By Jim Miller
Dear Savvy Senior,
What are the cheapest cellphone options available to seniors today who only want one for emergency purposes or occasional calls? I have a cellphone now that costs me $30 per month, but I hate paying for something I hardly ever use.
For seniors who don’t use their cellphone very often, but still want one for emergencies or occasional use, there are many super-cheap plans available, or depending on your income level, you may qualify for a free cellphone. Here’s where to find some of the best deals.
Super cheap plans
For seniors who are light/infrequent cellphone users, “prepaid” or “pay as you go” plans are the way to go if you want to save money. With these services, you buy a certain amount of minutes (for talk or text) that must be used within a specified period of time.
While many cellphone providers still offer these lower cost plan, the very best/cheapest deal available today is through T-Mobile’s pay as you go plan (T-Mobile.com, 800-501-0952).
For just $3 per month, this plans provides any combination of 30 minutes of talk or 30 text messages. If you want more, you can pay an additional 10 cents per minute/message when you sign up or you can make adjustments later. You also don’t have to worry about overage charges with this plan, because once you reach your talk/text limit for the month, the phone stops working. And, if you have a compatible device, you won’t need to purchase a new cell phone.
If you’re looking for a little more talk time or text messages, another low-cost option is Pure Talk USA (PureTalkUSA.com, 877-820-7873), which offers a Senior AddVantage 80 Plan. This plan provides any combination of 80 minutes of talk or 240 text messages for only $5 per month. Pure Talk also accepts unlocked phones and they don’t have overage fees.
If you would rather have a senior-friendly phone with a large keypad and simplified features, and an “SOS” emergency alert button, the Doro PhoneEasy 626 sold through Consumer Cellular (ConsumerCellular.com, 888-532-5366) is the best, low-cost option. It runs $50 for the phone, with calling plans that start at $10 per month.
If your income is low enough, you may qualify for a free cellphone through the Lifeline Assistance Program. This is a government-sponsored program that subsidizes wireless (and landline) companies who in turn provide free cellphones and usually between 250 and 1,000 minutes of free monthly talk time and texts to low-income Americans. (Some programs in some states charge a small monthly fee.)
The free phones and minutes are provided by a number of big prepaid wireless companies like Safelink, Assurance Wireless and Budget Mobile, along with a host of other regional carriers throughout the country.
Most states have several wireless companies that provide the free phones and minutes. If you are eligible, the free cell phone you’ll receive is a basic phone that also offers text messaging, voice mail, call waiting and caller ID.
To qualify, you’ll need to show that you’re receiving certain types of government benefits, such as Medicaid, Food Stamps, SSI, home energy assistance or public housing assistance. Or, that your household income is at or below 135 or 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines – it varies by state. To find out if you’re eligible, or to locate the wireless companies that provide Lifeline government cell phones in your state, visit LifelineSupport.org.
Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.