Family Plan Face-Off: What’s the Best Deal?

Family_Plan_Lead

The family who shares a carrier stays together? Perhaps. If you’re looking to keep your loved ones connected under one bill, family plans are a great option. Every major carrier allows you to pay for monthly bundles of data and talk time, saving you money. For example, the cost of four separate AT&T accounts with 2GB of data each adds up to about $220, while a four-member family plan costs $160 for 10GB of shared data.

But these family plans evolve so quickly that it can be tough to keep up. AT&T and Verizon have slashed prices on their shared plans (for those who pay full price for the handset), while T-Mobile announced an aggressively priced Simple Choice plan to take on the competition. Sprint’s latest “Family Share Pack” lets up to 10 people share up to 40GB of data at a low monthly price. 

So which of these plans is the best value? We put AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon head-to-head and calculated each carrier’s cost for a four-member family plan with roughly 2.5GB of data per phone.

Comparison Chart: Family Plan for 4 with ~10GB of total data*

  att_thumb sprint_thumb tmo_thumb verizon_thumb
         
Total Cost
(4 lines, ~10GB**)
$160#/month $100/month $100/month $160#/month
Cost Per Line $15 $25 $25 $40
Data Cost
(~10GB)
$100 Included in line cost Included in line cost $100
Unlimited Talk & Text Yes Yes Yes Yes
 
*Does not include taxes, fees and device payments
#If you sign up for AT&T Next or Verizon Edge
**Sprint offers 12GB 


MORE: Top 10 Smartphones

Overall Value

While AT&T advertises its family prices as the best available, a four-member, 2.5GB family plan on T-Mobile costs only $100 per month (if you sign up between July 30 and September 2014). Sprint’s new Family Share Pack also costs $100 per month, but it offers twice the amount of data (20GB vs 10GB on other carriers). That’s $60 less than AT&T’s and Verizon’s $160 plans. 

AT&T and Verizon both require that you sign up for each company’s respective early-upgrade plan to qualify for the $160 plan. If not, the same package will cost $100 more per month. Be aware though, that both AT&T and Verizon’s early upgrade plans can cost customers more over two years than traditional two-year plans do.

Plan Size and Flexibility

T-Mobile and Sprint might have the cheapest four-member family plan at face value, but each carrier’s family plan has its own benefits worth investigating. For example, AT&T and Verizon have more 4G LTE coverage nationwide as well as more consistent network performance, while Sprint’s service is spotty. However, Sprint does offer the most amount of data for less.

Flexibility is also important to consider, as your family members might eventually want to break away and pay their own phone bill. Both T-Mobile and Sprint don’t tie you down to an annual commitment, so members can leave anytime they want. Sprint also offers a Framily plan that sends separate bills to friends and family within the same plan so you pay for your own line. 

MORE: 10 Smartphones with the Longest Battery Life

AT&T’s Mobile Share plan supports devices purchased contract-free via AT&T Next, as well as those with a traditional two-year commitment. Verizon’s Share Everything plan can also be used with Edge and a two-year contract, but you can make alterations to your plan throughout its duration.

Plan-by-Plan Breakdown

If you’re looking to take away or add members to a family plan, you’ll need some more details. Here’s how the plans break down.

AT&T

att_sfAT&T’s Mobile Share plan starts at $20 a month for 300MB of shared data and $25 for each device. Note that there are very few families for which 300MB of data will work, unless you plan on using few apps and very little content when you’re not on Wi-Fi.

If you opt for the $100 monthly plan with 10GB of data, each device drops to $15. To be eligible for Mobile Share, you must sign up for AT&T Next (the carrier’s early-upgrade program), bring an existing smartphone or buy a new device at full retail value.

If you prefer to pay a lower subsidized price for your phone up front, you might want to look at what T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint have to offer for families. However, if you don’t mind buying a new phone up front or signing up for Next, AT&T’s  has some of the lowest prices per line across all carriers.

