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Best Family Cell Phone Plans

Dec 21, 2007
Family cell phone plans can be as diverse as the different members in a family. There are so many benefits to choosing a family cell phone plan including -and maybe most importantly- diminished overall cost. To be considered a family plan at least two phone lines are required, with the option of adding more phones, starting at $9.99/per phone added. One popular cell phone provider for example, will allow up to 5 phones per plan with each additional line added costing $9.99.

The price for a family cell phone plan can be as varied as the plethora of companies offering them. It's important to look at all the details of the plan and each company closely before signing a contract. It is possible to find one that best suits you and your needs, so don't settle for the first one you find. Look for the details of each cell phone and provider that are tailor made for you. If there will only be two of you using the plan, it makes more sense to get a plan with minimal minutes. This is especially true if most of the calls will be made between the two phones, and you are confident no extra minutes will be accrued outside the allotment for your plan. Find a company that won't try to sell extraneous features to you. Phone plans can be as basic or as elaborate as you need them to be. There is no reason to spend extra money on features that will never be used.

Most cell phone providers offer free mobile-to-mobile minutes, (or calls made within the network) so even if you choose a plan with minimal minutes, it won't necessarily be cost prohibitive if most calls are made in network. For example, if a family has a plan with 5 phones and most of the minutes of the plan are used making calls between family members, find a plan that has free mobile-to-mobile minutes. This way every phone call made within the family network is essentially free, as no minutes will be deducted from the overall minutes of the plan.

The service provider ads overage fees onto your monthly bill if you or anyone in your family adds up enough talk time minutes to go over the maximum allotment of minutes for your plan. If a cell phone customer has a plan allowing 700 minutes/per month, and the customer uses 750 minutes, the additional 50 minutes are considered overage minutes. The charge for overage minutes varies from one cell phone provider to another. For example, the five providers below vary between $.40/minute to $.45/minute per additional minutes.

It's important to get the right number of minutes for your family's needs, as overage fees for a customer talking on the phone for an additional 50 minutes can cost up to an extra $22.50 per monthly bill. If you consider that a few teenagers could each very easily tack on several hours of overage minutes, it's easy to see why it's critical to find a plan with the right amount of minutes for your family. It's a good idea to go into a cell phone contract knowing how many minutes you think you might use before you get locked in for the long term. If you aren't sure how many minutes you think you'll need, ask a representative from the cell phone company you are considering to help you. Someone who has helped a multitude of people find cell phone plans will likely be helpful in giving you a decent estimate on how many minutes you will need.

Every cell phone provider features several plans, some without extra features like text messaging and data packages and others where the monthly cell phone fee is all-inclusive. Data and text messaging fees very greatly, even within individual providers. With one popular cell phone provider data plans, or Internet access through your cell phone, starts at about $39.99/per month for a basic package and can go up to $89.99/per month. Text messaging with another provider ranges from $4.99/per month for 400 messages to $14.99/per month for unlimited messaging. If you don't want to sign up for a text-messaging plan but think you might want to text occasionally, it's possible to pay per text message. Texts can range from $.15/per message to $.25/per text for text only messages to $.25/per message for pictures and video messages.

If there is a possibility of a lot of text messaging in your future, or the future of anyone in your family plan, a package with unlimited messaging for a flat fee is probably your best option. Text messaging at up to $.25/per message can add up really fast and add a lot to your monthly cell phone bill.

Another very important aspect to buying a cell phone plan is determining the coverage area available with each cell phone provider. Some cell phone companies are more prevalent in specific regions of the country, and will provide better coverage for you if you stay within its outlined geographic region. If your primary cell phone will be used mostly for business and travel outside your home state, ensure the coverage area for your provider before the cell phone is used outside the area and roaming charges are applied. This is true for any of the cell phones under the same family plan.

