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Family plans: Which carrier is the best for your family?
It’s not nearly as common to have a single-line phone plan as it once was. After all, when carriers offer multi-line and family discounts, it’s easier to pair up with friends. It’s 2022, and family members of all ages have smartphones in their pockets. While it sounds like that would be a massive drain on your wallet, all major US carriers and many MVNOs offer family plans to help defray the cost.
See also: The best unlimited data plans in the US
Ready to find out which one is best for you and your family? Let’s jump in.
What to look for when signing up for a family plan
There’s a lot to think about when you’re looking for the perfect family plan — after all, you’re looking for lines for potentially four people or more. However, your needs are likely different than those of your kids. With that in mind, here are a few things to look for when you’re hunting for your next plan:
- Per-line discounts: If you’re going to spend the money, it has to be worth your while, right? Most family plans become more affordable as you add more lines, so don’t be afraid to compare prices.
- Unlimited service: Kids and parents are constantly on their phones, especially during the pandemic, so you may want to make sure those texts and calls won’t cost extra after a while.
- Extra perks: While bonus perks may not be essential if you want a good line of service, they can help you save in other ways. A free Disney Plus bundle or Netflix membership is just one less bill to deal with.
These aren’t the only points of comparison, but they make for a good place to start. Check out our master table of family plans if you’re ready to do your research:
|Verizon||AT&T||T-Mobile||Google Fi||US Mobile||Cricket Wireless||Ting||Straight Talk||Boost Mobile|
Cost for four lines
Start Unlimited - $35
Play More - $45
Do More - $45
Get More - $55
Just Kids - $35
Unlimited Starter - $35
Unlimited Extra - $40
Unlimited Elite - $50
Essentials - $26
Magenta - $35
Magenta Max - $43
Flexible for 4 - $17 per line plus $10 per GB
Unlimited for four - $45
Custom plans - $5
Unlimited plans - $40
Unlimited - $100
Unlimited with hotspot - $130
$24 for four lines
Basic - $30
Unlimited - starts at $35
Unlimited - $140
Unlimited Plus - $180
Limited - 5 plans below $50
Talk and Text
As little as 75 minutes and 50 texts
Up to unlimited
Up to 2,100 shared minutes
Up to 2,000 shared texts
1,500 minutes with Basic
$10 per GB on Flexible
Unlimited on Unlimited
As little as 50MB
Up to unlimited
Up to 2GB for $20, after that $10 per GB
100MB with basic
Unlimited 2G plus limited high speed otherwise
Up to 15GB on limited plans
Up to 35GB on Unlimited
Canada and Mexico talk, text, and data
Unlimited texting to 200 countries
Unlimited in Mexico and Canada
Texting to 120 countries
Unlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada
Unlimited international texting, data available on Magenta plans
Free international texts, low calling costs, data at standard rate
Up to 10GB free
Other countries pay per day
Usage in Mexico and Canada, up to 50%
Texting to 37 countries
Calling to 60 countries
Global calling cards available
Add ons available
15GB of 4G with Play More and Do More
30GB with Get More
15GB per line with Unlimited Extra
30GB per line with Unlimited Elite
Unlimited 3G data
3GB of 4G with Magenta
40GB of 4G with Magenta Max
Full speed hotspot at standard rate
Available hotspot incldues 10GB of data
Available on all plans, 15GB included with most expensive plan
Available hotspot device for $25 per month
Hotspot add on available
Hotspot included up to data cap
480p with Start, Do More, and Just Kids
720p HD with Play More and Get More
480p with Unlimited Starter and Extra
720p with Unlimited Elite
480p with Essentials and Magenta
720p with Magenta Max
480p standard definition
Standard definition with fast speeds
High definition with Ludicrous speeds
Standard definition with Unlimited plans
Standard definition with Unlimited
High definition with Unlimited Plus
Six months of Disney Plus and Apple Music included
with Start, and Do More, Disney Plus, Hulu, and ESPN Plus included with Play More and Get More, all plans include 5G access
HBO Max with Unlimited Elite
Netflix included with Magenta plans
Bill protection with the Flexible plan
Google One membership with Unlimited
Choose your streaming perk with unlimited
Add ons available
Add ons available
Best family plans:
The plans aren’t everything, though. You need to make the right decision on a phone too. Check out this section for some guidance.
