Your Guide to Choosing the Best Family Mobile Plans

Family Mobile Plans

Nowadays, it’s no longer a question of who owns a mobile or smartphone but more of who doesn’t. Take the United States as an example; only 3% of people here don’t own one. As for those who do, 85% own a smartphone, while 11% say they own a mobile phone that isn’t a smartphone.

Most mobile/smartphone-owning Americans, in turn, rely on postpaid mobile plans. These agreements come with call, text, and data services you pay for each month. Prepaid plans exist, but they’re not as convenient and require an upfront payment.

Thus, the best family mobile plans are often postpaid and feature essential services. They also offer many perks and may come at discounted rates, depending on how many lines you get.

Which mobile plan should your household purchase, then? What makes it the best for your family, and what factors should you consider?

Below is a guide on selecting the most appropriate mobile plan for your household, so read on.

Narrow Your Search to Discounted Multi-Line Plans

When carriers publish rates on their websites, they often put their best per-line rate. This means you’ll typically see attractive prices ranging from $30 to $45 per line.

However, those are figures based on a mobile plan with at least three or four lines. That’s why you’ll often see statements like “plans starting at X for XX lines.” The first X represents the base price per line, while XX refers to the minimum number of lines to enjoy that low rate.

If you shop for an individual line, expect the rates to hike to at least $70.

Therefore, consider the price per line when looking for the best family mobile plans. For the same reason, focus on cell phone plans with the appropriate number of lines that meet your needs. For example, if you have a four-member household, get a plan with four lines included.

The good news is that one carrier, T-Mobile, offers a free line on multi-line plans. With this, you get the cost of the third line waived if you get a plan with at least three lines.

Confirm the Carriers’ Coverage Area

No matter the discounts you get, they’re useless if your chosen carrier doesn’t work in your area. Thus, you’d want to pick one with optimal voice and data service coverage in your location.

Voice coverage applies to areas where you can send and receive texts and make and take calls. So if it’s too weak, you can expect difficulties in sending and receiving SMS. Likewise, your mobile voice calls will likely be spotty and may even keep dropping.

Data coverage refers to areas where you can access the internet with your mobile service. The least you should get nowadays is 4G LTE with a minimum download speed of 5 Mbps and upload speed of 1 Mbps. However, depending on your carrier, you may also get 5G, which has potential peak speeds of 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps.

You can check the coverage area of each of your prospective carriers by going to their websites. Most have interactive coverage maps that show 4G and 5G availability. Some also let you enter your address for a more detailed area coverage map.

It also pays to ask your neighbors which carrier they use and if they’re happy with it. They may even tell you about their experience in places outside your neighborhood.

If you or your other family members travel a lot, make sure you also check the coverage in those areas. Even if a carrier’s service is exceptional in your hometown, it may not be as stable in another city or state.

Factor in Your Family’s Mobile Usage

Talk, text, and data are the three primary services offered in cell phone plans. Most carriers offer plans with unlimited talk and text but have limited data. However, they also have pricier plans that offer unlimited talk, text, and data.

The need for an unlimited plan depends on your family’s mobile activities. To help you confirm, factor in the time spent doing the following:

  • Traditional calls and SMS (non-VoIP)
  • Web browsing
  • Checking social media
  • Using internet-connected apps
  • Video and music streaming
  • Online gaming
  • Online work meetings or virtual classes

Non-VoIP calls and SMS are those done using a carrier’s typical talk and text service. They’re the traditional means to call or send text messages, so they don’t need data or the internet. VoIP calls and SMS, on the other hand, are “free,” as you do them over data or the internet.

If your family relies on traditional mobile and VoIP, an unlimited talk and text plan may be a good idea.

As for unlimited data, this may work best if your household does everything on the list above.

Check Your Eligibility for Federal Assistance

Before you get tempted by the term “unlimited mobile data,” see if you qualify for the federal ACP first.

ACP stands for Affordable Connectivity Program. It provides eligible U.S. households a monthly discount of up to $30 on broadband service.

The federal ACP also gives eligible households a one-time $100 discount to buy a device. This can go toward purchasing a desktop computer, laptop, or tablet. However, qualified families can get a free device, depending on the provider.

One of the primary eligibility factors for the ACP is having a low-income household. For example, it should be at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

If you’re eligible for the ACP, consider enrolling before getting a family mobile plan. You may no longer need an unlimited mobile data plan if you qualify. Thus, it can help you save, as data is the most expensive service in all cell phone plans.

Explore Other Carrier-Provided Discounts

The largest carriers (Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and UScellular) offer military discounts. They also provide these to veterans. So, if you or any other household member has served or is on active duty, apply for this money-saving deal.

