Product Use case Rating
T-Mobile Best Postpaid Family Plan N/A
Verizon N/A
Sprint N/A

What Is the Best Family Plan?

If you want a cellphone plan for multiple lines, unlimited data is the way to go. And the best choice for families comes down to T-Mobile. The Uncarrier offers a compelling mix of unlimited data at an affordable price, provided you're willing to live with restrictions on video streaming.

Still, Verizon's new unlimited data plan is a compelling alternative. Verizon lets you stream video at 720p and it offers 10GB of LTE Hotspot data. (To get those features from T-Mobile, you'll need to pay an extra $5 per month per line; for a family of four, that means T-Mobile's plan would cost as much as Verizon's.) Verizon also boasts a far-reaching network, though T-Mobile is narrowing the performance gap.

Sprint's best option is an unlimited plan, too, particularly if you can take advantage of one of that carrier's frequent specials. AT&T now offers unlimited data to new subscribers, too, but you'll need to decide whether you want a lower-priced plan or the ability to stream video at HD resolution.

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

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. For families, T-Mobile charges $70 for the first line if you sign up for auto-pay. (Otherwise, tack on another $5 a month to each line.) The second line costs $50 while subsequent lines cost $20 for each subsequent line up to eight lines. That would mean a family of four would pay $160. T-Mobile occasionally offers discounts on that fourth line, so check the carrier's site for the latest pricing.

MORE: The Best Phones Available at T-Mobile

Another factor that makes T-Mobile's plan attractive: the carrier says the price takes fees and taxes into account, so the price it advertises is the one you'll see on your bill at the end of the month.

We wish T-Mobile still included HD video streaming and LTE hotspot data in its T-Mobile One plan. Instead, T-Mobile's standard unlimited data plan caps video streaming at 480p resolution and gives you unlimited hotspot data capped at 3G speeds. For many users that won't matter, and for the ones who do value those features, T-Mobile One Plus offers HD video streaming and 10GB of LTE hotspot data for an extra $5 per month for each line. (T-Mobile One Plus also includes unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi through Gogo.) Another tier, T-Mobile One Plus International, throws in unlimited calling from the U.S to landlines in 70-plus countries and mobile numbers in 30-plus countries for $25 per month per line on top of the standard T-Mobile One rate.

MORE: Best 4G Data Service: 9 Carriers Tested

Best Alternative: Verizon

Best Plan: Unlimited Data Plan, $180

Who Should Get Verizon: Families who want top network coverage with unlimited data

Verizon was the lone holdout among the big carriers when it came to unlimited data, but that's changed. Now Verizon offers an unlimited data plan that, when you factor in access fees for each line, would cost a family of four $180 each month. That figure doesn't include taxes, though — a noteworthy distinction since T-Mobile's rates reflect taxes and fees.

Verizon enjoys some edges over T-Mobile's unlimited data plan. You get HD streaming and 10GB of LTE hotspot data as part of Verizon's plan. Keep an eye on Verizon's pricing, though, because it may be available at an introductory rate.

MORE: The Best Phones Available at Verizon

Budget Unlimited Plan: Sprint

Best Plan: Unlimited data, $160

Who Should Get Sprint: Sprint customers who want unlimited data

Sprint has just eliminated tiered data pricing, following T-Mobile's lead by only offering unlimited data plans. Like T-Mobile, Sprint charges a family of four $160 a month for unlimited data — at least at its normal rates. As of this writing, Sprint is reducing rates on its plan through June 30, 2018. For now, you'd pay $120 a month for unlimited data; that discount goes away starting in July next year.

Sprint used to throttle video down to 480p resolution, but it changed its tune once Verizon offered an unlimited plan. Now subscribers can watch HD video. Sprint still restricts music and gaming speeds, but those limitations — 1.5 Mbps for music and 8 Mbps for gaming — are more generous than they used to be.

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

Other Options: AT&T

Best Plan: Unlimited data, $185

Who Should Get AT&T: Families who can take advantage of AT&T's network reach and want HD video

Facing pressure from other carriers, AT&T revamped its unlimited data plan offerings, giving subscribers two choices. We think the better option is AT&T's Unlimited Plus plan, even though it's the most expensive unlimited data option. A family of four pays $185 per month under this plan, but they'll be able to stream video at HD resolution. Unlimited Plus also includes 10GB of hotspot data. Essentially, these benefits match what other carriers' unlimited plans offer. If you happen to also subscribe to AT&T's DirecTV satellite TV service or the DirecTV Now streaming service, you can knock $25 a month off those fees should you also get the Unlimited Plus plan from AT&T.

If you'd rather save a little on your monthly bill, though, AT&T also has its Unlimited Choice plan. That same family of four pays $155 a month, or $30 less than the Unlimited Plus plan. There are some trade-offs, though. There's no hotspot data, and you'll be restricted to standard definition video streaming. Most significantly, AT&T will also cap your data speed at 3 Mbps. You will get the cheapest unlimited data plan of any of the Big Four carriers, though (excluding Sprint's specially priced unlimited family plan).

MORE: The Best Phones Available at AT&T

You can still get a tiered data plan from AT&T in which family members draw from the same pool of data. AT&T's 10GB plan costs $160 for a family of four — $80 for the plan itself plus $20 per line in access fees. It's $5 more expensive than the Unlimited Choice plan, but without the restrictions on data speed or video streaming.

One last note about unlimited data: it's not completely unlimited, as all four carriers reserve the right to slow down your speed if you go over a certain amount of data during a given billing cycle. T-Mobile's limit is the highest, as it may start throttling your speed if you're among the top 3 percent of data consumers on its network. (That translates to 30GB a month currently.) Sprint reserves the right to throttle after you use 23GB, while AT&T and Verizon put the cap at 22GB.

Create a new thread in the Wireless Carriers forum about this subject
    Your comment
  • 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.
  • gllecarp
    MetroPCS now includes the mobile hotspot with the rest of the service at no additional charge.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • DR____L
    Any prepaid service using T-Mo is worthless outside of any city. Get out to the middle of nowhere and then write an article about the best prepaid plans.
  • Mike_255
    Your article says about T-Mobile, "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."

    But, $70 + $50 + $30 + $30 equals $180; NOT $160.
  • Forrest_3
    Metro is 60 with more features. Metro beats T-Mobile even though it's really the same company. If this author knew what he was talking about, he would have listed that instead.
  • Anonymous_Plutocrat
    Ha yall getting cool speeds while down here in Nigeria you get 15mbps at $50(25GB)
    And 6 to 9mbps at 25$/month(24GB) mostly in cities cause you wont even get 3G in some Villages
  • Anonymous_Plutocrat
    and theres no unlimited
  • kaw2zach
    I agree with Gerry Allen -- where's Consumer Cellular? We've used them for several years without difficulty.