Lines: Up to 10
Price: $130 per month for two lines, $15 for each additional line
Data: 10GB (included in price)
Unlimited Talk and Text: Yes

MORE: 5 Best AT&T Smartphones

Sprint

sprint_sfThe number-three carrier’s latest Family Share Pack gives you 20GB of data to share among three or more members for $100 a month. This deal only applies to those switching to Sprint from another carrier though. If you want more data, sign up within a limited time between Aug. 22 and Sept. 30 to get an extra 2GB per line for free. That extra 2GB is good till the end of 2015.

If you miss that time period, you can still get more data, but you’ll have to pay. A 32GB monthly package for all lines will cost $130 (that’s some $33 per line on a four-member group). The Family Pack doesn’t offer individual bills, but if you choose to get your phone through Sprint Easy Pay (the company’s early-upgrade plan) or bring your own, then there are no contracts or early termination fees. This means you could leave the carrier whenever you want.

Those that prefer individual bills can still opt for Sprint’s Framily plan. The Framily plan is built to be as nonrestrictive as possible, supporting up to 10 users and providing the option for separate bills. Lines start at $55 for one device and shrink down to $25 per line when you have at least seven users on a plan. The cost of a line includes 1GB of data, and you can add 3GB to each line for an extra $10 per line or get unlimited data for $20.

Lines: Up to 10
Price: $100 total for three or more lines
Data: 20GB to share (additional 2GB per line if sign up between Aug. 22 and Sept. 30)
Unlimited Talk and Text: Yes

MORE: 5 Best Sprint Smartphones

T-Mobile

t-mobile_sfBetween July 30 and September 2014, T-Mobile is offering four-member families 10 GB of LTE data (2.5GB each line) for $100 a month on its Simple Choice plan. If you sign up during this period, your 10GB data plan (with unlimited talk and text) will be valid through 2016. You’ll need a group of four to qualify for this pricing, which works out to just $25 per person per month. And if you have six people, T-Mobile’s updated Simple Choice package will cost just $120 a month – that’s $20 each person. 

Not enough people to qualify? You can still get on T-Mobile’s regular Simple Choice plan.

Unlike AT&T, T-Mobile lets you assign specific data limits to each phone on its Simple Choice family plan. Each line starts at $50 per month with 1GB of data (2.5GB till Jan 2, 2016 if you sign up within a limited time), with bigger packages carrying 3GB for $60, 5GB for $70 unlimited data for $80. A recent update to the Simple Choice plan now lets you add up to 10 lines on your family package, the same as offered by Sprint, AT&T and Verizon. Each line beyond the second will cost $10 a month. 

T-Mobile is a good fit for the commitment-weary family, as the Simple Choice plan is a month-to-month agreement with no early-termination fees. And if your young ones spend more time on Facebook than your data plan allows, T-Mobile will simply slow your data speed down to 2G or 3G, rather than charging you overage fees. The Simple Choice plan also comes with free international data and unlimited streaming music at no extra cost.

Lines: Up to ten
Price: $50/$60/$70/$80 for line one (depending on data plan), $30 for line two , $10 for each additional line
Data: $50 for 1GB, $60 for 3GB, $70 for 5GB, $80 for unlimited (prices apply to primary phone line)
Unlimited Talk and Text: Yes

MORE: 5 Best T-Mobile Smartphones

Verizon Wireless

verizon_sfVerizon Wireless’ Share Everything plan starts at $50 per month for 1GB of shared data and $40 for each line. 2GB of shared data will run you $60 per month, and every additional 2GB you add to your plan will cost another $10. That means 10GB of data will cost $100, bringing your total monthly for four lines to $260.

If you get your phones with Verizon’s early-upgrade plan Edge though, each line’s cost drops to $15, so your monthly total becomes $160. 

Verizon’s plan is ideal for parents, as you can set monthly data allowances and texting curfews for your children. These allowances don’t affect your plan, and are simply designed to keep your little ones from spending all night on the web.

ou can use the My Verizon hub to make changes to your data plan without affecting your contract terms. Share Everything supports several no-money-down phones like the Droid Mini and Galaxy SIII Mini, and you can utilize the Verizon Edge early-upgrade plan as part of a family.