Verizon offers plan discounts for first responders and retirees, too. These include EMS workers, firefighters, and police. Immediate family members of those who’ve fallen in the line of duty also qualify.

Other Verizon discounts are for teachers, nurses, and even college students. AT&T has similar offers, except for the college student discount.

As for T-Mobile, it provides discounted mobile phone lines to first responders. It also has lower-cost offers geared toward users aged 55 or older.

Lastly, consider enrolling in autopay, as it usually comes with a discount. Plus, if you’re on autopay, you won’t have to worry about getting your service cut off due to non-payment.

Understand What the Term Premium Means

As you shop for mobile plans, you’ll often see terms like “premium network access” or “premium data.” Both are just beautiful terms to cover up annoying limitations and restrictions. They refer to the maximum data speed you can get before it gets deprioritized or throttled.

Deprioritization or throttling occurs when carriers slow down data speeds for heavy users. It’s a temporary data speed reduction for whenever there’s high network traffic. Providers say they do this to avoid overwhelming their networks.

Throttling often only kicks in when users meet a certain threshold. For higher-tier plans, it’s usually 50 GB, but for lower-tier packages, it’s before that. The priciest packages often don’t get deprioritized based on how much data you use.

Mind the Hotspot

Just because you’ll get an unlimited data plan doesn’t mean you can piggyback off it for as long as you want. That’s because all plans restrict tethering or using it for hotspots. Some only even let you tether on 3G (even 2 G!), while others don’t even allow it at all.

A hotspot may be crucial if you’re always on the go and need a reliable connection for more than one device. An example is if you travel a lot and must work on your laptop. While there may be loads of free or public Wi-Fi around you, you should avoid them for security reasons.

However, if you rarely use a laptop outside your home, a lower-tiered plan with a 1 GB hotspot allotment may be OK. But remember that the cheaper the package is, the more likely you’ll only get 3G tethering.

Consider Video Streaming Limitations

Most mobile plans limit streamed video quality to 480p or 720p. Higher-tiered offers support 1080p, but you often have to enable this on your account. If you do, it will eat into your premium data allotment faster.

For lower-tiered mobile plans, enabling the 1080p option often comes with an extra fee. An example is Verizon, which charges an additional $10 for this add-on.

Account for International Services

If you and your family often go to Canada or Mexico, it pays to have a mobile plan that works in these two countries. Fortunately, most carriers have packages that offer unlimited talk and text in both. It’s the data service and allotment you have to be careful of.

For example, the lowest-tiered plans only offer 2G data services in Canada and Mexico. They may also have caps on how many megabytes you can use in these countries daily.

You may get 4G data service capped daily or monthly for higher-tiered plans. For instance, it may be 500 MB daily or 5 GB monthly. Once you’ve used that allotment, your service reverts to 2G.

Most carriers offer free texts and low flat-rate call charges to other countries. Higher-tiered plans offer such deals, plus full-flight texting capabilities. You may even send and get unlimited international texts so long as you send and receive them from within the U.S.

Take Note of the Freebies

Are you one of the 75 million North American adults with a Netflix account? If so, you’ll be happy to know you can get this free with a mobile plan. Other offers may include free Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, Hulu, Apple Arcade or Music, or Google Play Pass.

All in all, these freebies can help you save hundreds within several months or a year. After all, most streaming services cost $10 monthly, so even just one subscription costs $120 a year! Add them all up, and you can get significant savings.

So, check which carriers offer free subscriptions. Be sure these are for the same streaming services your family uses the most. 

Be careful, as some carriers offer these at no extra cost for a limited time, say, 4 or 12 months. If you don’t cancel before the free trial ends, you’ll get charged the entire price.

Check for Trade-in Offers

Over 5 billion mobile and smartphones became e-waste in 2022. Most ended in landfills, while others now hide in cabinets or boxes.

Sounds familiar? Then consider trading them in when you get a new family mobile plan.

Some carriers have trade-in offers that let you “cash in” on older devices that still work. For instance, they may give you a gift check or voucher in exchange for the old phone. You can then use this as part of your payment when buying a handset from that carrier.

Alternatively, you can ask the provider to give you bill credits for your traded-in device. This reduces your monthly due, so you also save on your statements. Plus, you’re recycling your electronics, which also benefits the environment.

You also don’t want to keep your old devices for too long. The more they degrade, the higher their odds of leaking toxic chemicals. 

Compare the Best Family Mobile Plans Today

Remember: The best family mobile plans meet your needs and budget. They allow each household member to text, call, and go online as needed. They also include add-ons, such as a free line or a streaming subscription. 

With these factors in mind, you can now compare available family mobile plans. Just don’t forget to read the fine print, especially the T&Cs on caps and throttling. 

If you like this article, you’ll love our other informative guides. So, check out the rest of our blog for the latest educational content!