Tips for Choosing a Family Data Plan

Parents have many reasons to provide their children with cell phones. There’s the peace of mind that comes from knowing you can get in touch with your child at any time, and that they can text or phone you if they need you. With the right cell phone, you can track your child’s location if necessary, or monitor the online content they consume. Picking cell phone data plans for individual family members can be expensive, however. It makes much more sense to choose a family cell phone plan. 

The many family cell phone plans on the market come with widely different features, prices, and benefits, so it’s wise to do your research before you make your final choice. It’s best to decide on a family data plan before choosing your child’s first phone, as you may be able to take advantage of phone discounts for new plan subscribers. Below you’ll find information on the features offered by the best family cell phone plans, and how those features help you keep your kids safe, both on and offline.

The Best Family Cell Phone Plan Features

A family data plan’s cost is dependent on the features it offers,  with feature-heavy plans having higher monthly fees. Cheaper plans will save you money, but may lack the apps and features you need to keep your kids safe: a few extra dollars can ensure you know where your child is and what she’s accessing online. 

Quite frankly, the best family data plans are not that much more expensive than cheaper plans. For as little as $35.00 a month per phone, you can sign up for a family data plan with enough data to meet your entire family’s needs. Such plans provide you with a mix of the following features:

  • Unlimited call and text
  • Unlimited data
  • International calls
  • Mobile hotspots
  • Internet streaming
  • Data monitoring
  • 5G networking
  • Security apps

Unlimited Call and Text

Unlimited call and text means just that: No matter how much data you use, you’ll always be able to make calls and send texts without additional fees. Unlimited call and text applies only to texting services like MMS and phone calls: calls over VoIP systems and texting apps such as WhatsApp are not included. 

For parents, the ability to text a child at any time is invaluable, whether you’re contacting a child to find out where he is or sending a reminder to him to do his chores. While the risk is thankfully low, it’s not hyperbole to say that in an emergency, unlimited calls and texts can mean the difference between a safe child and tragedy. 

Unlimited Data

Some family phone plans put caps on data use. If your family exceeds their data limit, you have to pay for more, which can quickly become expensive if you have a family that enjoys streaming movies or playing online games. The best family cell phone plans offer unlimited data.

If you’re checking out the best family cell phone plans, you’ll quickly see what appears to be a contradiction. The plan offers unlimited data, but has a data cap. Once you reach this data cap, you can still consume data, but data speed may be throttled (data speed slows significantly) or deprioritized (data speed is temporarily reduced during periods of high network use). Of the two options, deprioritization is the better choice, as it only comes into effect during times of peak network use, while throttling will continue until your plan rolls over into the next billing cycle. 

International Calls

Different data plans have different international calling features. For instance, some plans may offer free calls and text to specific countries (Canada and Mexico are most often offered). Other plans give you the option of calling home when you travel out of the country. Some allow you to use your data plan abroad, or offer free international roaming with slower wireless speeds. 

Read a plan’s small print carefully where international calls are concerned, and make sure all family members understand the plan’s limitations. It’s not uncommon for children traveling abroad to text, send pictures, or play games with their friends at home, which can result in extra fees if your plan does not cover such activities. 

Mobile Hotspots

Mobile hotspots allow you to “tether” your phone to a laptop or other mobile device, turning the phone’s data plan into a wireless network. This is an excellent feature for students or people who must travel for work, as you can create your own —Wi-Fi network on the go. 

Not all data plans allow you to use your phone as a mobile hotspot. Those that do usually have hotspot-specific data restrictions, typically in the range of 15G to 30G a month — enough to access the internet, upload and download files, or send email from your laptop. 

Internet Streaming

If your family watches streaming movies, sports, or the news on their cell phones, or if some family members are avid online gamers, you’ll need fast, reliable data speeds. The best family data plans offer support for 480p to 720p HD streaming.

5G Networking

5G, the latest generation in telecommunications, is up to 100 times faster than existing 4G LTE networks and capable of reaching download speeds comparable to Wi-Fi networks. At present, 4G continues to be the most widespread network option, with 5G becoming more common in larger urban centers. Many family data plans now offer 5G access alongside 4G LTE for people who own 5G phones. 

Data Monitoring

Children must be taught how to use their phones appropriately and abide by family rules for online life. One way to control what your child does online is to limit the amount of data she can use a month. A good family data plan will allow you to monitor the data each family member uses and place a limitation on data use if necessary. This helps children learn to make good decisions with their phones or risk running out of data for the month. Restricting data access also makes a suitable consequence for violating family phone rules. 

Security Apps

When choosing a family data plan, ask about security and parental control apps. Depending on the plan you may be able to use parental filters to place restrictions on which apps your child can download and use or which websites they can visit. The plan may also offer apps to help locate lost phones or to lockdown phones in the event of theft. 

Entertainment Benefits

Family data plans often offer free access to streaming entertainment services. For instance, a data plan might offer six to twelve months access to ESPN, Hulu, Apple Music, Discovery +, or Disney +. The very best family data plans may include unlimited access to streaming services as part of their monthly fees, such as Verizon’s Get More Unlimited, which offers free access to Disney +, ESPN, and Hulu as part of the Disney Bundle.

How To Choose The Right Family Plan For You?

You’ll want to consider the features listed above when you choose your family plan, but one consideration has to take priority: which cell phone carrier offers the best coverage for your needs? Obviously, you’ll want a strong local signal, but what about remote family members? Out-of-state college students, grandparents, and other family members will need reliable coverage as well. This is rarely a problem if you choose a nationwide provider, but can become an issue if you choose a smaller, local provider. 

Once you know which providers offer the coverage you need, consider which family plan has the right features for you. Decide how many lines you need and the type of phones your children will use. If a plan offers discounts or specials on the purchase of new phones, it may be the most cost-efficient choice for you. 

You’ll also need to decide how much data each line needs. Teenagers generally need more data than a ten-year-old, who may still need more than his grandma, who just uses the phone to text and web browse (then again, if granny discovers streaming video, she may need more than you think). To assign data allowances to individual lines, you’ll need a per-line allotment data plan, rather than a shared plan, where everyone uses the same data pool.

Verizon’s Best Family Data Plans

If you’re looking for adaptable family plans, consider Verizon’s family of unlimited data plans, which include:

  • Just Kids, a child-specific plan that allows you to control how children use phones.
  • Start Unlimited, which offers DVD-quality video streaming and international texting.
  • Do More Unlimited, which offers HD streaming with 15G for mobile hotspots.
  • Play More Unlimited, with international texting, mobile hotspots, HD streaming, and free monthly access to Disney +, Hulu, and ESPN. 
  • Get More Unlimited, Verizon’s flagship data plan, Get More Unlimited offers the largest amount of data with 30G of mobile hotspots, the Disney Bundle, and many other features. 

Find the data plan that meets your family’s needs.