How to find the cell phone family plan that's right for you

How much does it cost for a family of four across the major cell phone plan providers?


So many carriers, so many options.

Scott Webster/CNET

Choosing the right carrier plan is one of the most important -- and daunting -- decisions you'll make as a phone owner, especially when you're picking a shared plan for your whole family.

While every family is different, for the sake of this article's calculations, we'll settle on a family of four comprised on two adults and two kids. I'm also calculating the plan price alone. If you're buying any new phones, you'll need to factor in handset costs -- these vary.

Use this carrier breakdown as a starting point and adjust to fit your family's needs.

Editors' note: This story was originally published November 30, 2015, and is updated periodically. It was most recently updated February 19 at 2:19 p.m. PT.

Major carriers

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint: These are the country's largest carriers. They offer a range of shared data buckets with unlimited talk and text messaging, without contractual obligations.

Comparing Big Four US Carriers

Data bucket Data cost per month Price per phone (per month) Total monthly cost (4 phones) Total cost per GB
Verizon 12GB $80.00 $20.00 $160.00 $13.33
AT&T 15GB $100.00 $15.00 $160.00 $10.67
T-Mobile 24GB Included Included $140.00 $5.83
Sprint 12GB $60.00 $20.00 $140.00 $11.67


  • Total monthly bill (12GB): $160
  • Overage penalty: $15 per GB
  • Access fee is more expensive when phone is subsidized with a two-year contract
  • No data rollover -- use it or lose it


  • Total monthly bill (15GB): $160
  • Overage penalty: $15 per GB
  • Unused data "rolls over" to the next billing cycle


  • Total monthly bill (24GB): $140
  • Data Stash program provides 10GB of extra "free" data at start
  • Unused data can be rolled over to use in next 12 months
  • Unlimited access to select music and video streaming services


  • Total monthly bill (12GB) : $140
  • No overage fees; data throttled to 2G speeds after allotment used up
  • No data rollover -- use it or lose it

Prepaid carriers

The prepaid carriers don't have dedicated family plans with shared data buckets, so you have to calculate the cost of a family plan yourself -- by adding up the total cost of four separate lines of service. That isn't ideal, I know. There's one caveat you should know about the cost calculations for a family of four: because of a built-in incentive, Boost Mobile gets cheaper over time for loyal customers who pay on time.

Prepaid Carriers

Data amount Monthly cost per phone Total monthly cost Total cost per GB
Cricket (AT&T) 10GB $25 $100 $10
MetroPCS (T-Mobile) 12GB $35 $140 $11.67
Boost Mobile (Sprint) 20GB $30 $120 $6.00
Virgin Mobile (Sprint) 14GB $28.75 $115 $8.21

Cricket Wireless

  • Total monthly bill (10GB): $100
  • Each line shares 2.5GB
  • Uses AT&T network
  • Unlimited international texting to 38 countries
  • Includes international talk and text to and from Mexico and Canada
  • Free access to high-speed data while traveling in Mexico and Canada


  • Total monthly bill (12GB): $140
  • Each line receives 3GB
  • Uses T-Mobile network
  • Crossing data threshold results in slowed speeds for rest of bill cycle
  • Unlimited access to select music and video streaming services

Boost Mobile

  • Total monthly bill (20GB): $120
  • Each line receives up to 5GB
  • Uses Sprint network
  • Offers add-on international calling and text
  • Unlimited access to select streaming music services

Virgin Mobile

  • Total monthly bill (14GB): $155
  • Uses Sprint network
  • Offers international calling and text
  • Add-on data packages for $5/GB
  • Unlimited access to select streaming music services

Which carrier has the best family deal?

Plans change all the time, which makes tracking family plan benefits particularly tough. As of today, you'll get more data for your money if you go with one of the four major carriers, specifically T-Mobile. On the prepaid front, Boost Mobile gives families of four the best long-term deal if they pay on time for over a year and a half. Otherwise, Virgin Mobile is the least expensive, though it's still not as good as T-Mobile.

That said, price isn't everything. You'll also need to consider the carrier's coverage strength for your area.

If you buy an unlocked phone, which is not tied to a specific carrier, you will have an added degree of flexibility to take your family to a new plan on a rival network, without having to replace your hardware.

Averages across carrier types

Data allotment Monthly cost Total cost per GB
Top Four US Carriers 15.25GB $155.00 $10.16
Prepaid 10GB $123.75 $12.38

More tips

  • Use the carrier's data calculator on their website to forecast how much data you your family might need.
  • Buying new phones on installment plans increases your monthly bill.
  • Some carriers will give you a deal for porting your number or trading in an old phone.
  • Sometimes, a deal pairs a specific phone model with a specific rate plan.
  • Major holidays are a good time to look for limited-time promotions.
  • Phone manufacturers sometimes toss in extras, like a few free months with an app or service.
  • Before you switch to a new carrier, ask friends, neighbors and colleagues how they like their coverage at home and work.
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