AT&T vs. Verizon vs. T-Mobile: Whose family plan will save you t - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

AT&T vs. Verizon vs. T-Mobile: Whose family plan will save you the most?

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By Malarie Gokey
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To say that navigating U.S. carriers’ family plans is a trial is the understatement of the century. Although carriers’ websites have improved and plans have become more transparent, it’s still an exercise in frustration trying to figure out which network offers the best deal for your family.

Luckily, we’ve compiled this comprehensive guide on how to choose the family plan that best suits your needs — and saves you the most cash.

Editor’s note: We left out Sprint for the time being due to the heavy rumors that it’s merging with T-Mobile. If this merger does not work out, we will add Sprint into the mix later this summer.

Step 1: Do you want a two-year contract?

T-Mobile only offers one family plan, so you don’t have to worry about choosing among different plans. However, at Verizon and AT&T,  you have two very different options to choose from: one with a two-year contract and one without.

More Everything Plan: The first plan offered by Verizon is called the More Everything plan, which includes a two-year contract.

More Everything Plan with Verizon Edge: The second is the More Everything plan with Verizon Edge, which does not require a contract at all.

At AT&T, you can also choose between the contract-free AT&T Next plan and the standard two-year contract plan. These contract-free plans were built to compete with T-Mobile.

Paying full price for your phone: The downside of contract-free plans is that you’ll have to pay the full, unsubsidized price of the smartphone of you buy. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile let you pay installments on the device, typically $20 to $30 a month over a period of 24 months. The two-year contract option gives you the benefit of a nice discount on your new smartphone right from the get go. However, depending on which smartphone you buy and how often you like to upgrade, the two-year contract plan may end up costing you a whole lot more in the long run.

Contract-less plans can be cheaper over the long term and offer you more flexibility because you’ll be able to switch carriers at any time. If you decide to do a two-year contract, you’ll have to pay an early termination fee (ETF). At Verizon, ETFs cost as much as $350 and at AT&T, you’ll have to pay up to $325.

Step 2: How much data do you need?

Perhaps the most important decision you’ll have to make when choosing a family plan is the amount of data you will need. It is essential that you choose the right amount for your family, so as to avoid overage charges. T-Mobile is the exception to this rule, as it no longer has overage charges. If you exceed your limit of free data on the Uncarrier’s network, the company will just dial back your data speed to 3G or slower for the duration of the month.

On the other hand, Verizon will charge you $15 per 1GB of data if you go over your limit. AT&T has different rates per gigabyte, depending on your plan, but its typically about $15 per gigabyte over.

To determine how much data you need, consider two factors: the number of people in your family plan and how much data you think each person will use. If you and your family rarely use the Internet when you’re away from a Wi-Fi network, you might want to buy less data. However, if you like to stream movies over your 4G network, browse the Internet for hours, check your email 95,000 times a day, and live tweet your day, you’ll want a huge chunk of data.

Verizon and AT&T want you to share data, T-Mobile does not: With the Verizon and AT&T family plans, all family members draw from the same data pool, which means that all four of you pull data from the 8GB you purchased. All the data from these two networks should run at 4G LTE speeds. Meanwhile, T-Mobile users each get their own chunk of data. Each individual T-Mobile customer in the family plan gets 1GB of 4G LTE data for free, but once you run out of 4G data, slower data speeds of 2G or 3G LTE are unlimited. Additional 4G LTE data costs more.

Step 3: Picking your plan

Now that you’ve decided whether you want a contract or not, and how much data your family needs, it’s time to pick a plan. All three carriers offer competitive plans, but they each have rules of their own. Let’s break it down by carrier and plan.

T-Mobile Simple Choice Plan

T-Mobile offers only one plan and its website is perhaps the easiest to navigate. There’s no contract, and you have to pay the full, unsubsidized price for each smartphone on the plan. You’ll pay for each device in installments (typically $20 to $30 a month per phone). You can, of course bring your own phone instead of buying a new one.

You can choose how much data each person in the plan needs. T-Mobile includes 1GB of 4G LTE data on each line for free. After that, users have unlimited data at slower speeds like 3G or 2G. There are no overage charges, either.

First, you decide how many people are in your family plan. The first line costs $50, the second costs $30, and every line after that costs $10. Then, you determine if you need more than 1GB of 4G LTE data per person. If you rarely use data, then the 1GB per person is enough. However, if you’re a family of Internet fiends, you’ll want to add 3GB more 4G LTE data to each person on your plan. Every added 3GB costs $10 more.

Verizon More Everything Plan (two-year contract)

Verizon offers two different plans; we’ll look at the one with a two-year contract first. When you sign the contract on the More Everything plan, you agree to stick with Verizon for two years or pay a large penalty, so be sure this is what you want. This plan offers pools of data that are shared between all members in the family. All the data is at 4G LTE speeds, but if you go over your limit, Verizon will charge you $15 for each 1GB you go over your limit.

First you decide how many people you want in your plan. Each line costs $40. Then, you choose your data. Verizon suggests data amounts based on three categories: light use, average use, and heavy use. The above table uses data amounts that are easy to compare with the other two carriers in this guide.

Verizon More Everything Plan with Edge (no contract)

Verizon’s other plan, called Edge, has no contract and offers much better bargains for families. You will, however, have to pay the unsubsidized price of your device. Families with two to three members pay $30 a line, but families of four and up pay just $15 per line. Otherwise, the rules are the same as those described above.

AT&T Mobile Share Value Plan (with two-year contract)

AT&T also has a plan with a contract and one without. Just as at Verizon, the plan with the contract asks you to pay $40 per line and you’ll be charged $15 for each GB of data overage.

AT&T Mobile Share Value Plan (no contract)

The AT&T Mobile Share Value plan with no contract offers better deals for families, but gets a bit more confusing. If you choose a plan with less than 10GB of data, you’ll have to pay $25 per line. However, if you buy 10GB or more of data, you’ll pay just $15 per line. With this offer, AT&T is trying to target large families who use lots of data by making it cheaper to get more than it is to buy less. The end result is great for big families and somewhat bad for mid-to-small-sized families.

Step 4: Choose your carrier

T-Mobile, AT&T, or Verizon: What’ll it be? Now that we’ve looked at all the plans, let’s narrow it down to the cheapest plans from each carrier and compare.

Winner: T-Mobile

T-Mobile undoubtedly has the cheapest plans for families over all, but if you have only two or three people in your family, AT&T and Verizon offer plans that don’t cost too much more.

Verizon and AT&T both boast that they offer better coverage and faster data in rural parts of the country, and depending on your area that may be true. However, T-Mobile offers excellent coverage in large, metropolitan areas and is working hard to improve its coverage in rural America.

If you’re looking to save money, but are hesitant to try T-Mobile’s network, the company offers a “Seven Night Stand” promotion that lets you try out an iPhone 5S on T-Mobile’s network for seven days for free. That way, you can see if the Uncarrier’s network is terrible or just fine in your region.

This article was originally posted on Digital Trends

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