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 offering a $120 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 12GB shared data plan costs $160 per month, 12GB shared data plan, but 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.

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Top Family Plan: T-Mobile

Best Plan: 10GB plan, $140

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 $140. 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.

T-Mobile also offers attractive pricing if you only need two lines of data. Starting April 8, a two-line family plan with each person getting 6GB of data to call their own costs $80 a month. That's $30 off the normal monthly pricing.

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.

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Best Alternative: Verizon

Best Plan:12GB shared data plan, $160 (includes 8GB bonus data)

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 12GB, $80 monthly plan the most compelling for families of four. (A two-line family could likely get by with Verizon’s 6GB, $60 monthly plan.) Verizon sweetens the deal by adding 2GB per month for each phone on its $80 monthly plan, so a family of four would actually share 20GB.

You need to factor in Verizon’s access fees, though — $20 for each phone on a plan. The $80 in access fees would bring a family of four’s monthly bill to $160 for 20GB of shared data.

High-data users could consider the 18GB, $100-a-month Verizon plan, which also adds in a bonus 2GB of data. Factor in access fees, and a family of four would pay $180 a month for 26GB of data.

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.

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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.

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  • 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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  • MetroPCS now includes the mobile hotspot with the rest of the service at no additional charge.
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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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