Get the best cell phone plan for your family—and save up to $1,000 a year

Consumer Reports
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Thanks to price-war incentives and greater plan flexibility, there are more opportunities now to save a few bucks on the new, no-contract plans from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless—a.k.a. the Big Four. These plans separate the purchase of the phone from the service charges, effectively giving you an interest-free loan you can pay off in about two years. When you’ve paid off the phone, your monthly bill goes down accordingly. And there are no termination fees; if you want to leave the carrier, you just pay any remaining balance on the phone.

Although our recent report, "Small carriers outrank the big ones in Consumer Reports' latest cell phone service survey," covering 63,352 subscribers in 26 metro areas, found some very happy customers who switched to smaller cell providers, there are still good reasons for staying big.

Verizon, for example, earned decent marks across the board for voice, text, and data service, while AT&T was a standout for its 4G service. T-Mobile was tops for value and customer service. And Sprint, which didn’t do particularly well in any category, has recently become very aggressive about pricing—and some people actually do like the company.

Thinking about changing your wireless company? We'll help you find the best cell phone carrier.

Unfortunately, these plans are rather complicated, and the carriers have done their best to make apples-to-apples comparisons difficult among one another’s offerings. For example, they charge different rates for additional phone lines, break data allowances into chunks that don't match the competition’s, and provide differing discounts for multiple phones.

The good news: We’ve already done the math for you in the tables below to help you find the best deal. And to make sure your needs are covered, we’ve broken down the service-cost breakdowns for one to five family members for light, medium, and heavy data service. All you need to do is figure out home much data your family needs, which we also help you do in  "How much service do you need?"

Looking to save money on your Internet, TV, and home-phone service? Here's how you can create your own triple-play bundle and save money.

T-Mobile Simple Choice

Number of people

1GB of data per phone

3GB of data per phone

5GB of data per phone

1

$50

$60

$80

2

80

100

120

3

90

120

150

4

100 (2.5GB per phone)

100 (2.5GB per phone)

180

5

110 (2.5GB per phone)

110 (2.5GB per phone)

210

 

Sprint Family Share Pack

Number of people

1GB of data per phone

2GB of data per phone

4GB of data per phone

1

$45

$50

$65

2

75

90

120

3

115 (1.3GB of data per phone)

145 (6.7GB of data per phone)

145 (6.7GB of data per phone)

4

160 (5GB of data per phone)

160 (5GB of data per phone)

160 (5GB of data per phone)

5

160 (4GB of data per phone)

160 (4GB of data per phone)

160 (4GB of data per phone)

 

AT&T Next on Mobile Share

Number of people

1GB of data per phone

2GB of data per phone

4GB of data per phone

1

 $50

$65 (3GB of data)

$95 (6GB of data)

2

 90 (1.5GB of data per phone)

120 (3GB of data per phone)

150 (5GB of data per phone)

3

 115

145 (3.3GB of data per phone

175 (10GB of data per phone)

4

 160 (2.5GB of data per phone)

160 (2.5GB of data per phone)

190 (7.5GB of data per phone)

5

 145 (3.3GB per phone)

145 (3.3GB of data per phone)

205 (6GB of data per phone)

 

Verizon Edge More Everything

Number of people

1GB of data per phone

2GB of data per phone

4GB of data per phone

1

 $70

$80

$100

2

 110

110 (5GB of data per phone

110 (5GB of data per phone)

3

 125 (3.3GB of data per phone)

125 (3.3GB of data per phone)

145 (5GB of data per phone)

4

 140 (2.5GB of data per phone)

140 (2.5GB of data per phone)

210

5

 155 (2GB of data per phone)

155

225

 

Note that in comparing rates, we couldn’t always find perfect matches, but we used the most similar plans.

For instance, AT&T, Verizon, and now Sprint sell their data in chunks that can be shared by all the phones on one account, while T-Mobile requires you to buy data plans for each phone. So we selected sharable data plans that matched (or came as close as possible to matching) the per-phone data plan of T-Mobile.

Another adjustment: T-Mobile offers unlimited data plans, while AT&T's and Verizon's plans cap off at 50GB, and Sprint's at 60GB, at rates north well north of $200. We determined that 4GB to 5GB per phone would be comparable to having unlimited data, for most users.

—Mike Gikas

If you're thinking about what your next smart phone should be, check our cell phone buying guide and Ratings.



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