Lines: Up to 10
Price: $40 per month per line
Data: Starts at $40 per month for 500MB, goes up $10 for every 2GB of data
Unlimited Talk and Text: Yes

MORE: 5 Best Verizon Smartphones

Bottom Line

In terms of sheer value and flexibility, Sprint’s new Family Share Pack is the most enticing of the bunch. There’s no annual commitment; you get double the amount of data than on competing carriers for a much lower monthly fee. Just make sure you’re in an area covered by Sprint’s enhanced Spark LTE network, or you’ll get painfully slow data speeds.

A four-person, 10GB plan on T-Mobile is also a great option, since it’s significantly cheaper than Verizon or AT&T and has no annual commitment. T-Mobile’s lines also come with free international roaming, no overages and no data charges for music streaming.

AT&T’s Mobile Share prices are alluring, but you’ll have to be willing to buy a new phone up front or sign up for AT&T Next to take advantage of them. Verizon’s Share Everything plan can help you save money–if you’re willing to sign up for the Edge early-upgrade plan and pay full price for the devices. Parents will appreciate the service’s custom data limits and texting curfews. Sprint’s Framily plan has the potential to help you save big, but it’s built specifically for an extra-large group of users who want to split a bill. 

AUTHOR BIO
Michael Andronico
Michael Andronico
A devout gamer and tech enthusiast, Mike Andronico joined the Laptop team in July 2013. With a B.A. in Journalism from Purchase College and experience at GameNGuide, Examiner and 2D-X, Mike tackles everything from iPhone rumors to in-depth hardware reviews.
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  1. Loren Says:

    What matters most is coverage. If you can not use the service, why pay a penny. I switched to at&t and have coverage and price which are both very good. Your results may vary, but for me, on the Central Coast of California, at&t gets it right. Sorry, cheaper comes at a big price in when you have no data available for your smartphone. Don’t be fooled by ads.

  2. jrr Says:

    We already have 3 members in our framily with sprint. Join our framily.

    Save some cash. Dont start your own family until you check out ours.

     

    3 members.  Next person is $40 a month.  Then its $35, 30, then 25.

     

    P00282844Ht

     

  3. Jeff H. Says:

    I think this article, and articles like it, are improved by including sample costs for phones. The graph above suggests that Verizon’s plan is nearly double the cost of AT&T’s. But that difference is significantly different if you sign up for AT&T Next and have no contract. The detailed write-up does include that point, but the takeaway from the graph misses that crucial piece of information.

  4. Steph Says:

    With AT&T plans – you do not have to have Next or pay full retail. You can bring your own device as well.

  5. Derek Says:

    My framily plan ID# is B00690276kM that would be capital B zero zero 69 zero 276 lower case k and capital M (they are case sensative) I have 9 spaces available

  6. Steve Mauldin Says:

    Straight talk, accurate and well organised.

  7. Connie Says:

    ATT is good for existing phones. When you buy a new one, instead of charging $15 per month access fee, they charge you $40 per month. They say this is to recoup some of the phone costs. Over 2 years, this adds up to $960. I say bring your own phone and pay $15.

  8. Wendy Says:

    AT&T up to 10 lines is not true for family NEXT plan. If you call AT&T, like I did, to add on 2 additional lines you have to open up another plan or pay $40/phone/month. It’s still around $300/month for 6 people.

  9. nerd guy Says:

    Actually, these numbers are a bit misleading, the att pricing is for monthly contract, and if you are on that, you pay monthly for the phone. . That needs to be included in the price to compare, otherwise each line is 40$.. I know because I just switched from sprint to att THINKING att got much cheaper. I have 4 lines, bill for sprint with taxes is 217, bill with att is 270.. and that’s with only 6gb data. . Sprint was unlimited. I use data a lot but mostly connected to wifi. I’m happy with att though. .way better signal, hence the higher price I guess, it’s worth it to me though

  10. Hansa Says:

    How is TMobile’s signal strength? Also would this carrier be best if traveling to Europe? I would be looking for 2-3 people on the plan.

