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Should you share a family phone plan with friends?

Get by with a little help from your friends

Should you share a family phone plan with friends? Credit: Getty Images / Petar Chernaev

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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 caps, minutes and texts. It doesn’t help that the big three carriers are constantly changing their plans, offering yearly contracts and phone leases that make your phone bill 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 monthly phone bill (unless you’re using a plan built for individual lines, like Visible. That drives many people to take advantage of family plans, or multi-line shared plans, offered by carriers. Family cell phone 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 joint account with friends? And is it smart—or deceptively silly?

How does a family phone plan work?

Two people holding phones over each other
Credit: Getty Images / SetsukoN

Phone carriers offer discounts as more people join the same plan.

The big carriers—AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile (which purchased Sprint)—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):

Chart comparing relative family phone plan costs across 5 carriers as the number of people on teh paln increases
Credit: Reviewed / Michael Garrett Steele

Even adding one extra person to a phone plan can save each of you $10 on your monthly bill on 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 plan 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. (You may also need to add the other people on as “authorized users” so they can make changes to their individual lines as needed.)

Who offers family plans for friends

Credit: Verizon Visible

Visible's Party Pay plan is the only plan that currently targets friend groups.

While almost all phone carriers offer multi-line shared plans, few are targeted specifically to friend groups instead of families. Many carriers, including T-Mobile, have tried promoting phone packages to friend groups, but don’t currently have any friend plans available. Still, as long as you and your friends are responsible about paying each other (and 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 billing cycle for the whole 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.

What are the best family phone plans?

Finding the best plan for your friends starts with their needs. Most people take unlimited data, calls, and texting as a given these days. But you still need to consider issues like monthly costs, 4G LTE vs 5G coverage, whether the network coverage actually includes the area where you’re living, and whether the plan allows for mobile hotspot data usage when you need to work and don’t have wi-fi. Another consideration: Are you locked-in to a 12 month plan, or can you pay month to month?

T-Mobile

The T-mobile family plans come in a few options. The minimal “Essentials” doesn’t include taxes or fees, and starts throttling data at 50GB, which is easy to burn through when you have multiple people on a plan. Meanwhile, their T-Mobile Magenta MAX plan doesn’t throttle data at any point, includes 40GB of mobile hotspot, and includes a free HD 2-screen Netflix account.

Their midrange plan, Magenta, gets you (and your friends or family) 100GB of premium data, 5GB of mobile hotspot, and more. You can see their prices in our chart. Note that across all T-Mobile plans, having 2 lines gets you a third one free, so that can drastically affect your bill if you’re splitting costs with others.

AT&T

AT&T’s family plans similarly all include 5G access, as well as some unique features. For instance, they include an AT&T-branded mobile security suite. Even their most basic plans include minimal amounts of hotspot data, as well as international texting, and talk/text/data service in Mexico and Canada. (The latter comes with warning that 2G off-net data speeds may apply)

These extras are great, especially for travelers and people with family abroad. Unfortunately, the meat of the plan is a little lacking. The starter plan has no “premium data” at all, meaning they may slow data speeds if the network is busy at any point. That may be a problem, considering that “premium” is what most people think of as “normal” for getting work done.

Verizon

Verizon family plans start incredibly barebones, offering 5G access and unlimited data that is subject to throttling at any time. Their mid-tier “Play More” and “Do More” plans include 50GB of premium data, 25GB of premium mobile hotspot data, discounts on Internet service, and a suite of bonuses. Play More includes Hulu, Disney+ and ESPN+, along with Apple Arcade or Google Play Pass. Do More includes travel-centric features like discounts on a watch, tablet, hotspot, or Hum plan, 1 accruable international day every month, and 600GB of cloud storage.

Their “5G Get More” plan offers unlimited premium data, 50GB of premium hotspot data, and all of the bonuses from the previous two tiers. All plans include talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada, as well as international texting.

Visible

Finally, Visible’s Party Pay plan includes Unlimited 5G and $G LTE data, talk and text, unlimited hotspot, calling to Canada and Mexico, and more. They’re strictly month to month, with no annual contract. They’re “powered by Verizon,” so they’re available everywhere that Verizon is.

However, there are some downsides. While Visible is definitely among the more cost-effective plans, their data is capped at 200 Mbps, but that’s not really a problem, since that’s in the range of what cable internet service offers. However, the data is subject to throttling when the network is busy, and since it’s not their network, we imagine they’ll be throttled before Verizon’s customers are.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.