Finding the best family cell phone plans is a big deal in today's speedy and expensive world. Without family cellphone plans - otherwise known as a group or shared plans - families and groups would suffer from exponentially higher costs each billing cycle. With family plans, particularly smartphone plans, you are saving money that would instead go toward other bills or a much-needed vacation.
In my research, I made sure that value and benefits were at the top of my list. Some family plans are cheaper, while others carry greater benefits at a more expensive fee. Knowing this, what is the best provider when it comes to the best family cell phone plans? Well, I'm here to help you decide what services will provide you with the greatest value.
Key Considerations When Choosing a Family Cell Phone Plan
When looking for the best cell phone family plan, there are many factors to take into account. When you do your own research, here are a few things to reflect on:
Some providers offer valuable incentives alongside their family plan to lure in potential new customers. This might include a certain number of phones added for free or a hefty discount on added lines. Incentives are always a great way to attract fresh customers, but there are other factors to bear in mind. One of the main things to remember is that cut-rate prices for cell phone service are typically only valid for a limited time. Before you choose a cell phone provider for your family mobile plan, read the fine print.
Pricing is a major factor for most families seeking a shared plan. According to ABC News, as of May 2015, the average American spent roughly $1,000 a year on their cell phone bill. Fortunately, all family plans are valuable in comparison to individual plans, but some are far cheaper than others. Not only should the monthly fees be taken into account, but additional costs such as monthly phone payments, activation fees, and even the early termination fee should also be considered.
Features, such as a data plan, mobile hotspot functionality, and unlimited text, should be factored in when deciding upon a family smartphone plan. Data is especially important in today's world, whether for streaming video and music, using a GPS, or just passing time at a dentist appointment. The T-Mobile unlimited plan, for instance, offers you 10GB of high-speed hotspot data while AT&T gives you none.
You can learn more about mobile hotspot functionality here.
Coverage area is important, especially in today's world. Families and groups need to be, for the most part, connected with not only their phones but with each other. If a service offers poor coverage, that service is limiting the connectivity a group has. While it's true that Verizon and AT&T technically rate highest as far as coverage, the difference among the major carriers is only a percentage point or two, making the Sprint and T-Mobile networks perfectly suitable for anyone who doesn't live in an extremely remote area. For extra peace of mind, however, you can check our coverage maps.
Defining a Mobile Family Plan
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2015, 64 percent of American adults owned a smartphone, an increase of six percent since early 2014. And just how many of those smartphone owners belong to a family plan? 68 percent.
As mentioned in the introduction, family cell phone plans offer a better deal for a single household or family compared to an individual wireless plan. How? Well, these shared plans blend desired features into a single plan at one monthly fee, typically between $100 and $500. With some family plans, which normally feature unlimited talk and text, the data allotment must be shared among devices. Forewarning: shared data might be consumed like water if there are no restrictions in place.
Ultimately, a family mobile plan is very beneficial for families (or more than one person).
Your Options When Choosing a Phone
Before you settle on what you consider to be the best family plan, you should ponder over whether or not you should obtain a new phone. There are plenty of new phones available if you choose to migrate to a new cell phone carrier or plan, but unfortunately, purchasing a few new phones, never mind one phone, can be incredibly expensive. So here are your options for adding a family of phones to your new plan:
Otherwise known as bring your own phone, BYOP allows both individuals and families to connect their phones to a new carrier's network, provided that the phone is compatible with the service. Sometimes the services attempt to entice new customers with BYOP incentives, such an extra $200 credit or a free month of a certain plan.
All four of the major carriers, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, allow you to bring your own device to their wireless plans. This makes it nice if you're ready for a new carrier but don't want to give up that like-new iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. Just be sure to check and make sure you can use your device. This is typically achieved by removing your existing SIM card and obtaining a SIM card from your new carrier.
2. Installment Plans
Major carriers now offer installment/finance plans for new phones. If you don't want to pay the full price of a phone, you can always order a phone (or in this case, a set of phones) and pay a monthly fee, usually between $20 and $35 per phone for the latest devices. Though it will not save you money in the long-term, it's better than paying the full price for a set of phones immediately. Unfortunately, MetroPCS does not installment plans for their phones, but some prepay cell phone companies like Straight Talk and Consumer Cellular now also offers to finance.
If you don't want to use your current phone, you can always trade it in and upgrade to a new device. Some carriers offer trade-in deals, which add extra credit which can be placed towards a new phone. Don't know when you can upgrade? Here's how to find out.
4. Full Fee Payment
You can always purchase the phones for a full price, but to purchase more than one phone can empty your wallet rapidly. Typically, this is the least desirable method of accessing a phone, though you won't have to worry about long-term payments.
Many carriers offer special promotions in relation to their phones. Sometimes there will be a sale on special phones, and other times they will offer a phone for free if you sign up for a specific plan.
Family cell phone plans offer a better deal for a single household or family compared to an individual wireless plan.
Advice for Finding the Best Value Family Plans
- Understand that what works for another family may not work for you. If your family consumes more data than the average family, then you may want to either select a hefty data plan or even an unlimited data plan. If you're unsure about how much data you might need for your family, then be sure to check out the carrier's data calculator.
- Make sure there are no overage fees for exceeding your data allowance (most overage fees are gone but there are a few older plans which may still carry these charges). Pew Research Center's "A Portrait of Smartphone Ownership" shows that 23 percent of smartphone owners have had to cancel or suspend their accounts at one point due to financial constraints. Clearly controlling costs is a major concern.
- If possible, you should be on the lookout for deals on new phones. Obtaining new phones for a family can be a bit pricey. Better yet, consider bringing your own phone to the carrier - that's definitely the cheapest cell phone option there is. A prepay phone can also be very reasonably priced.
