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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 multiple unlimited data plans for families.

The question, then, is which unlimited data plan should families choose? That’s especially tricky, because each carrier offers different 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 value 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 major wireless carriers now offer different tiers of unlimited plans, with perks escalating the more you pay. T-Mobile's Essentials plan is usually 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. T-Mobile Magenta is best family cell phone plan out there.

As for the remaining 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. Since August, Verizon started offering a Disney streaming services bundle through its Play More and Get More plans, making those options more attractive. AT&T offers three tiers of its unlimited plans as well,  and like Verizon, you're now able to mix and match lines of unlimited data on a family plan.

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, such as 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 (or a $4.99 monthly Quibi subscription if you prefer that streaming service). The Magenta plan's price also takes fees and taxes into account, so the price T-Mobile 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. (If you remember a $100-for-four-lines deal that T-Mobile offered this summer as a way to celebrate its merger with Sprint, that limited time deal looks like it's expired.)

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 plan: Verizon

(Image credit: Verizon)

2. Verizon Family Plan

Most flexible family cell phone plan

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

5G service included with three plans
Disney streaming services included with Play More plan
Can mix-and-match different unlimited plans
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 among the best family cell phone plans from Verizon, though Play More is just a bit better now that Verizon is bundling all of Disney's streaming services (Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus) into Play More subscriptions. That plan also gives you six months of Apple Music, and four lines cost $180 a month.

That's the same price for four lines of the Do More plan, which offers only Disney Plus as a streaming perk. Do More subscribers also enjoy 600GB of cloud storage as part of their plan. 5G coverage is included with both Play More and Do More, which both enjoy 15GB of LTE hotspot data.

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. Start Unlimited customers need to pay an extra $10 per month per line for 5G coverage. The Get More plan ($220 a month for four lines) offers the same perks as Play More and Do More — the Disney bundle and 600GB of cloud storage — plus a free Apple Music subscription. Get More also features double the hotspot data of Play More and Do More plans.

Play More, Do More and Get More let you use 50GB a month of data before Verizon can slow down your speeds.

Meanwhile, 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)

3. 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 all plans
HBO/HBO Max included with Elite plan
Can now mix-and-match plans
Elite plan is expensive

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. Unlimited Starter now includes 5G coverage, making that cheaper plan more appealing. AT&T also lets you mix-and-match the different plans, so one person could opt for one of the more expensive tiers, while other lines get the Unlimited Starter option to save money on your overall bill.

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 (Netflix and Quibi 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 now 50 for three of its four plans. That's the same as T-Mobile, which has 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. AT&T offers 3GB and 9GB plans, while Verizon lets you choose between 5GB and 10GB tiers. Families draw from the same pool of data at both carriers. 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. For example, four lines of Verizon's 10GB data plan will cost you $140 a month, which is the same amount as four lines of the carrier's Start Unlimited plan.