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Best family cell phone plan in 2020

best family cell phone plan
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you want to get the best family cell phone plan that brings talk, text and data to multiple lines, unlimited data is the way to go. And you’re not exactly hurting for options, as the major wireless carriers — AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon — offer unlimited data plans for families.

The question, then, is which unlimited data plan should families choose? That’s especially tricky, because each carrier offers multiple variations on unlimited data, with each plan offering specific perks and benefits. That means the cheapest option isn’t always the best one, as some unlimited plans for families pack in more for the money.

The best family cell phone plans from the major carriers feature escalating discounts as you add more lines. Families of four can expect to pay between $120 to $220 a month for four lines. If that seems like a wide range, that’s because benefits can increase on higher-priced plans. The average plan costs between $160 and $180 for four lines of data, with the best option hinging upon which carrier offers the best coverage in your area and which features best fit your wireless needs.

Here’s a closer look at the best family cell phone plans depending on your needs.

What are the best family cell phone plans?

The best choice for most 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.

The Big Four carriers now offer different tiers of unlimited plans, with perks escalating the more you pay. T-Mobile's Essentials plan is actually the cheapest at $120 a month for four lines of unlimited data, but it carries a lot of restrictions. The T-Mobile Magenta plan (regularly $160 a month for four lines) offers much better value to families by covering the cost of your Netflix subscription and adding attractive perks for travelers.

Sprint's basic unlimited plan also carries some restrictions on streaming and shareable data, but the lower monthly bill may be worth it. Sprint offers more features — and a higher monthly bill — with its Unlimited Plus and Unlimited Premium offerings. (Families can mix and match different unlimited plans at Sprint.) However, if this plan intrigues you, time is running out to sign up for it. With the T-Mobile-Sprint merger completed, T-Mobile will fully take over Sprint's operations on August 2, and any new customers will have to sign up for whatever plans T-Mobile offers.

As for the other carriers, the best version of Verizon's unlimited plan costs more for a family of four than what you'd pay at those other two carriers, but Verizon also lets you mix and match its different tiers of unlimited data for each line of your family plan. That introduces some welcome flexibility to Verizon's family offerings. AT&T has reshuffled its unlimited plan into three tiers, lowering prices, but doing away with some of the video-streaming perks included in previous unlimited offerings.

Both AT&T and Verizon also have tiered data plans where multiple lines can draw from the same pool of data. Unless you and all your family members really don't consume a lot of data each month, though, unlimited is the better option.

The best family cell phone plans

best family cell phone plans: T-Mobile

(Image credit: T-Mobile)

1. T-Mobile Family Plan

Best family cell phone plan

Name of Plan: T-Mobile Magenta | Monthly Cost: $160 (for 4 lines of data) | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special features: 3GB of LTE hotspot data; 480p video streaming; Netflix included

Attractive perks
Affordable price
5G coverage included
Can’t mix-and-match unlimited plans
HD video streaming costs extra

T-Mobile is our choice for the best family cell phone plan, thanks to its pool of unlimited data for every member of the family and its host of extras. For families, the T-Mobile Magenta plan costs $70 for the first line if you sign up for auto-pay. The second line costs $50, while subsequent lines cost $20 each. That would mean a family of four would pay $160. Note that T-Mobile offers frequent discounts on multiple lines — it's currently waiving the $20 charge on the third line of data for all of its unlimited plans, which cuts the cost of four lines of Magenta to $140 a month. Check T-Mobile's website before you commit to a plan to see if any discounts or deals are on offer.

Other factors make T-Mobile Magenta attractive. When the company renamed its unlimited plan, it added 3GB of LTE hotspot data for Magenta subscribers. If you have two or more lines of data through T-Mobile Magenta, the carrier will cover the cost of a $9 monthly Netflix subscription. T-Mobile's price also 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.

