Since cell phones are used for so much more than making calls now, it is important to consider what features and functions a senior will actually use and benefit from most. For example, the best phone and service plan for an aging adult who lives in an assisted living facility and is technology averse probably wouldn’t work well for an active senior who has made a point of evolving along with new gadgets. Even a tech savvy senior may not enjoy using Facebook or watching TV and movies on their mobile device.
Ask the following questions to get a better idea of what type of phone and plan might be the best fit:
- Do they enjoy chatting on the phone, or do they typically only call friends and family for brief check-ins?
- Do they use social media to keep in touch with people?
- Do they like learning how to use new types of technology?
- Do they tend to stay at home most of the time, or do they enjoy traveling?
- Do they have any physical limitations, such a low vision, hearing loss, or limited dexterity?
Expenses also play a significant role in choosing a telephone and contract. A senior who is on a limited income likely cannot afford a pricy smart phone and yet another monthly expense. Fortunately, there are a combination of phones, plans and prices that seniors can select from.
Qualifying for a Discounted Cell Phone Plan
Low-income individuals are eligible for a monthly discount on the cost of either wireless or home telephone services or home Internet service through the Lifeline Program, which is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). Seniors whose income falls at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guideline and those who are currently on any of the following government programs qualify:
- Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Plan (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Supplemental Rental Assistance (Section 8)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
- Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit Programs
If you think a discounted plan might be a good fit, visit the Lifeline website to confirm your eligibility, find a carrier in your state that offers Lifeline, and request an application.
Affordable Cell Phone Plans for Seniors
If you don’t qualify for a discounted plan through Lifeline, there are a number of large carriers that offer their own special discounts, plans and devices to seniors.
- Verizon: Verizon offers military veterans special discounts. Vets can receive $15 off the monthly costs of unlimited plans or a 15 percent discount off of monthly costs for other eligible wireless plans. They also provide a 25 percent discount off certain accessories. Veterans need only verify their military service with Verizon, using information on their discharge papers (DD Form 214), veteran’s ID card, military retiree account statement or VetRewards Card from Veterans Advantage.
- AT&T: This company offers the AT&T Senior Nation Plan to individuals ages 65 and older. This is a nationwide plan that provides 200 anytime minutes, unlimited calling to other AT&T mobile customers, and 500 nights and weekends (N&W) minutes without roaming or long-distance charges. The monthly charge is $29.99, but this plan cannot be used on smartphones or tablets.
- T-Mobile: T-Mobile offers a plan just for seniors called the T-Mobile ONE Unlimited 55+ plan. With this plan, seniors receive two lines with unlimited talk, text and 4G LTE data for $60 per month. Taxes and fees are included in this price and the primary account holder must set up AutoPay in order to use this plan. Both people on the account do not need to be 55 years of age or older, just the primary account holder.
- Consumer Cellular: This company offers customizable nationwide services, allowing seniors to build a plan to meet their communication needs and budget. One line with 250 minutes starts at $15 per month, and one line with unlimited talk time is only $20 per month. Texting and data capabilities are optional and can be added for anywhere from $5 to $40 per month. Additional lines can also be added to share the chosen talk time and data plans.
Consumer Cellular also offers AARP members a five percent discount off monthly services and a 30 percent discount on select accessories. A wide variety of phones are available through Consumer Cellular as well, including easy-to-use flip phones and top-of-the-line smart phones. Seniors can also continue using their current phones and simply change their service provider.
- Jitterbug: Jitterbug is a cellular phone service provided by GreatCall, a company that specializes in mobile products and services for seniors and their caregivers. There are only two cell phone models available through this carrier: the Jitterbug Smart and the Jitterbug Flip. A basic monthly 200-minute plan costs $14.99, and more minutes, texts and data are available for additional charges. An unlimited talk and text plan is $49.99 per month.
Unlike other mobile carriers, Jitterbug also gives customers the ability to turn their cell phones into senior-friendly wellness devices. Optional Health and Safety Packages feature applications that can help seniors manage their medications, contact an urgent response service, and even connect with a telemedicine service at the push of a button. Family caregivers can benefit from one particular add-on called GreatCall Link, which enables approved individuals to receive updates about a Jitterbug user’s status and daily activities.
Further Research on Cell Phone Plans
Consumer Reports is an independent non-profit that conducts extensive testing and research on products and services to help consumers make more informed purchases. While it is not targeted towards seniors, their Cell Phone & Service Buying Guide may provide additional guidance for consumers who are considering purchasing a cell phone and plan from one of the top carriers.