What are the pros and cons of Individual vs Family Cell Phone Plans? Just finding out what the best cell phone provider (opens in new tab) is for you can be challenging enough, but how can you know what type of plan provides the best value for your needs and those of your family? It's rarely as simple as picking out the ideal cell phone provider, checking out cell phone coverage maps (opens in new tab) and sifting through prepaid cell phone plans (opens in new tab).
Instead, you might want to consider signing up for a family cell phone plan rather than an individual one. However, like with all major decisions, it's important to think about what works for you and what represents the best value.
Read on while we explore which plan offers the best value for you - individual or family cell phone plans - and discuss what you need to know about both.
Individual vs family cell phone plans: What is a family cell phone plan?
A family cell phone plan works just like a regular individual one. The difference is that instead of it working for one line/phone number, it works for a number of lines with you being able to choose how many you want to add. By essentially providing you with a package deal, it works out cheaper as you pay a lower cost individually because the cell phone provider benefits from having your whole family signed up at once.
For instance, some cell providers will charge a set fee for the first line, then gradually reduce the price for additional lines. Others may charge you the same fee for all users but it works out cheaper as you're bulk buying.
How to pick the best family cell phone plan
Picking out a family cell phone plan involves a slightly different approach than picking out an individual plan. In part, that's because you need to think about how your whole family uses their phones. You also need to think about how many people you need the plan to cover, as well as your budget.
It's important to think about how each member of your family uses their phone. Someone who uses it to check email once in a while doesn't require as much data as someone who regularly streams YouTube videos while on the move or plays online mobile games frequently.
Generally speaking, it makes sense to pick out a plan that offers unlimited data when looking for a family plan of three or more lines. Despite many cell phone providers promising unlimited data, many also have soft caps on usage. While your connection won't be disabled for excessive use, you may find speeds dropped down to 3G or even lower if you and your family exceed the cap. Be aware of this and try not to go over the cap.
Perks are also worth considering. Many cell phone providers add extra bonuses such as T-Mobile (opens in new tab) providing you with Netflix for free, or AT&T bundling in HBO Max (opens in new tab). Verizon offers many benefits too including streaming services like Disney+ (opens in new tab). That all might sound great but consider if you really need them or if they're perks that you're paying extra for no reason for.
Remember that more is better. Generally, the first line on any family plan is the most expensive with extra lines dropping in price steadily. A larger family will benefit most here from a substantial discount.
Other additional extras can include features like parental controls and separate billing. The former often costs extra besides Verizon Just Kids plan which does so for free, but it can mean you can monitor your child's usage reasonably well while using a family plan.
Separate billing means that each member of the family plan can pay separately each month, saving you the need of rounding up payments regularly. However, that's not needed if you're dealing with a young family and one bill payer.
When is an individual phone plan better value?
A family plan might seem like the perfect idea on the surface but it's not ideal for everyone. There are some times when an individual phone plan is better, even if it involves your family having separate cell phone plans.
Crucially, if each family member uses their phone very differently, it can be poor value to use a family plan. For instance, if only one member of the family extensively uses data, and most family plans offer unlimited data, you end up paying for a service you simply don't need. Instead, it could be better to buy single-line plans for each family member so that the plan suits their needs better.
Does your family travel around the local area often? Depending on where you live, your cell phone signal may vary depending on where you go. Sticking to the same network for the whole family can cause issues here if one family member regularly visits an area where cell phone reception for that network is flaky. That's why it's important to check cell phone network coverage maps to know what's best for you.
There's also the matter of flexibility. Having one person pay the whole family bill works well with a younger family but once members leave home or want to be more financially independent, dropping the plan down could be less cost efficient. Generally, family cell phone plans work best with at least three people on the account. More people mean deeper discounts so it's wise to reassess the need as and when situations change.
Which cell phone provider should I use?
The big three cell phone providers are a good starting point - T-Mobile (opens in new tab), Verizon (opens in new tab), and AT&T (opens in new tab). Each offer family plans with different benefits and pricing to consider.
If you're keen to use a prepaid service, there's also Visible. It's powered by Verizon and means you can sign up with at least four people in your Party (their way of describing the plan) and save money by teaming up.
Prices change fast so it's worth checking our best cell phone provider round-up regularly to see what works best for you.