Best Family Cell Phone Plans

Cell Phones, Utilities
Best Family Cell Phone Plans
Single-line cell phone plans often cost $50 or more a month. Splitting a family plan among two or more people can cut the price per line nearly in half.

Finding the right cell phone plan for your family is key to keeping costs down. We scoped out the best family cell phone plans in several categories, using a family of four as our model. We considered only plans that offer at least 6 gigabytes of data per family, per month. Prices don’t include phones, taxes, fees or other charges, such as insurance.

» MORE: Compare cell phone plans

Best family plans for average users

Both Sprint’s large Better Choice plan and Cricket Wireless’ Basic plan offer just enough data to cover four average users, each of whom typically go through 2GB to 3GB per month.

If you use more data than your allotment, no problem. Neither carrier charges overage fees. Instead, both slow data from lightning-fast 3G or 4G speeds to 2G speeds until the next billing cycle begins. That means uploading 30 pictures would take more than 20 minutes, instead of about a minute.

sprint-logo-small2
  • Sprint Better Choice – Large
  • At a glance: Unlimited talk and text, 12GB of shared data.
  • Price (monthly, four lines): $160; $140 with $5 per line autopay discount.
  • Price per line: $40 without autopay discount; $35 with discount.
  • Activation fee: $30 per line.
  • Why we like it: Just enough data for average users, no data overage charges.
Get started at Sprint's site
cricket-wireless-logo-small-transparent
  • Cricket Wireless Basic (with Group Save discount)
  • At a glance: Unlimited talk and text, 3GB of data per line.
  • Price (monthly, four lines): $100.
  • Price per line: $25.
  • Activation fee: $25 in store or free online.
  • Why we like it: Cricket’s Group Save discount makes for four inexpensive lines with just the right amount of data. Plus, you can add a fifth line for no extra cost.
Get started at Cricket's site

THINGS TO KNOW:

  • Sprint: Sprint’s network trails behind those of other major national carriers, particularly outside of major metropolitan areas. This is something to consider if you don’t live in a big city.
  • Cricket: Cricket is owned by AT&T and operates on its network. Unlike AT&T, however, Cricket caps LTE data speed for its users at 8 megabits per second. That’s a tad slower than the average 4G LTE speed in the U.S., which is nearly 10 Mbps, according to Open Signal, which collects data on wireless connectivity. The cap won’t hinder typical usage, such as music streaming and social media browsing, but high-bandwidth activities like streaming HD video might suffer.

HOW OTHERS COMPARE:

Four lines with unlimited talk and text and 10GB of shared data for $160 per month.
Four lines with unlimited talk and text and 8GB of shared data for $150 per month.
Four lines with unlimited talk, text and data per line for $180 per month, or $160 per month with autopay discount.

Best family plans for two people

Republic Wireless doesn’t technically offer a family plan, but the carrier is still an excellent option for two people. Its 2GB plan costs just $30 per month; even when you multiply your cost by two lines, you’re still saving money over other carriers. And you don’t have to share your data.

MetroPCS is another great pick for duos. The prepaid carrier offers 3GB of high-speed data per line for just $70 per month. It also gives you unlimited music streaming from select services and lets you use your phone — and your data package — as a mobile hot spot.

republic_wireless
  • Republic Wireless 2GB
  • At a glance: Unlimited talk and text, 2GB of data per line.
  • Price (monthly, two lines): $60.
  • Price per line: $30.
  • Activation fee: $0.
  • Why we like it: A cheap, no-frills plan with just enough data for two people.
Get started at Republic's site
MetroPCS logo
  • MetroPCS 3GB
  • At a glance: Unlimited talk and text, 3GB of data per line.
  • Price (monthly, two lines): $70.
  • Price per line: $35.
  • Activation fee: $0 if ordered online.
  • Why we like it: Each line gets its own data package, for a total of 6GB, plus unlimited music streaming from select services.
Get started at MetroPCS's site

THINGS TO KNOW:

  • Republic: Republic defaults to Wi-Fi for all calls, texts and data. If Wi-Fi isn’t available, the carrier falls back on the cellular networks of Sprint and T-Mobile. The network you use depends on the phone you buy. Given Republic’s hybrid approach, most customers will need to buy a new phone via Republic. Some unlocked AT&T and T-Mobile phones can be activated with the carrier.
  • MetroPCS: T-Mobile owns MetroPCS, and the two carriers share the same network. Some MetroPCS customers may experience slower data speeds during peak times, as T-Mobile gives priority to customers with service through its primary brand.

HOW OTHERS COMPARE:

Two lines with unlimited talk and text and 6GB of shared data for $100 per month.
Two lines with unlimited talk and text and 6GB of shared data for $95 per month; $85 with autopay discount.
Two lines with unlimited talk and text and 4GB of shared data for $90 per month.
Two lines with unlimited talk and text and 2.5GB of data per line for $70 per month.

