The days of the single-line plan are pretty much behind us — it’s all about family plans and multi-line discounts now. It’s 2021 and more family members are putting smartphones in their pockets, even the young ones. While it sounds like that would be a huge drain on your wallet, all of the 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 on their phones constantly — especially in the light of 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 just want a good line of service, they can help you save in other ways. A free Disney Plus 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 – $30
Magenta – $35
Magenta Plus – $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||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited||As little as 75 minutes and 50 texts
Up to unlimited
|Unlimited||Up to 2,100 shared minutes
Up to 2,000 shared texts
|1,500 minutes with Basic
|Data||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited||$10 per GB on Flexible
Unlimited on Unlimited
|As little as 50MB
Up to unlimited
|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
|International||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
20GB of 4G with Magenta Plus
|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|
|Streaming||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 Plus
|480p standard definition||Standard definition with fast speeds
High definition with Ludicrous speeds
|Standard definition with Unlimited plans||Not specified||Not specified||Standard definition with Unlimited
High definition with Unlimited Plus
|Extras||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||None||None||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. If you have a four-line plan you can get plans as low as $35 per line. 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 talk and text in the US, along with unlimited 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 Play More Unlimited, Do More Unlimited, and Get More Unlimited.
Verizon Family plans also include at least six months of free access to both Disney Plus and Apple Music for all of your streaming needs.
AT&T family plans
AT&T offers three unlimited plans that are great for families. The cheapest one is called 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, your 4G LTE data speeds could be throttled at any time if the carrier is getting too much traffic.
The second of the three AT&T Unlimited plans is called 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 the name of 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 also throws in access to HBO Max for free. It also bumps up video streaming quality from SD to HD, but it will slow down your internet speed once you use 100GB of data in a given month.
T-Mobile family plans
T-Mobile is unique in that it only offers unlimited postpaid plans, with no plans offering 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, $35 a month each for three lines, $30 a month each for four lines, and $27 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 3GB of LTE mobile hotspot data, and 5GB of 4G data in Mexico and Canada, among others. It costs $70 a month for a single line, $60 a month each 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 Plus plan. This offers HD streaming, 20GB 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.
Both plans with two or more lines come with Netflix accounts so you can stream throughout the social distancing period.
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: Google Fi plans: Everything you need to know
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, which covers 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, $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 plan also comes with a Google One membership which opens up 100GB of cloud storage just for you.
US Mobile family plans
If you want the most customizable plan around, US Mobile is tough to top. 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. A 5G plan will cost you a bit extra right now — US Mobile calls it early access — but the carrier is upfront about the fact that 5G isn’t quite everywhere yet.
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 – 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 really 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 just 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: Here are the best Cricket Wireless plans
Cricket Core includes unlimited talk, text, and data, as well as 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 takes customization to another level when it comes to its plans. You only pay for what you use. Start by paying $6 per line, then add your shared minutes, texts, and data for an extra sum of cash.
I put together a plan that would suit my needs, which included two lines, 1,000 shared minutes, 1,000 shared texts, and 5GB of data. For this plan, I would have to pay $85 a month. Of course, I’m not skimping out on anything. If I switched to one line with no minutes or texts (I can live without them) and 3GB of data, the price comes down to $36 a month. This isn’t the absolute best deal, but it shows the flexibility you get with Ting.
For a limited time, Ting is offering unlimited talk and text for just $15 per month. However, you’ll have to call Ting to get more information and to sign up for the plan.
Straight Talk is what might come to mind when you think of a classic MVNO. You can choose from a number of plans and save 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 Unlimited Nationwide plans that include talk and text as well as 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 has had an interesting year, to say the least. It rang in 2020 as a member of the Sprint umbrella with the impending merger looming. The merger happened, and suddenly Boost became the flagship carrier of Dish Network’s upcoming network. Now, Boost has reimagined its plans even further, and it’s good news for potential subscribers.
See also: The best Boost Mobile deals
You can choose from five limited-data plans that cost less than $50 per line per month, including the new Shrink It! plan. After just three on-time payments — that don’t have to be in a row — Boost will hack $5 off your bill. Three more on-time payments and you’ll save another $5 per month for a total bill of $35 per line.
Boost’s 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.
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 necessarily perfect for everyone. Here are a few others that you might want to consider:
- US Cellular buyer’s guide: Prices, plans, and more
- Metro by T-Mobile buyer’s guide: Plans, perks, and more
- The best Mint Mobile plans
Metro and Mint both rely on T-Mobile’s nationwide network, which makes 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 of that carrier (such as Best Buy, for example). When you buy the phone, it is already attached to your wireless account or it will immediately attach 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 then immediately take it to Verizon. This lockdown can be removed, but there are usually significant requirements involved. It may also depend on the format of the device — whether it’s a GSM or CDMA phone.
Unlocked phones are devices you buy without a carrier involved. This could be buying directly from the manufacturer or through a third-party retailer (such as Amazon). Unlocked phones usually come with no SIM card and no prerequisite to sign up with service for any particular carrier. As the name suggests, unlocked phones are not bound to any particular carrier, so you can feel free to bounce from one carrier to another as you see fit.
So, which is better? Well, a carrier-phone has three main advantages.
Firstly, you rarely have to pay for the phone in full 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 gets 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. LG doesn’t sell this phone unlocked yet and doesn’t appear to have any intention of doing so soon.
Interested in going the carrier route? Here’s a link to the best carrier-specific phones:
- Best Verizon phones | Best Verizon prepaid phones
- Best AT&T phones | Best AT&T prepaid phones
- Best T-Mobile phones | Best T-mobile prepaid phones
Prefer to go with a prepaid carrier? We have a list for that too:
- Best Google Fi phones
- Best Cricket phones
- Best US Cellular phones
- Best Mint Mobile phones
- Best Boost Mobile phones
- 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 especially confusing when importing devices from other countries. In general, you should do a lot of research on a device before buying it to make sure it will work the way you expect it to.
You can dive much further into the pros and cons of carrier vs unlocked phones in our expert analysis on the subject, 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.