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The best family plan, individual plan, unlimited plan, and more

dt-best-of-150_carriersTo 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, trying to figure out which network offers the best deal for your family is still a nightmare. Luckily, we’ve compiled this comprehensive guide on how to choose the wireless plan that best suits your needs — and saves you the most cash.

Here are our picks for best family plan, best individual plan, best unlimited plan, and more. We’ve also added helpful explainer sections to help you choose your carrier.

Editor’s Note: Each plan we’ve chosen lists only the price of your service bill. You will also pay monthly installments on your new phones’ balances, if you choose to buy new phones from your carrier. This is explained further in the section below called, “How do phone payment plans work?”

Our pick

T-Mobile

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Why should you buy this: T-Mobile leads the industry with plans that charge no overages, cost less than the competition, and offer more perks.

Who’s it for: Anyone who wants an unlimited plan, lives in an urban area, or travels internationally a lot

How much will it cost: $50 and up, depending on your data usage.

Why we picked T-Mobile:

T-Mobile is the industry leader in the U.S. with its bold “Un-carrier” moves. When T-Mobile busts out a brand new plan or feature, the rest of the carriers inevitably follow its example. T-Mobile started by ending overage charges, killing the two-year contract, and offering lower prices than its competitors.

Now, T-Mobile offers a wide range of perks, including free gifts on Tuesdays, unlimited data plans, unlimited music and video streaming, free international service, and more. As such, T-Mobile wins our awards for best unlimited plan, best international service, and best urban service.

Of course, you have to look beyond the gimmicks to see the core aspects of T-Mobile’s service. It offers two plans, one with variable data caps called T-Mobile One and one that’s unlimited called Simple Choice. The older Simple Choice plans are hidden under Other Plans when you click on Plans from the main page.

There’s no contract for either plan, and you have to pay the full, unsubsidized price for each smartphone you buy on the plan. You’ll pay for each device in installments (typically $20 to $30 a month per phone). You can also bring your own phone instead of buying a new one.

T-Mobile One Plus, a premium upgrade, starts at $5 a month and includes unlimited GoGo in-flight Wi-Fi, voicemail to text, and caller ID. An international option, the One Plus International plan, includes unlimited LTE hotspots, calls to landlines in 70 countries, and all of the One Plus plan’s benefits.

Data hogs are getting a very good deal with the new T-Mobile One Plan and its unlimited data. It’s cheaper than the previous unlimited data option in the existing Simple Choice Plan. However, if you are a customer who was using only the minimum amount of data each month, the new T-Mobile One plan represents a price increase for you of $20-$70. You do get unlimited data for that extra money, but if you don’t have cash to spare, you may want to stay on your old plan — especially if you never exceeded your data limit in the first place.

Bottom line: Those of you who don’t use too much data will want to choose one of the Simple Choice plans with the minimum amount of data. Large families who eat up data should grab an unlimited plan.

Disclaimer: If you live in a rural area, T-Mobile will not work for you. T-Mobile coverage is still spotty in rural America, though it excels in cities.

The perks that come with all T-Mobile plans:

  • Mobile without Borders: T-Mobile users get unlimited talk, text, and data in Canada and Mexico, as well as the United States. Unlimited text and data at lower speeds is also available in almost 150 countries worldwide, though calls cost 20 cents per minute.
  • Jump on Demand: You can lease phones for less and upgrade to the latest and greatest phone whenever you want.
  • Music Freedom: Stream music on most of the popular streaming apps including Spotify without burning through your data allowance.
  • T-Mobile Tuesdays: Download this iOS and Android app to get free deals every Tuesday, like $15 in Lyft credit or a Frosty from Wendy’s.
  • No overages on data: Speeds are reduced to 2G on Simple Choice plans. The unlimited plan has no overages.

The downsides of all T-Mobile plans:

  • Spotty coverage in rural areas.
  • 10 GB of LTE mobile-hotspot data.
  • Once you surpass your data limit, speeds are cut back to 2G.

The downsides of the T-Mobile One Unlimited plan:

  • All tethering between your phone and other devices is limited to 3G speeds. You’ll have to pay $15 extra per month (per line) for 4G LTE tethering.
  • If you surpass 26GB of 4G LTE data, your speeds will be throttled down to 2G.
  • You must sign up for Auto Pay on your bills, or T-Mobile will charge $5 extra per line each month.

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