Editor’s note: We’ll update our picks of the best family plans as new options launch.
Verizon family plans
For families who want to sign up for the nation’s largest wireless phone operator, the best option is to choose one of the carrier’s Unlimited plans. This ensures you don’t go over the data limits, and there are plenty of options for every user in the family. Prices get lower as you add more lines. You can get plans as low as $35 per line if you have a four-line plan. There is also a $35 plan for kids, which offers more parental controls and location tracking. Prices drop by $5 when you have five or more lines.
You’re supposed to get unlimited data on Verizon’s family plans, but users may experience data slowdowns “in times of congestion.” It also includes unlimited US talk and text and calls and texts from the US to numbers in Mexico and Canada. Those who want to make sure data speeds stay snappy can get one of the higher-priced plans. These include 5G Play More, 5G Do More, and 5G Get More.
Verizon Family plans also include at least six months of free access to both Disney Plus and Apple Music. You now get up to 12 months of Google Play Pass or Apple Arcade for almost unlimited gaming action, too.
AT&T family plans
AT&T offers three unlimited plans that are great for families. The cheapest one is Unlimited Starter and costs $65 a month for one line, while a four-line bundle goes for $140 — $35 per line. Keep in mind that under this plan, AT&T can throttle your speeds at any time if the carrier is getting too much traffic.
The second of the three AT&T Unlimited plans is Unlimited Extra and will set you back $75 a month for one line or $160 a month for four lines — $40 per line. Unlike the Unlimited Started plan, it includes 15GB of free high-speed mobile hotspot data a month and allows you to use 50GB of data before any throttling kicks in. You can also access AT&T’s 5G network with the Unlimited Extra plan and a capable device.
The most expensive plan goes by Unlimited Elite and can be yours for $85 per month for one line. Pricing goes down to $50 per month if you opt for four lines — $200 per month in total. The plan offers the same things as AT&T’s Unlimited Extra with double the hotspot data and throws in HBO Max access for free. Right now, all three plans include six months of Stadia Pro access as well. Unlimited Elite also bumps video streaming quality from SD to HD, and you won’t get slowed down no matter how much data you use.
T-Mobile family plans
T-Mobile is unique because it only offers unlimited postpaid plans, with no plans providing limited amounts of data. The basic T-Mobile Essentials unlimited plan charges $60 a month for one line, $45 a month each for two lines, $30 a month each for three lines, $26 a month each for four lines, and $24 a month for each additional line. It offers unlimited talk, text, and data while in T-Mobile’s network. You can also use unlimited 3G data for a hotspot. Additionally, you can get unlimited talk, text, and 2G data in Mexico and Canada.
The T-Mobile Magenta plan has more perks to offer, including 5GB of high-speed mobile hotspot data and 5GB of 4G data in Mexico and Canada. It costs $70 a month for a single line, $60 a month per line for two lines, $40 a month each for three lines, $35 a month each for four lines, and $32 a month for each line after the fifth line.
Those who want to go all out can get the Magenta Max plan. This offers HD streaming, 40GB of LTE hotspot data, unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi, and more. Prices are set at $85 a month for a single line, $70 a month each for two lines, $47 a month each for three lines, $43 a month each for four lines, and $40 a month for each line after the fifth line. Best of all, T-Mobile won’t throttle your Magenta Max plan, no matter how much data you burn through.
Both plans with two or more lines come with Netflix accounts so you can stream throughout the social distancing period. You also get a free year of Apple TV+ on the Magenta plans right now.
Sprint is now part of the T-Mobile umbrella as well, so you may find yourself being folded into the Un-Carrier already.
Google Fi family plans
Google’s own Fi offers some of the most enticing plans around. Aside from being affordable, coverage is solid thanks to the three networks it uses: T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular. The system will figure out which has the best signal at any given moment and connect to it. To reduce prices, Google Fi leverages the power of Wi-Fi. Whether you are connected to your home’s router or any Wi-Fi hotspot, calls, text, and data will be routed through the internet when possible.
