"Family plans" claim to offer increased savings, simplified bills, and a greater level of control for keeping tabs on what people are using their phones for.
But are family plans worth it?
Simply put, if you need more than two lines... there’s a good chance you can save with a family plan.
And when it comes to options currently available in the US, we consider the T-Mobile Magenta plan to be one of the best family cell phone plans .
Between the unlimited data, the free Netflix, and the rock-solid coverage, it offers an excellent value for the average smartphone user.
But there’s plenty of other options as well.
If you’re looking to dig a little deeper into choosing the perfect family plan for your needs, we’re rounding up the top 4 picks to cover the various ways people use their phones.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for 2020
1. T-Mobile Magenta
Best Overall Family Plan, Best Family Plan for Heavy Data Use
While T-Mobile’s “unlimited” data caps at 50GB, it’s still the most generous allotment of the current unlimited plans.
On top of that, you’ll get unlimited calls and texts, no roaming charges in more than 140+ countries, free in-flight texting and up to an hour of data on GoGo-enabled flights , Netflix in SD on one screen, 3GB of 4G LTE tethering, and unlimited data text in a range of countries.
All of this is available starting at $160 for 4 lines -- taxes and fees included.
There are a few limitations though.
The main one is that video streams in 480p.
But given they hand you a free Netflix subscription and that phone screens only get so big, we think the slight drop in quality isn’t going to make video stream unwatchable.
You can also upgrade to the Magenta Plus plan to get Netflix streaming in HD on up to two devices
You’re also limited on tethering speeds. However, you can add a tablet to your plan for $20 with the same unlimited data as our phone if your other devices support a SIM card .
T-Mobile Magenta Plan
2. Verizon Start Unlimited
Best Family Cell Phone Plan for Controlling Usage
Featuring unlimited 4G data, talk, and text, this plan runs $140 per month with autopay for 4 lines.
Like many other “unlimited” plans, it limits video to 480p and music streaming quality 0.5Mbps.
What helps this plan stand out is the level of control over the account features. Verizon offers one of the most comprehensive sets of control options available. Better still, you can manage it all through an app on your smartphone.
Want to setup call forwarding, set data limits, or restrict other phone features? It’s all a tap away for the main account holder.
Of course, all of these options are also available through the web portal or by calling customer service.
Verizon Start Unlimited
3. Cricket Core Plan
Best Basic Family Cell Phone Plan
If you don’t require the fastest speeds and a ton of extras, the from Cricket Core Plan is a great value.
You get up to 22GB of 4G data per month capped at 3Mbps with 480p video streaming.
Talking and texting is also unlimited, so you never need to worry about how you use your phone.
If you travel often or have friends and family abroad, you’ll also enjoy free unlimited texts to more than 38 countries and no roaming fees in Canada and Mexico.
All of this is available across 4 lines for only $100.
Cricket Core Plan
4. Metro by T-Mobile Unlimited High-Speed Plan
Best Prepaid Family Cell Phone Plan, Best Couples (Two-Person) Cell Phone Plan
Using the same network as T-Mobile, Metro by T-Mobile offers 4 lines for $140 without the hassle of credit checks. The price includes all taxes and fees, so it really is just $140 per month.
All lines get “unlimited” 4G LTE data -- in this case, that means up to 35GB -- as well as unlimited US calls and texts, 5GB of 4G LTE tethering and 100GB of Google One cloud storage.
Metro by T-Mobile is constantly running promotions, so you’ll likely also find bonuses for switching, trade-in options, and rebates that further reduce the cost for a few months.
If you don’t already have a phone, the selection at Metro by T-Mobile isn’t amazing, but the options are at least solid entry-level models.
While powerful enough to keep the kids happy, you might want to consider picking up a phone elsewhere if you’re looking to get more out of your smartphone experience.
Metro by T-Mobile Unlimited High Speed Plan
How we Picked
When answering the question, “What’s the best cell phone plan for families?” , we considered the following primary criteria:
With discounts for every line added, the savings on most family plans add up quickly -- especially if you’re using a major carrier.
