  • gllecarp
    MetroPCS now includes the mobile hotspot with the rest of the service at no additional charge.
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  • Julie_20
    I had the WORST experience with Cricket. Placed my order online, they billed me, and the phone never came. They debited my account, credited it, then debited it again. When I called, because I hadn't written down the order number(because on the order confirmation page it says "don't have a pen, don't worry, we'll send you an email with your order number....which never came) they couldn't look up anything. I got bumped from department to department and person to person, all the while they talked to me off those scripts they use. They literally made it my, the customer, responsibility to supply a way for them to look up my order that was based on their system. Not something I could tell them about myself.They said without the order number, their was absolutely nothing they could do, though they could charge me $160. Finally they told me to dispute it with my bank. It was the most frustrating customer service experience I've ever had and I will never subject myself to risking that kind of absurdity again.
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  • John Marcotte
    I think best cell phone that is popularly known to a smartphone these days plan should consider the budget of your phone first. If you are not getting back your product after placing it online then you have right to lodge a complaint against it.
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  • Andy_51
    The info on Straight talks network in this article is inaccurate. Straight Talk works on Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and TMobile towers depending on which sim you use from the activation kit. With that added info it makes it a no contest and over all best value in wireless 10 GB of high speed data on nations best network unlimited national calling and texts for $55 per month is the best over all value / deal in wireless right now.
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  • tsteele93
    Andy_51, what are you talking about. I see nothing about anything called straight talk in the article. Are you spamming or has something been redacted from the article?
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  • Jim_50
    This is NONSENSE! T-Mobile & Sprint have HORRIBLE coverage...totally horrible, especially in the rural south!

    Cricket has nationwide coverage and for $65 a month, including all fees and taxes, you can get truly unlimited with NO CAP and no throttling no matter how much you use.

    How much are these other companies paying "Tom's Guide" for his twisted and untrue ratings?
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  • khtechster
    To be fair to Tom's Guide, they probably test the networks in highly populated areas with good coverage. Assuming all of them have great coverage while testing, they will most likely perform better than Cricket because Cricket throttles download and upload speeds to 8mbps and 4mbps respectively. So, all they have to do to "perform better" is beat those speeds.
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  • mjvidify
    How low can you go? First rule: Get a land line. Use it 90% when your at home. Second Rule: T-Mobile prepaid with the cheapest phone you can find. Put $100 (1,000 min) on it and be frugal how you use the minutes. When you roll over towards the end of your year they will give you an additional 18 % in time. You are now a Gold Standing Customer. Go figure! T-Mobile now has a $30 a month plan: Unlimited text and data and 100 minutes of talk. Now use all your extra savings and time and go live life. Or give all your money to your service provider for which they in return will give you cancer, you die, they get rich. Your choice.

    Seems like common sense to me but then common sense isn't common.
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  • Dee_4_
    I visited my local Cricket Wireless store on May 12th 2016. I told the store clerk that I'm flying out to jamaica and would like to make calls from Jamaica to Louisiana. He said we can do that and the international plan is $15. I was unable to make any calls. I contacted Cricket while in Jamaica was told to go into a Cricket store in Jamaica after being transferred several times. That call to the U.S. cost $3 per minute which lasted 10 minutes. I contacted Cricket and went into the store after I arrived back home from vacation. I was told the international plan is only good for calling to Jamaica and they refused to credit my account.
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  • thlhome99
    I didn't know that comparing the price of a T-Mobile plan with 40gb of LTE data was an apples to apples comparison with Verizon's 16gb plan. Am I wrong?
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  • Lynne_B
    Straight talk with AT&T does not have visual voicemail and to make it even worse, they block using a 3rd party visual voice mail app.

    Cricket only pushes OS updates to a very small number of phones, my son has a Galaxy 5 active that is still stuck on 4.4.2 because Cricket doesn't update that phone and Samsung does not have a downloadable update for it, so he has to sign up for AT&T prepaid to get the OS updated, for the few dollars he saves with Cricket I think he will probably just stay with AT&T prepaid.

    Boost is great, it's super cheap and they are quite helpful, the downside is that it is Sprint UGH.
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  • Gerry Allen
    Leaving out Consumer Cellular is simply silly. Great plans, bring your own unlocked (no charge SIM) and the best customer service in the business. Consumer Cellular uses the AT&T network for excellent coverage nation-wide.
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