How to Choose a Family Cell Phone Plan

By: Debra Ronca

Even the little ones have cell phones these days.
Even the little ones have cell phones these days.
RunPhoto/Photodisc/Getty Images

Just about everyone today has a cell phone -- even young children -- and many parents actually like it that way. It gives them a way to keep in touch with their offspring, and since many cell phones have GPS, it can even give them the power of knowing where their kids are at all times. The problem is that supplying everyone in the house with a cell phone becomes costly. Is there a way to save on your family's cell phone bill?

Most cell phone companies offer family cell phone plans. These plans provide a discount when you sign up everyone in your family with a cell phone to the same account. Each plan has its pros and cons, of course, so it's important to compare plans and service providers to ensure you're getting the best deal for your family's needs.

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Most family plans -- or shared plans -- let a group of people (usually, but not necessarily, living at the same address) share a monthly allotment of minutes, with each member having his or her own phone and phone number, and all charges going to one combined bill. Members can call each other for free. That's the basic idea. However, you need to take into account things like texting, national and international roaming, and data usage. For example, if you don't buy the right texting option, and you have a text-happy teen, you could end up paying a very pretty penny for overages. So you need to correctly estimate your usage (we advise overestimating -- you can change your plan later), and keep tabs on your group's usage online (a feature all major carriers offer).

On the next page, we'll talk about different cell phone companies and the family/group plans they offer.

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Cell Phone Family Plan Options

Family plans will vary based on the provider and where you live. But the general idea is that a family plan is a more cost-effective way of managing several cell phones within a family than having all separate accounts. Ideally, a family plan would allow for free in-family calling, which means that any calls to a cell number within your family plan won't use up your network minutes. And with some family plans, you can put different calling plans on each line. For example, perhaps you could put unlimited data on one line and limited texting on another. Or, if you have a young child, you may be able to set very specific restrictions to that particular line. AT&T, for example, has a program called "Smart Limits" that allows you to block calls, restrict the times of day the phone can be used for calling, set a dollar limit for downloadable purchases, and set a limit on the amount of Web browsing permitted per billing cycle. Restrictions to the various plans may apply, of course.

Below are some examples of a few family plans as of the time of this writing:

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  • AT&T's FamilyTalk Cell Phone plans let you use your minutes across all your lines. You can get a maximum of five lines, with 550 to unlimited shared minutes. The first two lines are included in a base price, and then it's $9.99 per month for each additional line.
  • Verizon's Family SharePlan includes one base price for minutes, and then one price for each line you add. You can get a maximum of five lines, with 700 to unlimited shared minutes.
  • Sprint's family plans also include one base price for minutes, from 700 to unlimited. You can get a maximum of five lines. Lines one and two are included in the base price, and lines three through five are additional.

If you're putting your child onto your family plan, you need to set ground rules about how that phone will be used. If your child is going to use the phone socially, you may be able to set up unlimited texting, for example. Or, if the phone is only for calling home or checking in, you may be able to get away with a minimum plan. Sometimes you can even have certain features, like picture messaging, disabled completely. Or, you can set it up so that picture messaged is allowed only during certain times of the day, or is only available up to a certain dollar amount per billing cycle. Again, features vary depending on which provider you choose.

A family plan may also make it easier to keep track of your cell phone usage and spending. Most plans allow you to go online at any time during the billing cycle and check usage. You can see your bill broken down into data used, calls made, calls received, and texts made and received. If you're extremely concerned about who's texting your child or what your child is texting, you can even look into third-party apps like My Mobile Watchdog.

To sum up, if you're looking for a way to cut some costs at home, a family cell phone plan is a good option.

For more about family and money-saving tips, check out the links on the next page.

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Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "Cell phone buying guide." CNET. 2011. (Dec. 7, 2011) http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-7609_7-5537615-2.html
  • "FamilyTalk Cell Phone Plans." AT&T. 2011. (Dec. 7, 2011) http://www.wireless.att.com/cell-phone-service/cell-phone-plans/family-cell-phone-plans.jsp?_requestid=192223
  • "Family plans for cell phones." CNET. Apr. 18, 2006. (Dec. 7, 2011) http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-11282_7-6508607-1.html
  • "Plans - Family." Spring. 2011. (Dec. 7, 2011) http://shop.sprint.com/mysprint/shop/plan/plan_wall.jsp?tabId=pt_shared_tab&flow=AAL&planFamilyType=null
  • "Nationwide Family SharePlan." Verizon. 2011. (Dec. 7, 2011) http://www.verizonwireless.com/plans/nationwide-family-share.shtml

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