Disbanding the family plan
September 6, 2013 6:54 PM   Subscribe

My mom, my brother and I share a cell phone plan. It's not quite working for us any more. What's the best solution for three somewhat different users?

Right now, we have a no contract T-Mobile plan with 750 anytime minutes and unlimited texts that works out to just under $90/month including tax.

Me: 307 minutes last month, 225 texts (I used 710 minutes in July, which was atypical, but happened)
Brother: 453 minutes, 124 texts (about 350 minutes in July)
Mom: 222 minutes (mostly talking to me or my brother), no texts (she probably has three texts every six months)

My brother is buying a condo, which has creating a surge in phone usage and we're quite close to the 750 minutes with nearly three weeks left in the billing cycle. We can upgrade to the unlimited plan for either another $10 or $15 a month plus the extra tax (the T-Mobile website is pretty terrible and I can't tell), but, if we do that, we can't downgrade because our plan no longer exists. My brother and I are contemplating upgrading the plan, having him pay the difference for the next few months and then disbanding the family plan once he moves, but we're indecisive and if we're going to do this with minimal complaining from mom, we need to present a fully formed plan that includes her.

Some criteria are as following:
Me: I really want to keep my phone number (I know porting to Google Voice is an option and would do it if that's what it took), $30 or less, preferably something that would allow me to keep using my unlocked GSM phone until I'm ready to replace it (that's negotiable).
Brother: Wants to use an unlocked GSM phone (not so negotiable), may want a smartphone in the near future, could afford to pay more than $30
Mom: Resistant to change, will probably want to keep phone number and phone (an old Motorola Razr, but I think she bought it off ebay, so it might be unlocked, otherwise T-Mobile), but the big concern is coverage. She lives in Middlebury, VT. T-Mobile works, but it's using the AT&T network. I believe Verizon is known to work. Sprint MVNOs are probably out. I assume she is getting the raw end of the family plan and should be paying less than $30/month.

Suggestions for any of us? How does one disband a family plan anyway? I assume I have to go last because I have the 'primary' line on the account.
posted by hoyland to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also: my brother uses Google Voice a fair bit and people actually call him at that number instead of his cell phone number. He'd like it keep his number as a matter of convenience, but it's not as big a deal for him as for me.
posted by hoyland at 6:55 PM on September 6, 2013

I'm under a contract family plan with Verizon, so can't really help you with your family plan question. But, I know you can keep your phone number (in most cases) if you were to change providers and I'm sure the same is true if you just switch to a different contract with the same provider (and are not moving out of the area).

In fact, I'm having a dispute with Verizon at the moment and at one point I'm almost positive that they did confirm that if I were to move from my current contract to a prepaid contract with them I could keep my number. Hopefully I'm not misconstruing that part your question.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:37 PM on September 6, 2013

There's a federal law that you own your phone number, so don't worry about that. If you decide to switch carriers, don't tell your current carrier. You just need to give your new carrier all your account info and they take care of the switch (it's called porting a number).

I'd call T-Mobile and tell them you want to leave and see what they'll offer you. All companies like this have "retention" people who if you get to them can offer you a discount to try to keep you from leaving.
posted by radioamy at 8:05 PM on September 6, 2013

If all three lines are out of contract (it sounds like y'all are...), the dissolving the family plan is as easy as finding plans that you all like better, signing up for the new service, and porting your current phone number over. In the past few years, the ability to port numbers has become basically universal between carriers and types of coverage (prepaid vs. postpaid) as a matter of federal (FCC) policy. Porting your number automatically closes your old line.

Technically it doesn't matter what order you drop off the family plan - the "primary account holder" is supposed to transfer to the next person, but practically I would probably do your switch last.

For text-and-voice only plans at $30 or less, you should look primarily at prepaid plans, like AT&T Go Phone or T-Mobile Prepaid. Post-paid plans tend to be more expensive and include data.
posted by muddgirl at 8:07 PM on September 6, 2013

Everyone let's you keep your phone number. That's not an issue at all.

T Mobile's current family plan is unlimited Talk/Text/Web (throttled at a point decided on how much you're paying) for $90 a month before taxes and stuff when you have 3 lines. $50 a month for Line 1, it's always going to be the most expensive assuming everyone has the same options. $30 a month for Line 2, which again is a constant price. Lines 3-5 at $10 a month each.

Staying with them you won't have to get a new phone. But you can, not a big deal.

Data tiers are a $10 price jump on the line. So if your brother gets a smartphone he'll need to jump that part of the plan up to 2.5GB/month on data because nobody with a smartphone wants data throttled and 500mb goes quick. Simple thing, just tell them you want to pay for the data and you're good to go.

This also clearly spells out that your mom's part of the plan is $10 a month. Pretty simple, she'll be cheap.

You can work people around in positions 1, 2, and 3 however you need to. If your brother can afford to pay more than put him as Line 1 if it makes you feel better. T Mobile doesn't care since they'll be getting 1 payment on 1 bill.