Read also: Our guide to all of Google Fi’s plans
Time to talk about money! You could save quite a bit of cash if you are often connected to Wi-Fi or don’t require too much data. Google Fi’s Flexible plans have a base price of $20 for one line, covering talk and text privileges. You’re then charged $10 per GB for data. The base price would be lowered to $18 per line for two lines, $17 per line for three to four lines, or $16 per line for five to six lines. Of course, you would still have to pay the $10 per GB for data the family consumes.
Those who prefer an unlimited option can pay $70 for a single line of Unlimited Plus service, $60 per line for two lines, $50 per line for three lines, or $45 per line for four to six lines. The Google Fi Unlimited Plus plan also comes with a Google One membership which opens up 100GB of cloud storage. If you’d rather save some cash, the Simply Unlimited plan starts at $60 per month and ditches international access.
US Mobile family plans
US Mobile is tough to top if you want the most customizable plan around. It’s a great bet for families because you can select the amount of talk, text, and data for each line. Access costs as little as $5 per month for the basic levels of each, but you can go unlimited for just $40 per line.
See also: The best US Mobile plans
You might be thinking that a low-cost, custom plan might skip out on other perks, but you’d be wrong. US Mobile offers international access for free up to 10GB on an unlimited plan, or you can pay per day in plenty of other countries. 5G access briefly cost extra on US Mobile during the early access phase, but the feature is now baked into all plans.
Unlimited plans sweeten the deal even further by giving you your choice of streaming services. Two lines will grant you Slacker Plus, Pandora Plus, or Apple TV Plus at no extra charge. A third line adds Netflix, Spotify Family, Audible, Apple Music Family, or the top-tier Disney Plus, Hulu, and ESPN Plus bundle to the mix. Finally, four lines mean that you can choose Playstation Plus or Xbox Live Gold.
Cricket Wireless single-line plans may not seem too exciting, but things start looking enticing once you see prices drop after adding a few lines. Their most popular tier is the $55 unlimited Cricket Core plan. The same plan costs only $80 for two lines, $90 for three lines, $100 for four lines, and $125 for five lines. Cricket also offers smaller 2GB and 5GB plans that might be perfect for the young ones in your family. The 2GB plan is usually $30 per month, and the 5GB plan is $40 per month.
Read also: The best Cricket Wireless plans
Cricket Core includes unlimited talk, text, and data and added features like roaming in Canada/Mexico and SD streaming. Cricket Wireless operates on AT&T’s network, so it’s also reliable.
Ting family plans
Ting used to pride itself on its wildly customizable plans, offering as much talk, text, and data as you could ask for. Now, the MVNO has moved to a more traditional model, with a few simple plans to choose from. If you don’t need all that much data, you can sign up for the Set 5 and Set 12 plans, which offer 5GB and 12GB of data, respectively. The smaller plan costs just $25 per month, while the larger of the two jumps to $35. Should you need a bit more data, Ting’s unlimited plan is slightly more expensive at $45 per month and includes 22GB of data.
Those of you missing the classic Ting structure, fear not. You can still grab a flexible plan, though it’s only flexible on data now. It costs $10 per month for unlimited talk and text, and each gigabyte of data comes in at $5.
Straight Talk is what might come to mind when you think of a classic MVNO. You can choose from several plans and save money when you auto-refill your minutes and data. It’s not the most feature-rich way to get your service, and there are no per-line discounts, but Straight Talk is a simple and affordable way to stay connected.
You can go for a limited setup with the Basic plan, offering plenty of talk and just a little bit of data each month for $30. Straight Talk also offers three Nationwide Unlimited plans that include talk and text and unlimited 2G data. On top of that unlimited data, you can also get up to 25GB of high speeds for $45 or unlimited high-speed for $55.
Boost Mobile family plans
Boost Mobile is still keeping us on our toes in 2022. It’s been part of the Dish Network family for a year now and seems to just keep adding new plans. Now, Boost has reimagined its plans again, and it’s good news for potential subscribers.
