These days, if you want to get a cell phone for more than one family member, or even every single member of your family, a lot of money can be saved by getting a monthly family plan (i.e., two or more people sharing a certain amount of minutes) rather than each person signing up for an individual plan. However, as you look at the four main cell phone carriers---AT&T, Sprint Nextel, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile---choosing the family plan suitable for the needs of everyone involves a few factors that need to be taken into consideration.
Number of Minutes
First, you must figure out how many people are going to be in the plan and how much each person is likely to use his/her phone to make calls to get a rough estimate on the packaged amount of minutes to select. Usually, cell phone plans consist of two types of minutes: Anytime minutes and Night & Weekend minutes (N&W).
It is standard for cell phone carriers to include free or unlimited N&W minutes, which generally apply to calls made between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays (nights) and all hours on Saturdays and Sundays (weekends). AT&T, Sprint and Verizon offer Night minutes that start from 7 p.m. on a few of their higher-end family plans.
It is the amount of Anytime minutes---i.e., time not covered by N&W minutes---that you and your family need to watch out for, since they are not free or unlimited unless you subscribe to one of the carrier's more costly plans. Choosing a plan with insufficient Anytime minutes can lead to going over the limit, and consequently racking up costly additional charges. However, there is the Free Mobile-to-Mobile feature---it comprises calls made to and received from other subscribers of the same carrier---that does not eat into the monthly Anytime-minute allotment. On average, T-Mobile has the most amount of Anytime minutes per plan.
A calling circle is a feature that gives unlimited calling to a preselected group of phone numbers, usually five or 10. These numbers can be from anywhere and anyone: wireless or landline, subscribers and non-subscribers. T-Mobile (via myFaves) and Verizon possess this feature.
Rollover minutes are unused monthly Anytime minutes that are "rolled over" to the next month for usage rather than expiring with a bill cycle. This feature is ideal for those who truly treasure their Anytime minutes, and only AT&T has it.
Other factors to consider are the monthly packages you can add to the family plan that include messaging for text, picture and video; downloading ringtones and wallpaper; Internet access and email; and international calling.
"What Are the Best Family Cell Phone Plans?"
There really is no such thing because cell phone plan needs varies from family to family. Rather, based on the aforementioned features, it should be a question of: "What is the best family cell phone plan for your family?"