Best family plans with unlimited data

Unlimited plans aren’t for everyone. But if you use a lot of data — 24GB or more for a family of four — unlimited is a no-brainer. T-Mobile One is $160 per month, when you factor in a $5 per line monthly discount for automatic payments, and includes unlimited mobile hot spot access at 3G speeds. Sprint’s Unlimited Freedom plan, which is the same price, caps hot spot usage at 5GB. Boost Mobile offers an even better value on unlimited data, if you’re willing to go prepaid.

t-mobile-logo-small
  • T-Mobile One
  • At a glance: Unlimited talk, text and high-speed data.
  • Price (monthly, four lines): $180; $160 with $5-per-line autopay discount.
  • Price per line: $45; $40 with autopay discount.
  • Activation fee: None.
  • Why we like it: Unlimited mobile hot spot access at 3G speeds and traveler perks like an hour of free in-flight Wi-Fi through Gogo.
Get started at T-Mobile's site
boostmobile-small2
  • Boost Unlimited Family Plan
  • At a glance: Unlimited talk, text and high-speed data per line.
  • Plan price (monthly, four lines): $140; $135 with autopay discount.
  • Price per line: $35; $33.75 with autopay discount.
  • Activation fee: None.
  • Why we like it: Affordable, unlimited data for a family of four.
Get started at Boost's site

THINGS TO KNOW:

  • T-Mobile: T-Mobile optimizes video streaming to standard definition. If you want to view in high definition on a given line, you can buy a day pass for $3 or upgrade to T-Mobile One Plus for an additional $15 per month. You don’t automatically get HD all the time with One Plus, though. Instead, you get unlimited day passes, which you add via T-Mobile’s app or website each time you want HD video.
  • Boost: Mobile hot spot usage is capped at 8GB per line. You’ll have to pay full retail price to buy a new phone, or you can bring your own if it’s compatible. Boost is owned by Sprint and uses Sprint’s network.

HOW OTHERS COMPARE:

Four lines with unlimited talk, text and high-speed data for $180 per month.
Four lines with unlimited talk, text and high-speed data for $180 per month; $160 with autopay discount.
Four lines with unlimited talk, text and high-speed data for $190 per month; $180 with autopay discount.
Four lines with unlimited talk, text and high-speed data for $220 per month.

» MORE: Best unlimited data plans

Best prepaid family plans

Want a family plan without the taxes, fees and multiyear commitment? These prepaid plans offer just that.

Cricket Wireless’ Basic plan provides unlimited talk and text and a reasonable amount of data for a much lower price than traditional contract and postpaid plans.

MetroPCS’s 3GB family plan is more expensive but includes more data and is a great deal if you stream a lot of music. Customers on plans of $40 or higher can stream from more than 40 music services, including Pandora, iHeartRadio, Apple Music and Spotify, without using their monthly high-speed data allotment.

Going prepaid will save you on monthly costs, but it does cost more at the beginning, as you must pay full retail price for each phone upfront.

cricket-wireless-logo-small-transparent
  • Cricket Wireless Basic (with Group Save discount)
  • At a glance: Unlimited talk and text, 3GB of data per line.
  • Price (monthly, four lines): $100.
  • Price per line: $25.
  • Activation fee: $25 in store; free online.
  • Why we like it: An inexpensive, no-surprises plan with a reasonable amount of data.
Get started at Cricket's site
MetroPCS logo
  • MetroPCS Family Plan 3GB
  • At a glance: Unlimited talk and text, and 3GB of data per line.
  • Price (monthly, four lines): $140.
  • Price per line: $35.
  • Activation fee: None.
  • Why we like it: You can use your phone and data package for mobile hot spot access. Plus, you can stream all the music you want, without dipping into your data.
Get started at MetroPCS's site

THINGS TO KNOW:

  • Cricket: Cricket operates on AT&T’s network, but it caps its LTE data speed at 8Mbps. You’ll likely notice the difference only when trying to stream HD videos or do other things that need a lot of bandwidth.
  • MetroPCS: MetroPCS is owned by T-Mobile and operates on its network. But T-Mobile gives priority to customers on its primary brand, so MetroPCS users may experience slower data speeds during peak times in some areas.

HOW OTHERS COMPARE:

Four lines with unlimited talk and text and 5GB of data per line for $145 per month.
Four lines with unlimited talk and text and 5GB of data per line for $180 per month.

Best family cell phone plans: summary

CarrierPlanBest forMonthly price (4 lines)Get started
Boost Family Plan (5GB data per line)Parents with teens$140
Get started at Boost Mobile's site
Cricket Wireless Basic (2.5GB data per line)Average users and people who want a prepaid option$100
Get started at Cricket Wireless's site
Cricket Wireless Pro (10GB data per line)Heavy data users$180
Get started at Cricket Wireless's site
Sprint Better Choice – Large (12GB shared data)Average users$140
Get started at Sprint's site
Sprint Unlimited Freedom (Unlimited data)Heavy data users$160
Get started at Sprint's site
T-Mobile Simple Choice 6GB (6GB data per line)Parents with teens$160
Get started at T-Mobile's site
Republic Wireless 2GBTwo people$60 (for two lines)
Get started at Republic Wireless's site
MetroPCS 3GBTwo people$75 (for two lines)
Get started at MetroPCS's site

Kelsey Sheehy is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ksheehy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy. Stephen Layton of NerdWallet contributed to this report.

Updated Feb. 2, 2017.


METHODOLOGY

We evaluated more than 200 cell phone plans offered by the following carriers: AT&T, Boost Mobile, Consumer Cellular, Cricket, GreatCall, Google’s Project Fi, MetroPCS, Net10, Republic Wireless, Sprint, Straight Talk, T-Mobile, TracFone, Verizon Wireless and Virgin Mobile. To determine the best plans, we looked at the monthly plan price before taxes and fees, the price per gigabyte and features such as unlimited video streaming or rollover data. We considered only national carriers, which ruled out regional providers like U.S. Cellular. For family plans, we looked at plans with at least 6GB of data and calculated pricing for a family of four.