See also: The best Boost Mobile deals
Boost’s familiar pair of unlimited plans cost $50 and $60 per line per month, but the more expensive option offers high-definition streaming for free. The plans make great options for families as they all include similar services, just with different data caps. The new plans fall under the name Carrier Crusher, and they offer impressive savings for those willing to pay a few months at a time. You can opt for either three, six, or 12-month plans that fall under $10 for limited data.
Other carriers worth considering
If we tried to include every family plan on the market, you might be here until your next billing cycle. The previous options are many of our favorites, but they aren’t perfect for everyone. Here are a few others that you might want to consider:
Metro and Mint both rely on T-Mobile’s nationwide network, making either one a great choice if you want Magenta-level service without the cost. US Cellular is a standalone carrier, so it may be an affordable option if you don’t want an MVNO setup.
Unlocked phones vs carrier phones
If you’re deciding on a brand-new plan on a new carrier, you might also wonder whether you should buy a phone or bring an unlocked option. In general, a carrier phone — also known as a locked phone — is sold through a wireless carrier or a third-party partner (such as Best Buy, for example). When you buy the phone, it is already attached to your wireless account, or it will immediately connect when you first set it up.
Carrier phones are almost always locked to that carrier; you can’t buy a phone through AT&T and immediately take it to Verizon. This lockdown can be removed, but there are usually significant requirements involved. It may also depend on the device’s format — whether a GSM or CDMA phone.
Unlocked phones are devices you buy without a carrier involved. This could be purchasing directly from the manufacturer or through a third-party retailer (such as Amazon). Unlocked phones usually have no SIM card and no prerequisite to sign up with any particular carrier. As the name suggests, unlocked phones are not bound to a specific carrier, so you can feel free to bounce from one carrier to another as you see fit.
So, which is better? Well, a carrier-locked phone has three main advantages.
Firstly, you rarely have to pay for the phone in total upfront as the carrier will let you split the cost of the phone across the length of your plan. In fact — and this is the second perk — on the best cell phone plans, you won’t have to pay the full retail price at all. Carriers know that it’s much more profitable to get you locked into an 18- or 24-month contract than to sell you a full-price phone. So you’ll regularly see carriers, especially the major players, offering deals when you switch that get you a $1,000 phone for half-price or less across the life of your plan.
Finally, there are some phones which you can only get as carrier phones. The LG V60 above is a great example. You might find it online unlocked somewhere, but only once it’s been through another party’s hands.
Interested in going the carrier route? Here’s a link to the best carrier-specific phones:
- The best Verizon phones | The best Verizon prepaid phones
- The best AT&T phones | The best AT&T prepaid phones
- The best T-Mobile phones | The best T-mobile prepaid phones
Prefer to go with a prepaid carrier? We have a list for that too:
- The best Google Fi phones
- The best Cricket phones
- The best US Cellular phones
- The best Mint Mobile phones
- The best Boost Mobile phones
- The best Straight Talk phones
Unlocked phones have the obvious benefit of freedom. Pay for them outright, but then you can do what you like with them. You can bring them to the prepaid plan of one carrier, then cut from it if the plan isn’t working for you and try another. You’re also not restricted to the phones that the carrier in question offers. Plus, you can buy a refurbished device to make significant savings. Some carriers have even caught on to the popularity of this approach and offer refurbished phones as options in their online stores.
But be warned, a disadvantage of buying unlocked is that certain phones don’t support specific network bands. This can be complicated for buyers who don’t know all about the differences between types of networks (CDMA vs GSM, for example) or which bands their carrier predominantly uses in their area. This can be incredibly confusing when importing devices from other countries. In general, you should do a lot of research on a device before buying it to ensure it will work the way you expect it to.
In our expert analysis on the subject, you can dive much further into the pros and cons of carrier vs unlocked phones, but those are the key differences. If you’ve already decided that an unlocked device is the way you want to go, then our best phone deals hub is regularly updated on the best deals on unlocked phones from around the web. Also, be sure to check out our guide to the very best Android phones.