Get by with a little help from your friends
By clicking one of our links you're supporting our labs and our independence, as we may earn a small share of revenue. Recommendations are separate from any business incentives.
Navigating all the different cell phone plans out there leaves you feeling just about the same way my mother does when I sing the chorus of “Work It” to her: confused and frankly terrified. There are literally dozens of phone plans available, all with varying levels of data, minutes and texts—and it doesn’t help that the big four carriers are constantly changing their plans, offering you yearly contracts and phone leases that cause your phone bill to fluctuate every few years.
It all leaves you with one question: Am I getting the best deal on my phone plan?
Getting a single-line phone plan is an easy way to overpay for your phone each month (unless you’re using a plan built for individual lines, like Visible), so many people take advantage of family plans, or multi-line shared plans, offered by carriers. Family plans are an incredibly appealing option for those looking to save money each month—just gather a group of four people, get them on the same line, and feel confident that you’ve bested The Man. But is it that easy to orchestrate a family phone plan with friends? And is it smart—or deceptively silly?
The big four carriers—AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile—all offer family plans with discounted rates that increase as more people join the plan. Each company is different; some cap the family at four members, while others allow up to 10. Generally, you can get additional discounts for signing up for autopay or bringing your own device, but just having more humans on the plan is the best way to save money each month.
For a new phone plan with unlimited talk, text, and data, here are the prices for some of the more popular multi-line shared plans (Note: These prices do not include smartphone leases or additional fees):
Even adding one extra person to a phone plan can save each of you $10 a month across most networks, and as the number of people on the plan rises, so does the discount.
So even though they’re called family plans, can you share them with friends? The answer is yes, but—as you can imagine—there are lots of factors to consider.
Almost every family plans requires a primary user on the phone account who is responsible for paying the bill. Since they’re built for families, it’s assumed the person paying is covering the whole group, so when friend groups enter the mix, splitting the phone bill becomes similar to splitting living expenses with a roommate. Your group has to designate one person to put their name officially on the account, then you have to figure out how you’ll pay back the primary account holder each month.
While almost all phone carriers offer multi-line shared plans, few are targeted specifically to friend groups instead of families. Many carriers, including Sprint and T-Mobile, have tried promoting phone packages to friend groups, but don’t currently have any friend plans available. Though as long as you and your friends are responsible about paying each other on time and selecting a primary account holder who will pay the bill on time, any family plan can be a friend plan.
Currently, Visible is the only carrier that offers a phone plan specifically targeted to friend groups, or groups of people who want to pay separate bills but reap the rewards of a singular phone plan. We’ve written about Visible before, but they recently released a new plan, called Party Pay, that allows members to join the same phone plan, or “party,” but pay their own bills separately. It offers the same unlimited perks as other plans, but allows each person to set up their own account and pay their own bills, meaning that one friend who’s good with money doesn’t have to keep track of the phone bill spending for the group anymore.
Overall, going in on a shared phone plan with friends could be a good idea if you choose the right plan and read the fine print carefully. You don’t want to end up with an account in collections or a tarnished credit score because you thought it was a good idea to split a phone plan with your friend’s cousin who had a cool pet iguana.
Sign up for our newsletter to get real advice from real experts.