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. The carrier also offers generous data allotments and discounts as you add more lines, currently selling a $180 family plan for four lines and 10GB of data each. Based on our extensive analysis, 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: 10GB plan, $180

Who Should Get T-Mobile:Families who don’t want to share data

T-Mobile is our choice for the best family plan, thanks to its individual data pools, lack of access charges and frequent discounts for higher-data plans.

Typically, T-Mobile charges $50 a month for the first line of a family plan and $30 for the second line; any additional lines cost $10 a month each. A basic family plan includes 2GB of data for each line. You can also opt for 6GB (an extra $15 a month), 10GB ($30) or unlimited data ($45) for each line in the plan.

That would mean a family of four that opts for 10GB of data on each line would normally expect to pay $220 a month. Factor in T-Mobile’s discounts and current promotions, though, and the monthly price drops to $180. That’s a tremendous amount of data, especially since T-Mobile’s Data Stash program adds any unused data to next month’s allotment. Even if you go over your allotted data, T-Mobile simply throttles you down to 2G speeds, instead of charging you extra.

Families can also mix and match the size of each data bucket in their plan. Parents could assign themselves 10GB of data each month, but opt for a 2GB allotment on the other lines in the plan.

Families with heavy data needs should also check out the pricing on T-Mobile’s unlimited plans. Usually, a four-line unlimited plan would cost $280 a month, but current promotions lower that cost to $220.

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, particularly if you live in an area where Verizon outperforms its rival. Plus, Verizon’s attractive pricing makes it a compelling option for families.

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.

High-data users could consider the 24GB, $110-a-month Verizon plan, which also adds in a bonus 2GB of data. Factor in access fees, and a family of four would pay $190 a month. 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.

Lowest Cost Option: Sprint

Best Plan: 12GB shared data plan, $140

Who Should Get Sprint: Families who want to keep monthly costs down

Sprint gives subscribers a choice: Do you want a lower monthly bill or unlimited data? If the former, the carrier's best option for families is a 12GB shared plan. Add a $20 per line monthly access fee to the $60-a-month rate, and a family of four pays $140 — the lowest price in our comparison of family plans. The trade-off is Sprint's network, which lagged behind other carriers in our performance testing.

A 12GB shared plan should be more than enough data for a family of four, assuming each family member uses less than 3GB of data each. If you eat up a lot of data each month, though, consider Sprint's unlimited data plan. Sprint charges $75 for the first line of unlimited data, $45 for the second, and $30 for each line after that. That brings the cost to $180 for a family of four, which is less than what you'd pay for unlimited data at T-Mobile. Sprint's unlimited data offer is more compelling for families when the carrier waives the cost of the fourth line, as it's known to do on occasion.

MORE: Cellphone Support Showdown: Who Wins, Who Loses?

Other Options: AT&T

Best Plan:15GB 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 range of plans isn’t as flexible as Verizon’s: Low data users can opt for either 2GB ($30 a month) or 5GB ($50), while higher-data options start at 15GB ($100). That’s a big gap if you only anticipate using between 6 and 10GB of data.

AT&T further complicates things by varying the size of the access fee you have to pay for each device. Families with 5GB of data or less pay $25 a month per phone, while 15GB plans or more pay $15. (That’s if you buy your phone outright or on an installment plan; get a subsidized phone under a two-year agreement, and you’ll pay $40 per month in access fees. Don’t do that.)

Factor in access fees, and a family of four would pay $160 a month for a 15GB shared data plan. A 5GB plan would cost $150 for that same family. Obviously, the 15GB option is the more attractive one, even if it doesn’t measure up to other carriers.

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.

Create a new thread in the Wireless Carriers forum about this subject
    Your comment
  • 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.
  • MetroPCS now includes the mobile hotspot with the rest of the service at no additional charge.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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.