That's not the case with the cheaper T-Mobile Essentials plan. Essentials usually costs $120 a month for four lines of data, but you give up some of the perks included with Magenta, which covers the cost of a basic Netflix subscription, gives you free texting and one hour of Wi-Fi on Gogo enabled flights and also includes support for texting and data when you travel overseas. T-Mobile also reserves the right to slow down data speeds on Essential Plans if its network gets congested. T-Mobile is running a summer promotion that lowers the cost of four lines of data to $100 a month total, but the restrictions of the Essentials plan (plus the taxes and fees that aren't included) means this isn't as good a value as it seems.

Note that Magenta doesn't include HD video streaming and LTE hotspot data; instead, video streaming is capped at 480p resolution and your unlimited hotspot data comes in at 3G speeds. For many users that won't matter, and for the ones who do value those features, Magenta Plus offers HD video streaming and 10GB of LTE hotspot data for an extra $10 per month for each line on a family plan. (It's $15 if you have only one line.) Magenta Plus also includes unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi through Gogo. T-Mobile is currently waiving the cost of a third line of Magenta Plus, just as it is with other unlimited plans.

best family cell phone plans: Sprint

(Image credit: Sprint)

2. Sprint Family Plan

Best alternative cell phone plan for families

Name of Plan: Sprint Unlimited Plus | Monthly Cost: $140 (for 4 lines of data) | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special features: Hulu and Tidal subscriptions included; HD video streaming; 50GB of LTE hotspot data

Least expensive family plans
Includes Hulu subscription with all unlimited plans
Can mix-and-match different plans
Price of plan goes up after a year
Sprint’s network isn’t as far reaching

Sprint offers three different tiers of unlimited data — Unlimited Basic, Unlimited Plus and Unlimited Premium. Normally, we’d recommend the Unlimited Basic plan, which costs $140 for four lines of data. But a current promotion at Sprint reduces the cost of your third and fourth lines of data through July 31, 2021. That allows a family of four to pay $140 for Unlimited Plus for the next year. (That same promotion lowers the cost of Unlimited Basic to $100 a month for four lines through July 2021.) If that promotion sounds good to you, better jump on it now, as Sprint will soon be folded into T-Mobile.

Unlimited Plus offers many attractive perks, including 50GB of LTE hotspot data and 10GB of data to use when traveling in Canada or Mexico. (Basic customers get 500MB of hotspot data and 5GB of data when in Mexico and Canada.) Basic and Plus customers both get free Hulu subscriptions for streaming video, while Tidal streaming music is also available as part of Sprint Unlimited Plus. 

A third option, Unlimited Premium, normally costs $220 for four lines, but the cost is down to $180 through July 31, 2021. You get Amazon Prime on top of Tidal and Hulu subscriptions, plus 100GB of hotspot data. Unlimited Premium used to be the only way to get 5G service with Sprint, though all three unlimited data plans are now listed as compatible with 5G phones. (That's likely a by-product of the T-Mobile merger.)

Sprint lets you mix and match its different unlimited plans so that one line can be the Plus plan while others can be the lower cost basic plan. That's welcome flexibility for families. However, we expect this plan to disappear on August 2, as T-Mobile takes full control over Sprint.

best family cell phone plan: Verizon

(Image credit: Verizon)

3. Verizon Family Plan

Most flexible family cell phone plan

Name of Plan: Verizon Do More or Play More | Monthly Cost: $180 (for 4 lines of data) | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special features: 5G service included; 15GB of LTE hotspot data; Apple Music included (Play More only)

5G service included with three plans
Apple Music
Free year of Disney Plus
More expensive than rival carriers
Start Unlimited must pay $10 extra for 5G coverage

There’s two ways to look at Verizon’s four different tiers of unlimited plans. On the plus side, Verizon’s given you the choice to tailor plans to your needs, especially since you can mix and match different plans for your family. On the negative side, it’s hard to keep all these options straight — and the fact that two have the exact same monthly price doesn’t help.

Those two plans — Verizon Do More and Verizon Play More — are the best family cell phone plans from Verizon. Both plans cost $180 a month for four lines, and which plan is best depends on how you want to use your unlimited data. If you love to stream movies and music, Play More is the better option, as it includes a free Apple Music subscription and the ability to stream HD video. Do More subscribers only get six free months of Apple Music, while video streaming is restricted to 480p resolution.