If your brother leaves you don't have to totally get rid of the family plan, you can just take him off of it. But that would mean your mom is technically having her bill jump $20 because T Mobile's Line 2 is $30 a month. Again, split that however you want in real life since you're not all paying T Mobile individually.

Verizon's Share everything is $30 per basic phone on the plan, so that's $90 right there and you're only looking at the charges to be connected to their network. $100 gets you 700 minutes to share and no text/data at all. $130 gets you unlimited talk/text and 500MB of shared data. That's the lowest you can go with 3 phones.

AT&T has weird tiered plans. Assuming last month is roughly typical for y'all then you're looking at $100 for 3 lines at 1400 minutes. Text on top of that from what I'm seeing Thank you Best Buy for not teaching me anything when I worked there because you always wanted to bury me in MP3....

Sprint coverage sucks. Just don't go there.

If price is your main thing then upgrading and staying with T Mobile is probably your best bet. There's also prepaid to consider, which has such a large number of possibilities that I'm not even going there unless you want me to. But basically you're looking at 2 models. One has you pay monthly like you're doing now but pretty cheap, the other has you buy minutes and you keep them until they're either used or (usually) a year old.

Ask questions all you want. And as much as I hate to say it, go somewhere like Best Buy where they're not working for a carrier. Best Buy doesn't get a commission at all so they don't care who you end up going with. Which is great for you because you can go in and get them to explain all of the different plan options laid out and compared and unless a rep is standing right there most won't hesitate to tell you if a certain carrier sucks for what you're trying to do.
posted by theichibun at 8:07 PM on September 6, 2013

Response by poster: To be clear, I know about porting numbers, but we looked into Republic Wireless at one point and they would have been unable to port our numbers (for some reason we didn't figure out--they had a 'check if your number would port' thing on their website).
posted by hoyland at 8:08 PM on September 6, 2013

Have y'all moved area codes at some point? The one exception I've seen is that wireless companies don't have to port numbers from different area codes than your current area code. So if your mom is in VT and her current number has an area code in MN, companies don't have to port it. Or if your number is a VT number and you live in MN.

You might be able to get around that if you stay on T-Mobile, or as you mention if you port to Google Voice (there's a fee for that I think) and then sign up for a plan with a new number and have your calls forwarded.
posted by muddgirl at 8:17 PM on September 6, 2013

Response by poster: Have y'all moved area codes at some point?

Why, yes we have. That may well be it.

For posterity (or until it changes), it's $20 to port to Google Voice.

T-Mobile will actually let us move to family plan without data (that much I can see while logged in). They have a habit of not making it easy to figure out what plans exist and the no data plan is not mentioned except on the account management page.

Okay, I'll shut up now.
posted by hoyland at 8:28 PM on September 6, 2013

OK. This won't work with GSM phones. You have to have a Verizon phone (or a flashed Sprint phone.) You can get these phones fairly cheap on eBay or even at a garage sale if you find someone's out of contract phone for sale. I have three lines with Page Plus Cellular, a prepaid Verizon network operator. We were able to port our numbers in. Here's how we break down:

- My line costs me $29.95 per month. For that I get 1200 minutes, 1200 texts, and 500 MB of data. I use my smartphone a lot while out, but I have wifi at home and work, and I might use 150 MB of data a month. I went to a local PP dealer to get a Sprint smartphone that I was given flashed over for this.

- My wife's line costs $12 per month. For that, she gets 250 minutes and 250 texts. She uses an older Verizon RAZR phone that my company was going to throw out. The phone worked with just the standard instructions for OTA programming, and without flashing.

- Our house phone is on a pay per minute plan. We buy a $25 card when needed, and it lasts us 3 months or so. You get 433 minutes for that $25, and it's good for four months, but if you replenish with a new card, any unused minutes roll over. The phone is a Verizon LG flip phone we got at a yard sale for $8 - no flash needed.

For the monthly plans, you can backstop it with a $25 (or $10, which gets you 100 minutes) card if you worry that you might go over on your minutes or texts. There are also unlimited calling and texting options available for more money. You're also not locked in since it's no contract. If you pick up an extra phone at a yard sale, then you've got a quick replacement if you lose or break a phone; PP can help you switch the ESN online or over the phone in minutes. For our usage, this has been perfect because we're paying less that $50 per month for our three lines, including a smartphone.
posted by azpenguin at 9:16 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I bought a house, I called everyone on their cell phones, and I had free mobile to mobile. Also, it may be cheaper to just pay for one month without having to find a new plan. I bring this up in case you haven't considered it already.
posted by ethidda at 8:18 AM on September 8, 2013

An option for limiting your data usage and call usage is to hook into your work's and home's wifi (which is how ethidda is working at limiting his data usage). A key point with wifi at home is that you must have a decent internet plan for your home computer. Using your work's wifi shouldn't be an issue.

Republic Wireless allows number porting now. If you've still open to changing providers, let me know. I've got a Republic Wireless' Moto X. The wifi call clarity approaches a corded landline phone.
posted by dlwr300 at 7:09 AM on June 9, 2014

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