Senior Living: Low-cost cell phone plans available for seldom-calling seniors
For seniors who don’t use their cell phone very often but still want one for emergencies or occasional calls, there are a number of low-cost plans available depending on your specific needs. Here’s where to find some of the cheapest deals.
The best way infrequent cell phone users can save money is with a prepaid cell phone -- also known pay-as-you-go phones. With a prepaid phone there’s no contract, no fixed monthly bills, no credit checks and no hidden costs that come with traditional cell phone plans. With this type of service, you buy a special prepaid phone (they can cost anywhere from $10 to $100), then pre-purchase a certain amount of minutes (for talk or text) that must be used within a specified period of time.
While there are many prepaid phones on the market today, the cheapest deal for occasional users belongs to TMobile (t-mobile.com, 800-866-2453), who has a 30-minute plan for $10, and minutes don’t expire for 90 days. That averages out to $3.33 per month. If, however, you need more talk time, check out their “Gold Rewards” annual plan where $100 gets you 1,000 minutes good for a full year. And with all T-Mobile pay-as-you-go plans, if you replenish your account before your minutes expire, your unused minutes will roll over. TracFone (tracfone.com, 800-867-7183), Virgin Mobile (virginmobileusa.com, 888-322-1122) and Boost Mobile (boostmobile.com, 866-402-7366) also offer some nice value plans that start at under $7 per month.
If you don’t mind spending a little more, Consumer Cellular and Jitterbug are two other popular options for seniors because they offer inexpensive low-use plans and seniorfriendly phones.
Consumer Cellular (consumercellular.com, 888-345-5509) sells two “Doro” simplified cell phones that cost either $25 or $30. And they offer a $10 per month “casual” calling plan, plus 25 cents per minute, and no long-term contract. They even give a 5 percent monthly service discount to AARP members.
And Jitterbug (greatcall.com, 800-733-6632), which makes the best senior-friendly cell phone on the market, sells their Jitterbug J phone for $99, with calling plans that start at $15 per month for 50 minutes, and no contract. Both services do, however, charge a one-time activation fee of $35.
Free Cell Phones
If you’re living on a limited income, you may even be able to get a free cell phone and 250 minutes of free airtime each month through two programs -- SafeLink Wireless (safelink.com, 800-723-3546) or Assurance Wireless (assurancewireless.com, 888-898-4888). SafeLink was created by TracFone, and is currently available in 29 states, while Assurance is offered by Virgin Mobile in 19 states.
To qualify for either program you’ll need to show that you’re receiving certain types of government benefits, such as Medicaid, Food Stamps, SSI, or have a household income below certain levels -- it varies by state.
If, however, you don’t qualify or if your state doesn’t yet have a SafeLink or Assurance program, another option to check into is the 911 Cell Phone Bank. This is a program that provides free, emergency-only cell phones to seniors and victims of abuse.
To see if there’s an emergency cell phone program near you, contact your local law enforcement agency or see 911cellphonebank.org.