But the unlimited data on Do More isn't quite as limited as it is with Play More. Do More customers get 50GB of what Verizon calls "premium" data — that means you can use 50GB before Verizon reserves the right to slow your data when its network is congested. Premium data is capped at 25GB for Play More users. You also get 500GB of cloud storage included with your Do More plan.

As for the other options, the cheaper Start Unlimited Plan costs $140 a month for four lines — $20 less than T-Mobile's Magenta plan — but Verizon can throttle your speed at any time. You've got the same restrictions on Apple Music and video streaming as the Do More plan. The high-end Get More plan ($220 a month for four lines) offers 75GB of premium data, plus free Apple Music, 500GB of cloud storage and HD video streaming; it also doubles LTE hotspot data to 30GB; Play More and Get More customers get 15GB of hotspot data.

Play More, Do More and Get More have 5G coverage included when you’ve got a 5G-capable phone connected to Verizon’s 5G network. Start Unlimited customers have to pay $10 extra each month on top of their regular bill to get 5G coverage.

Wait, there's more. A Just Kids plan provides another option for parents who want a little more control over their children's cell phone use. Just Kids lines feature 5GB of LTE data, and unlimited talk and text for 20 contacts. Safety Mode prevents data overages by slowing speeds once your child uses all 5GB, and parental controls let you monitor screen time and set content filters. Just Kids plans require at least one line of unlimited data, with pricing dropping the more lines you add. 

best family cell phone plan: AT&T

(Image credit: AT&T)

4. AT&T Family Plan

Best family plan for HBO fans

Name of Plan: AT&T Unlimited Elite | Monthly Cost: $200 (for 4 lines of data) | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special features: 5G service included; Free HBO; 30GB of LTE hotspot data

5G coverage included with Elite and Extra plans
HBO/HBO Max included with Elite plan
Elite plan is expensive
Can’t mix-and-match plans

The Unlimited Elite plan isn’t the cheapest option for families at AT&T. But it’s the unlimited plan that stands out, thanks to the inclusion of the HBO Max streaming service. If you can’t go without your Westworld fix, this is the plan for families to get, as it also includes free 5G service, 30GB of LTE hotspot data and HD video streaming, among other perks. AT&T also won’t slow your speeds unless you consume more than 100GB of data in a month. 

Otherwise, Unlimited Extra is the more sensible option, costing a family of four $160 a month. (Unlimited Elite costs a sky-high $200 for four lines.) There’s no HBO Max here, but you do get 5G coverage when you have a compatible phone, along with 15GB of hotspot data.

The budget Unlimited Starter plan has no such perks, and AT&T can slow your data at any time if its network is congested. But families will pay a lower monthly rate with four lines of data costing $140. In August, AT&T plans to extend 5G service to its Starter plans.

How to choose the best family cell phone plan for you

Picking the right cell phone plan comes down to balancing the costs of multiple lines of data with the perks each carrier offers. If you do a lot of video streaming, for example, you’ll want to pick a plan that not only throws in a streaming service as a perk (Hulu with Sprint, Netflix with T-Mobile, a year of Disney Plus with Verizon or HBO Max with AT&T's priciest plan) but also doesn’t slow your data if you consume a lot of data in a given month.

Because the thing about unlimited data is that it’s not truly unlimited. AT&T's Unlimited Elite customers will enjoy a 100GB cap, while Verizon's ceiling is 75GB for Get More subscribers. Other Verizon unlimited plans have their cap at 25 to 50GB. Next up are T-Mobile and now Sprint, which both have a 50GB threshold before throttling may kick in. The lowest-priced plans at Verizon (Start Unlimited) and AT&T (Unlimited Starter) allow your data speeds to be slowed whenever there's network congestion.

We’ve focused on unlimited plans, but both AT&T and Verizon offer tiered data options, too. Unless you’re only adding two lines and don’t need a lot of data, the costs savings from unlimited data plans aren’t really substantial.