There are three very strong benefits from being in a family, or group, or shared cell phone plan.
First, you get a much better deal signing up for more than one line at the same time.
Second, you can add friends as well as family members, anywhere from one other person to eight more, as long as there is just one monthly bill.
Third, there are usually no additional credit checks - only the main account holder will be credit checked.
In This Guide
Why a Low-Cost Carrier is Perfect for Families
Most carriers offer family plans with multiple lines on one phone bill. To achieve the biggest savings, you will need to look beyond the four major carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile). The best family cell phone plans these days come from alternative low-cost carriers called MVNOs (Mobile Variable Network Operators). Let's explain why.
1. Same Great Coverage
Each of the four major carriers owns its own towers and each provides very good nationwide network coverage.
According to Open Signal, all four carriers improved 4G LTE coverage by at least five points in 2017, with the latest figures showing little to choose between them:
- T-Mobile: 93.14 percent
- Verizon: 92.72 percent
- Sprint: 85.66 percent
- AT&T: 87.03 percent
The good news is that all the alternative carriers, like Boost Mobile, lease their space from one or more of the big four, buying in bulk to achieve competitive rates and ensuring that you get the same high-speed data and the same great 4G LTE network coverage as the big guys.
2. Much Lower Prices
The MVNOs operate very differently than the big four. With few or no stores, their overheads are much lower and their advertising budgets are a tiny fraction of the big guys. With much lower costs, they are able to offer you much better rates.
These days, the major carriers are mainly focussed on offering unlimited plans for data, calling and texting. If you and your family/friends are all heavy users, this might suit you very well. But consider that the average user gets through less than 3GB per month, so you might well be paying a heavy price for data that you simply don't need. The MVNOs offer a wide variety of plans catered for a range of different needs. They let you decide how much data you need - and pay for.
4. No contracts or credit checks
All low-cost carriers offer prepaid plans. If you're not happy, you can leave whenever you want. You won't have to go through a credit check or get roped into a two-year commitment.
5. Keep your freedom
You can keep your phone too. MVNOs welcome - and often require - that you bring your own phone. Those payment plans for the newest smartphone may look tempting but they add $10 - $30 to your monthly bill.
Shared Data or Fixed Data?
The difference between these two types of plans is most easily demonstrated by looking at two plans each with four lines and each based on 8GB of data per month.
Shared data family plans
With a shared plan, all the lines can use as much data as they like until the total amount of data usage for all the lines reaches the plan's data allotment. For example, let's say you have a shared data plan for the family with 8GB of data and four lines. Each of the 4 lines can use any amount of data until the total of data usage for all four line reaches 8GB. When the data amount is used, all four of the lines' data will either be slowed or stopped (depending on your carrier) until the end of the billing cycle.
Fixed data family plans
Here, each of your lines is allotted a certain amount of data. For example, let's say you have a fixed data plan family cell phone plans with four lines, each with 2GB of data per month. If one phone exceeds its 2GB of data limit during the course of a month, the data allotment on that line will be slowed or stopped until the end of the billing cycle - even if one or more of the other three lines have unused data.
How Much Data Do You Need?
Sure, you may believe that unlimited data may be your best bet, but before you hop onto the unlimited data train, you should calculate your data usage and see if you can adopt a plan that is more affordable.
With the average person using less than 3GB of data per month, and those flexible MVNOs offering a huge range of plans to suit every need, there are BIG savings on your monthly bill waiting out there for you!
For example, US Mobile allows you to fully customize your plan based on the number of minutes, texts, and the amount of data.
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 data:
- Wherever possible make sure you're on WiFi.
- 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 video streaming 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.
Do You Really Need the Latest Phone?
Before you settle on what you consider to be the best family plan, you need to consider what you're going to do regarding cell phones. 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:
1. Bring your own phone (BYOP)
Bringing your own phone 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.
Most wireless carriers 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.
You can typically switch carriers by removing your existing SIM card and inserting a SIM card obtained from your new carrier. Just be sure to check that you can use your device with the carrier. To check if your device is compatible, simply visit the carrier's website and locate the bring your own phone tab (or similar), which normally features a compatibility checker.
This is the best way to add a phone to a plan, simply because you're saving a bundle of money.
2. Buy a Refurbished Smartphone
If you don't currently own a phone, consider purchasing a used phone. There are plenty of used phones out there, and they are fantastic options for children. You can refer to our used phone comparison tool to find the cheapest, most available used phones.
Note that, with MoneySavingPro's used phone comparison tool, you'll not only be able to save time but an additional $50 (typically) on your desired phone. That's $50 that could be spent on a new phone case!
If there is more than one person in your household, you really ought to be in a family cell phone plan. You will undoubtedly save money versus going it alone.
And if you choose one of the low-cost carriers, those savings can be really substantial. Once you're clear on your data usage, you can choose a customized plan that's just right for you and your family.
You can find a family cell phone plans comparison chart at the top of this article. Happy saving!