- If you're concerned about data consumption, then make sure to look into restricting data and other services with your provider. Most carriers offering family plans provide such services that will give you peace of mind. You should also check to see whether your data is shared or per line. There are major differences between cell phone carriers - take, for example, T-Mobile and Sprint. With any plan except the T-Mobile unlimited plan, each line gets the advertised amount of high-speed data. Sprint, on the other hand, makes all lines share the data allotment. Do you know how much data you need? We break down (by service and app!) what uses data on your device.
- If you fret at the thought of your child encountering something they shouldn't on their phone, you should consider either looking into your carrier's parental controls app or even download a third-party parental control app. You can also check out our tips on cell phone safety for kids.
- If you're attempting to save money beyond opting into a carrier's family plan, you should consider looking into other ways to save money on your phone bill.
Don't forget to include our handy phone plan comparison tool in your decision-making process. Another useful source of information is through reader choice awards and the like. By evaluating reader choice picks, you can see how people fare with various family plans in practice rather than just in theory.
Prepaid Family Cell Phone Plans
It used to be tough to find a group plan with unlimited talk, text, and data, without the credit check. That's changing. If you prefer a prepay cell phone plan and need multiple lines, your options are wider than ever. Several prepaid and no-contract cell phone companies offer prepay plans of the family variety:
- Virgin Mobile: With Virgin Mobile Custom you can build a prepay cell phone plan that's perfect for your family, and even divide the data up exactly how you choose.
- Walmart Family Mobile: Did you know the retail giant is now a cell phone provider? The Walmart Family Mobile no-contract plan features competitive rates on unlimited calling, texting, and data. They also have good prices on popular phones, like the Samsung Galaxy series.
- Boost Mobile: With a Boost Mobile no-contract plan you can add lines to your account at a competitive rate. As with T-Mobile plans, each Boost Mobile line gets its own data allotment, as well as unlimited text and voice.
One major benefit of going with a prepaid plan is that you won't have any unexpected charges or early termination fees, although you will likely encounter activation fees. Another advantage is that giving a prepay phone to your teenager will prevent any unexpected surprises on the bill.
Advice on Data Usage
Though you are saving money with a family plan compared to an individual plan, you can always save a little more by cutting back on data so you can "size down" to a smaller monthly plan (unless you're on an unlimited data plan). Here are some ways to save on data:
- Unless you need the app immediately, do not download an app unless you are on a wifi network. You can normally set it so that the app will only download via Wi-Fi.
- You can restrict your data using your phone's settings. That way, once your phone reaches a specified amount of data, the access to the data will automatically be cut.
- Make sure that your phone is not consumed by data-hungry apps. Mobile advertisements alone represented between 18 percent and 79 percent of data required to read an article on an iPhone 6.That is a lot of data used just to read a single article, excluding the data eaten by mobile gaming. And you know what? That adds up, fast. It's always a good idea to monitor the apps you use in case they are data hogs (free apps more so). Better yet, install an ad-blocker for your mobile phone's browser.
- Avoid streaming high-quality music. It may sound a lot better, but it's not worth the devouring of data.
- Avoid streaming video on data if you're desperate to save data. According to Netflix, using the company's "High" data usage setting leads to the consumption of 3GB per hour when streaming HD videos and 7GB per hour for Ultra HD. And standard definition? 0.7GB per hour. That is a lot of data per hour. Not the best idea to use data if you enjoy falling asleep to Netflix videos.
It's not easy finding the best family plans, but I've managed to put together the list by performing the following:
- With the help of search engines like Google, I've managed to compile a list of providers that offered family plans. Carriers included prepay plans like Cricket Wireless, Ting, Project Fi, Total Wireless, Virgin Mobile, Straight Talk, and US Cellular. I also looked at traditional options like Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint.
- I eliminated the carriers that clearly lacked desired features, such as unlimited talk and text. Ting Mobile was one such carrier that was crossed from the list.
- Other competitors were then rated by factors such as data amount (unlimited is a major factor), quality of the network, family plan incentives, pricing, and more, leading to the list you see in this article. Data offered played a hefty role in forming the list. As of 2015, the average U.S. wireless customer uses 1.8GB of data per month, and that number is only growing. You're more than likely going to consume a lot of data, so why not find a provider that offers plenty of data at a great value?
There were a few worthy competitors on the list, but they were knocked out from the competition due to having weaker family plans. I also eliminated carriers without a focus on mobile data options, like Republic Wireless and ROK Mobile, even though these are great options for those with specific needs for a no-contract cell phone plan.
Family Phone Plans Recap
AT&T offers one of the strongest family plans available, but that doesn't mean that it should be the only network to consider. Other providers have amazing prices and perks, such as T-Mobile's ONE plan (which is now the only T-Mobile plan offered to new customers) and its T-Mobile Tuesday perk. Sprint offers an unlimited plan for talk, text, and data. Verizon Wireless offers a strong LTE network despite its hefty prices.
MetroPCS provides service on the T-Mobile network at cheaper fees. Yet, at the end of the day, it is you and your family who will be building a relationship with a provider, so feel free to select a provider that suits your family's needs best.
Searching for cell phone plans isn't easy. Neither is searching for great cable providers, so it's worth taking a look at our review of the best cable providers. Then again, if you're a cord-cutter, you are probably placing priority on internet providers. A good rate on your internet service is particularly important if you're going with a cell phone plan like Republic Wireless, which places heavy emphasis on Wi-Fi usage. If you're considering switching providers or moving into a new area, why not check out our review of the best internet providers?