While there is probably cheaper plans available than some of our picks, we scoured the plans on offer to make picks we felt found the sweet spot between savings and features.
Managing multiple bills for multiple lines can be a headache. If you’re using more than 2 or 3 lines, it’s easy for bills to go unnoticed or mix up the plans and features on each line.
Family plans with consolidating billing make it easy to keep track of both what you owe and what the people on your plan are using each month.
Reduced credit requirements
Getting a new phone plan is expensive enough without considering the deposits for services or new phones.
Family plans are based on the credit ratings of the main account holder instead of the people using each phone.
This makes them ideal in situations where either credit ratings aren’t stellar for everyone involved or they’re simply not old enough to actually sign a contract.
Credit requirements vary by provide and will still increase based on the number of lines or model of phones you request. However, family plans consolidate credit checks to reduce the impact on our credit rating and increase the chance of approval if everyone doesn’t have sparkling credit.
With individual plans, you’d need to log in to each account or call up customer service and verify each account to make any changes to features or plans. With family plans, everything is available with one login or account verification. You can even add authorized people to your plan to allow them to make changes.
Better still, you can often track usage, set limits, and change other features across the whole account. This makes it easy to highlight any potential issues -- such as kids using all your data or talking until 3am -- and apply controls to fix them without impacting the settings for other people on the plan.
Using these principles as the foundation of our picks, we dug through the seemingly endless plan options available from carriers both big and small to create a list of picks to suit a variety of preferences.
While most plans are labelled “family” plans, they’re actually group plans in essence. Most carriers won’t require any sort of true relation between people. As long as they get their money each month, the requirements are often quite slack.
However, if you’re considering being the main account holder, you are liable for anyone on your account. If you sign up a roommate, partner, or co-worker on your plan and they don’t pay up when the bill comes due, you’ll have to cover the difference.
Moreso, if you sign up for a plan with a two-year commitment, you’re betting on relations staying good for the entire term. And since it’s all one bill and one payment, that means that if you don’t cover the difference should someone flake, everyone on the plan might lose service and it might impact your credit score .
So while you can put friends on your family plan, always consider if you should before committing.
Most carriers aren’t picky about people living at the same address. Or if the people on their family plans are actually family. They just want the bill paid on time and in full.
There should be no problems with keeping your kids on your plan while they’re away at school as long as they’re in the same country.
However, be sure to check coverage at the school as well. Keeping them on your plan doesn’t do anyone any good if they can’t actually get a signal or are roaming when they use their phone.
This also applies to plans with calling zones or separate rates for local or “in-zone” calling -- if your kid racks up a hefty bill calling out of area, savings from the family plan discount will vanish quickly.
Yes and no. This answer is a bit more complicated.
Can you use a family plan to register a few lines and use them for your business? Probably… as long as you have real people to register the phones to.
However, the moment you have issues with service or questions, you could run into trouble. Like your Internet provider, most mobile phone companies price business and residential services differently. They also configure accounts slightly differently.
As such, most also have clauses in their Terms of Service stating that they do not allow dedicated business use on residential plans and vice versa.
So if you call in complaining of service issues, you could find yourself forced to upgrade to a business package. Even if they allow you to keep your plan, if you’re violating terms of service, you likely cannot hold your phone service provider liable for losses due to their service.
In most cases, while business plans are often more expensive, they’re our recommendation for any serious business use.
A family plan might work for a small business with a couple employees or an independent contractor, but most business plans offer greater flexibility and guarantees for larger businesses which family plans cannot bring to the table.
This will depend on the carrier.
Most carriers offer discounts starting at only 2 lines. However, the sweet spot is often closer to 4 lines.
Upper limits vary, with most carriers offering support for 6 to 8 lines.
Keep in mind, this may or may not include data-only lines for tablets. So if you have a large family, or a lot of gadgets, be sure to check before signing anything.
