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AT&T vs. Verizon vs. Sprint vs. T-Mobile Plans

Compare Cell Phone Plans When choosing a new wireless carrier for your new cell phones, the decision often comes down to who's got the best plans. The top four wireless carriers - AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile - all have a variety of plans to meet your needs, but which one of them are actually the most cost-effective? To figure this out, we need to look at each carrier's available plans and do some comparisons.

Most plans fall into one of three types: individual plans, family plans, and shared data plans. For individual and family plans on AT&T, you buy data plans and messaging plan separately from your call minutes, which adds up pretty quickly. As an example, someone on an AT&T individual plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited messaging, and a 3 GB data plan can expect to pay $120 a month. In contrast, T-Mobile's individual options only allow you to customize the data amount, as each plan automatically comes with unlimited talk and text. Unlimited talk and text with 2 GB of data will cost you $60 a month on T-Mobile, while bumping that up to unlimited data will cost you $70. Sprint phones offer a variety of different plans to serve different needs, from their unlimited talk, text, and data option for $109.99, all the way down to an extremely basic plan with 200 minutes and free nights and weekends for $29.99.

An AT&T family plan shares the minutes and the messaging between all phones, but each phone gets its own data plan. A family with two lines, each with 5 GB data plans, unlimited text messaging, and a shared 1400 minutes of talk time will pay $219.99 a month before taxes. T-Mobile phones offer their exact same unlimited talk and text plans for family, with no differences except a higher price. A family of four lines with 2 GB of data on T-Mobile will pay $100 a month. Sprint once again offers a variety of plans to serve its customers' varied needs. Their Simply Everything plan offers two lines of unlimited talk, text, and data for $209.98 a month, but they also offer their Everything Data and Everything Messaging family plans, which are perfect for families who text and surf the Internet more than they ever call on their phone. Alternatively, you can get their simplest family plan, the Talk for Family option, where for $69.99 you can get just 700 minutes to share.

Verizon Wireless no longer offers individual or family plans. They have instead switched their entire system to shared data plans, under the title Share Everything. AT&T has also embraced shared data with their new Mobile Share plans. These plans both work the same way: You pay a set price for a data plan that is then shared between all devices. It varies in price depending on how much data you want. You then pay a certain rate to add each phone onto the line. Every added device gets automatic unlimited minutes and messaging. For people who use their phones a lot, this plan is much cheaper than individual or family plans that charge separately for each feature.

Whose shared data option is better? Verizon cell phones offer more data plans at different prices, with fourteen to AT&T's nine. For mid-range families, the two plans come out exactly even in price almost every step of the way. Once you start looking at larger plans, however, Verizon clearly has the advantage. Starting at the 20 GB plan, AT&T's plan costs $320 a month for four lines, while Verizon is only $310. The difference in price just gets bigger from there. For more options and cheaper higher-end options, Verizon gets the nod for shared data.

AT&T phones is the only carrier that currently offers both shared data plans and individual/family plans, but neither one is the most cost-effective option when compared to other carriers. Verizon's Share Everything plan is absolutely the best way to go if you're looking for a shared data plan, but what if you're looking for an individual or family plan? AT&T is the most expensive of the three, no matter which way you look at it, so the real competitors here are T-Mobile and Sprint.

Sprint has the best plans overall

Here's where it makes a difference how much money you want to spend right away. T-Mobile can offer lower monthly prices because they charge much, much more on their devices. All the money you're saving per month? You're using up all those potential savings right off the bat when you pay exorbitant prices for their phones. With Sprint, though the monthly costs may be a little higher, you're saving a significant amount of money on the price of each phone. Most people can't afford to pay a huge amount upfront, especially if they're purchasing several phones, and with Sprint, you don't have to. It's a close call, but Sprint definitely gets the edge here.

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