  11. javaguy Says:

    Who the heck needs 10GB/month? we find our heavy surfing is on wifi- our ATT coverage is not good enough to get us to 10GB of downloads/month, we use more like 1GB. T-mobile and Sprint win out at lower data usage rates… weird that you’d do this analysis and not include that (common) scenario, do you work for ATT?

  12. Christopher Says:

    Why isn’t there a “printer-friendly” option for your website???

  13. Dan Says:

    I have been talking with T-Mobile all day today and the 4-Line for 140$ does not exist says their sales reps. Either it is expired or the information is inaccurate.

  14. Jeff Says:

    Dan,
    Go to T-Mobile’s site, go to the family plans page, select 4 lines, and switch each line to 3GB data (Note: I believe this tier was 2.5GB at the time the article was written). At least for me it comes out to $140.

  15. kb Says:

    Come join my Family plan
    L00956958tn
    Capitol L zero zero nine five six nine five eight lower case t lower case n
    Last four digits of my number is 8438

  16. magnet Says:

    Just bought T-mobile 1GB (per line) for 4 lines. Only cost me $100. I switched from ATT.

  17. Jack Says:

    The problem with all those promotions is that they expires and price might go up.(They count on that so you forget)

    I am calling my service provider (AT&T) every year or so once my promotion ends and request to lower the price mentioning I will move to different provider! – They usually lower my price for few more month or come up with new promotion for year!
    Usually I forget to renew myself but by using Remindme2save.com it keeps sending me reminders when promotion going to expire and I renew:)

  18. Sidney Says:

    ATT Mobile Share lets you include laptops and tablets along with phones. Do the other plans?

  19. John Smith Says:

    I’ve been using Tmobile’s family plan with 1GB per month, unlimited data for over a year. $100 per month. $50 for first line, $30 for second, $10 for each additional. Can’t beat this yet.

  20. gwen Says:

    I tried getting sprints unlimited everything plan. Rather than letting me select that option they made the framily plan my only option. I’m highly dissatisfied with their customer service and their website. I won’t be trying their services again.

  21. Matt Says:

    Tmobile 100$ a month? Did I read that wrong because that is very False if read correct.

  22. Tim Says:

    You used the monthly per device cost of AT&T next vs Verizon’s full price (not edge) in your comparison chart.

    Basically, the chart is worthless.

  23. George Says:

    You forgot to mention that the $100/mo Sprint plan is only good through 2015. After that a $15.00 per month charge is assessed per line.
    If you are a current Sprint user and want that plan, sorry it will cost $100.00 + $15.00 per line

  24. Getem Says:

    Remember with Tmobile if you want a newer phone you must add the monthly finance charge plus insurance which actually adds up. I pay $230 a month for 3 lines on tmobile. Phones are iphone, galaxy 5 and nexus 5

  25. Getem Says:

    Remember with Tmobile if you want a newer phone you must add the monthly finance charge plus insurance which actually adds up. I pay $230 a month for 3 lines on tmobile. Phones are iphone, galaxy 5 and nexus 5.

  26. jim Says:

    One glaring omission from all of this — unless I just missed it — is the fact that the various fees and taxes add significantly. In my case, the plan / phones (5) come to a little over $110 but then Verizon tucks on over $75 in fees and taxes. Now the bill comes to nearly $200 … and we have NO “smartphones”! Since fees and taxes are assessed PER line, a 10-line plan could get really expensive real quick … and, of course, that perky little 20-something with the cute little grin at the counter will not be pointing this out. As usual, caveat emptor.

  27. Harriet Says:

    AT&T is $15 per device until you upgrade your phone then it jumps to $40 per device… I’ve been with AT&T forever and seriously considering dropping them because they sucked us in to the Next Plan… that plan sucks!!! They told me I would save money but they did not tell me it would cost me more later!!!

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