Which cellphone family plan is best — and cheapest?
Smartphones are an expensive necessity these days, and kids are getting them younger and younger. To keep up with their friends, kids want the latest and greatest phones, and photo and video-intensive apps like TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube suck up your data like a tornado.
To choose the best family phone plan, you’ll want to consider several key points:
- Which wireless carrier has the coverage you need?
- Is the cheapest smartphone plan adequate, or do you need more?
- Do you really need an unlimited data plan, or can you save money by paying per gigabyte? (See some of the differences in data plans below. You might be surprised to discover that the cheapest smartphone plans aren’t always family plans.)
Ultimately, you’ll have to make the decision about which cell phone plan is best for you. It’s not a one-size fits all decision. But we’ve provided up-to-date information about many of the best-known carriers and the plans they offer. The good news is that most of them these days are no-contract, so you can switch later if you need to.
Choosing a cellphone plan is not simple
Cell phone plans run from very inexpensive to hundreds of dollars per month. Some are prepaid, some have a contract, some come from big, reputable companies everyone knows, some few have heard of. There are so many options. It can be hard to make the right decision.
While each company shouts that they have the fastest, bigger, most reliable, and most modern network, how do you know what to trust? Which is really the best?
Read on for a basic review of the most popular phone plans available and tips on choosing the right one for your family.
Verizon is the biggest network provider in the United States today, for one main reason: The network. I have used several different cellphone providers myself over the years, and Verizon stuck out as the most reliable with the widest coverage.
It worked almost everywhere, and I rarely dropped a call in my years as a customer. A detailed network test by root metrics shows that Verizon performs best in more states and metro areas than any other provider. If that is your primary concern, Verizon is the best.
However, for the best network, you have to pay a bigger bill than some others charge. Consumer Reports says you’ll pay $80 for a single line or $180 per month for a family of four, plus taxes and all the fees, for the lowest cost unlimited plan
The second-largest provider also has the second-best network performance of major carriers in the United States. AT&T typically outperforms any other provider, except for Verizon.
I used AT&T once upon a time and experienced dropped calls in common dead spots along my commute. I imagine those are long fixed, but it still lags a bit behind Verizon, if that’s your top priority.
AT&T charges $75 per month for one line on the cheapest unlimited plan. You’ll pay $180 per month for a family of four.
T-Mobile and Sprint became one company in 2020 and make a strong third-largest carrier in the U.S. T-Mobile focuses on value and has a slightly more spotty coverage map than the larger competitors. However, it has a quickly growing 5G coverage map.
The cheapest unlimited plan costs $65 for a single line or $125 for a family of four. One big benefit of T-Mobile is its international roaming coverage. Unlimited international data and text are included in Magenta plans, with no added charges in more than 210 supported countries. For frequent travelers, this may be the best option.
One of the newest cell phone plans available, Google is now in the cellphone business. I switched to Google Fi more than five years ago and love the low prices, though coverage, which runs through a partnership with T-Mobile, isn’t perfect.
Billing is simple. You pay $20 per month for unlimited calling and text and $10 per 1GB of data used. My wife and I are almost always near WiFi, so we use very little data and often pay less for two phones than the big three charge for a single line. An unlimited plan costs $60 or $70 per month, depending on your international data needs.
For a family of four, you would pay $17 per line plus the same standard $10 per 1GB of data. Unlimited plans are $30 or $45 per user when you sign up for four lines. If you can live with a slightly weaker network than Verizon, this is a winning phone plan.
If you really want to save money on your phone plan (which we all do), sometimes you have to look to smaller providers. Republic Wireless features unlimited plans starting at $15 per month plus $5 per GB used.
The plans are no contract, so you can leave whenever you want, unlike bigger providers requiring a two-year agreement. Republic Wireless also runs on the newly combined Sprint/T-Mobile network.
Cricket is owned by AT&T and uses that network. A single user would pay $55 per month for the lowest cost unlimited plan. Cricket offers a variety of phones at competitive prices.
Another entrant with its own network, US Cellular is a smaller provider offering plans to those in more remote and rural areas. Unlimited plans start at $65 per month for a single line or $40 each for four lines.
New carrier Mint Mobile has an unlimited plan for $30 per month and limited plans for as little as $15 per month when you make a one-year commitment.
What makes the most sense for you?
The big phone companies are big for a reason. With the strongest networks available, they lure in customers willing to pay higher rates for the best coverage. However, smaller entrants like Google Fi and Republic Wireless offer compelling deals at a much lower price tag.
Before you pick your next plan, be sure to check their network map to make sure the places you spend the most time are covered, and look at things like data overage charges in case you need a little more.
There is no perfect plan, but you might find the ideal plan for your needs.
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