Ultimately, this comes down to your needs and the level of control you’d like.
In most cases, shared data plans are cheaper.
But unless the carrier also supports limiting data use per line, this means that your kids or friend can blow through all your data, leaving you stuck until the next billing cycle or -- worse still -- paying overages every month.
Separate data lines often cost a little more, but if one person uses more data than everyone else, they see the impact while everyone else enjoys that fact that they were frugal with their streaming, social media, or downloads and budgeted ahead.
In short, shared plans offer more data for less money, but separate lines offer the greatest amount of control.
In most cases, shared plans are billed just like individual plans -- except every line is on one bill. This means you don’t have to open four envelopes and make four payments every month for four lines.
Most carriers still provide of a comprehensive breakdown of how each line was used each month, just the total charges are rolled into one sum.
If you’re sharing the plan with friends or a partner, it’s up to you to do the footwork on collecting their part of the bill. The only thing the carrier cares about is who’s name is on the account, not who is using the phones.
As with billing, if your name is on the account, you are liable for all the lines. This means if someone wants to leave, you have a few options, but you’re still on the hook.
- Find someone else to assume the line
- Keep paying the bill
- Pay the early termination fee for the line
- Transfer them to their own plan
While transferring them to their own plan sounds like an obvious fix, it isn’t as simple as it appears…
First off, the carrier must allow this. While most will allow you to do this, they often require that the person transferring to their own plan meet any credit requirements and pay a deposit accordingly.
But more importantly, it requires the consent of the person you’re transferring. If a friend is moving away or a kid is moving out, that’s probably not a big deal. But if you’re needing to split up plans due to a relationship ending or friendships falling out, things get more dicey and delicate.
If you can’t find someone to take over the line or you can’t transfer it out, you might be able to recoup some of the fees by selling your used phone. If it’s a recent flagship model, you might break even. But we’d still bet on having to pay out of pocket for a portion of the fees.
In most cases, carriers charge early termination fees per line. This means that instead of paying a single cancellation charge to end your family plan early, you’ll need to pay one for each line on the account.
That number can get scary mighty quickly…
For this reason, we highly recommend researching options before signing anything. If you’re not extremely sure that the arrangement will work for the term of the contract, go with a prepaid plan or simply pay more for individual lines.
By the time you factor in early termination fees on 4 lines, you probably won’t save anything over 4 separate plans anyhow. You might even end up paying more...
Most family plans work exactly like individual plans in terms of upgrades. Typically, if there are any discounts involved, they’re attached to a term commitment.
Keep in mind, however, that if you’re planning to perform multiple device upgrades using a carrier-based financing option, that you might run into limits based on the credit checks they performed when you started the plan.
- Best Overall Family Plan, Best Family Plan for Heavy Data Use: T-Mobile Magenta
- Best Family Cell Phone Plan for Controlling Usage: Verizon Start Unlimited
- Best Basic Family Cell Phone Plan: Cricket Core Plan
- Best Prepaid Family Cell Phone Plan, Best Couples (Two-Person) Cell Phone Plan: Metro by T-Mobile Unlimited High Speed Plan
Still Not Sure?
Family plans are a popular way to both simplify billing for multiple lines and save a little money over the cost of individual lines.
But they come with some risk. Should relationships sour, or better deals arise, you’re likely locked into a contract for at least 2 years.
More to the point, you might save even more money by picking up individual plans through a smaller carrier -- especially if you don’t need unlimited data or already own your own phones.
If you’re curious how the our best family plan picks stack up to other options, be sure to check out our plan comparison tool .
It makes it easy to pick and choose the exact features you’re looking for in a plan and get a quick snapshot of what the various carriers in your area offer. Better still, you don’t have to read page after page of lists or bounce between tabs.
We make researching options easy so you can get more out of your mobile phone with less hassle.
Not sold on the family plan concept? Or simply looking to check out all of your options before committing? We
also have guides on the
best prepaid plans
and best postpaid plans around!
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