Be sure to carefully study the available coverage maps before choosing a specific cell phone plan. It is your job as the consumer to be as well informed about your plan as possible; read the fine print concerning the coverage area and if any roaming charges will apply outside of said area. Most cell phone companies have a national network, with wide coverage, ensuring that your cell phone will work when you need it. However, what constitutes "national" coverage to you may not actually be national in the eyes of your cell phone provider. Some cell phone companies consider their regional calling areas to be "national" calling areas. If this is the case, it's possible that phone calls you make, which you believe to be a part of your coverage area, are actually outside the region of the coverage plan for your cell phone provider. If this is the case, the phone calls made outside the coverage area are eligible for roaming charges, which can add considerable cost to your cell phone bill.

Roaming is a term used in the communications industry to describe what happens when cell phone coverage areas overlap. If a call is placed from your cell phone outside your providers' coverage area it's probable you will still be able to place the call, but it will likely be made through the network of a different provider. Cell phone companies contract with one another to ensure there are limited holes or dead spots in network availability. However, even though dropped calls, and a loss of a cell phone signal are a somewhat distant memory, roaming charges are not necessarily so. Although most cell phone providers offer "free", or no roaming charges, as a part of national cell phone contracts, it's still critical to determine the exact details of the coverage area before committing to an extended contract. This way there will be no surprises when the monthly cell phone bill arrives, and you have accrued charges by placing calls outside your network.

The vast array of options when choosing a cell phone can be a little overwhelming. The most important place to start is by determining your individual cell phone needs. The cell phone model you choose can be as simple as a phone with no additional features, or as intricate and high-powered as you are. For example, if one of the cell phones in your family plan will be used primarily for business and travel, take into account the variety of options available to you such as: broadband Internet access, Bluetooth, text messaging, picture messaging, Email, GPS, speakerphone, and data packages. This array of features is optimized through a phone such as The BlackBerry phone, which is essentially a laptop that fits in your pocket. If the feature potentially used by you the most is email, choose a phone with a built-in keyboard to facilitate easier typing. The BlackBerry has the capability to use any of its numerous features anywhere you go. The phone can be purchased from an individual cell phone provider, or through a third party such as an online retailer of electronics, or almost all local electronics stores. Then the phone will be activated through the cell phone provider you have chosen. If there will be teenagers or other children on your family phone plan, determine carefully which phones might work best for each individuals' needs. A teenager doesn't necessarily need a Blackberry, but you might want them to have some extra features available in order for you to stay in better contact with them.

A feature, which has become almost universal on cell phones, is a built-in digital camera. This is an extremely convenient feature as it ensures that anywhere you go with your cell phone, you have a digital camera at your access. The quality of the camera will vary depending on the model of the phone, as well as details such as number of megapixels and quality of resolution. If this is a feature that is important to you, do your homework and find a phone whose camera has a reputation for producing quality photos. Some newer phones also have the capability of recording digital movies as an extended option of the digital camera.

One important aspect to keep in mind when choosing a cell phone is that it's almost always possible to get a phone for a discount under a rebate or promotional offer. It is rarely necessary to pay full retail price for a cell phone that meets your needs. Ask the cell phone provider you choose what cell phones they have available with a discount or rebate. If they don't have a phone that meets your needs, choose an online retailer. They sell new and refurbished phones without contracts, and these phones can be activated under the chosen cell phone provider. As always, if the phone doesn't meet your needs, upgrading to a newer cell phone is always an option.

The final, and perhaps one of the most critical details to choosing a family cell phone plan is the contract. Contracts vary greatly depending upon several variables including: number of lines per family plan, number of minutes, extra features like data plans, etc. Choose a contract length you are comfortable with as terminating your contract can cost anywhere upward of $175. Some contracts are 1-year in length, others are 2-years. Often choosing a longer-term contract will decrease the monthly payment. However having a higher monthly bill with a shorter contract length might be a more attractive choice for your individual family plan. For example, if a family move is a possibility in the future, a shorter-term contract might be the best option, if you move out of the coverage area of your current cell phone provider.

The real key to choosing a phone, cell phone provider, plan, or contract length, is an upfront approach with all of your questions before you sign a contract. Get all of your concerns taken care of in detail, from all potential providers, before your decide and read the small print in every contract. This will ensure a happy relationship between you and your provider, and you and your family will be thankful for it.

*not responsible for prices quoted as they constantly change over time.
About the Author
For more information about some sample family cell phone plans visit SouthernLINC Cell Phone Plans.
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