High-speed data and unlimited minutes are now standard order for most cell phone plans, but they don’t offer the best deal to senior citizens who don’t need — or want to pay for — all the extras.
There are cell phone plans designed with seniors in mind, though. They’re typically prepaid and include fewer minutes and frills than standard plans. This can help seniors stay connected without committing large chunks of their monthly incomes.
To find the best cell phone plans for seniors, we reviewed options offered by the four major carriers — Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon — as well as some smaller prepaid carriers. We’ve highlighted several low-cost options, but if you’re on Medicaid, food stamps/SNAP, Supplemental Security Income or other government programs, you may qualify for free or subsidized plans available from some of these companies via the federal Lifeline Program.
Best pay-as-you-go plans for seniors
These plans from T-Mobile and AT&T are perfect for people who don’t really want a cell phone, but would like the peace of mind that comes with knowing they can reach family or a medical professional in an emergency.
THINGS TO KNOW:
- T-Mobile: For just $3 per month, you can use any combination of 30 minutes or 30 text messages. Phone prices start at around $60, but if you have a compatible device, you can use it rather than buying a new one. You will, however, need to pay a $20 SIM Starter Kit fee whether you bring your own phone or buy a new one.
- AT&T: The company charges the $2 fee only if you place or receive a call or send a text on that day. On days you do use your phone, you’ll receive unlimited minutes and texts. You can buy a new phone from AT&T starting at about $20. If you already have a compatible phone, you can purchase a SIM card for $4.99 and use it on AT&T’s network. You won’t pay an activation fee, but a $25 refill card may be added to online purchases. You can remove this from your cart before checking out.
WHAT OTHER CARRIERS OFFER:
- Consumer Cellular – Talk: $10 per month and 25 cents per minute (no minutes or texts included).
- Republic Wireless – XXS: $10 per month for unlimited minutes and texts.
- Tracfone – Value Plan 50: $9.99 per month for 50 minutes.
» COMPARE: Best cell phone plans
Best cell phone plans for mobile-savvy seniors
If you were tech-savvy at age 64, you’ll still be tech-savvy at 65; no need to turn in your iPhone when you officially become a senior. But you may want to re-evaluate to ensure you’re not overpaying for a bloated plan. These options from Republic Wireless and T-Mobile give you enough data to stay connected without charging a lot of fees.
THINGS TO KNOW:
- Republic Wireless: Republic is part of a new breed of wireless carrier. It’s online only, so you won’t find a storefront. It doesn’t require a contract, but it isn’t a prepaid service. And it uses a mix of Wi-Fi and cell towers — Sprint’s, specifically — to transmit calls, texts and data. This approach requires a compatible phone, which you can buy only through Republic Wireless. The company currently offers two models, the cheapest of which is priced at $99, but it’s launching new phones in July.
- T-Mobile: This plan is available only at participating Wal-Mart locations or via T-Mobile’s website. To find it, select “Prepaid” under “Plans.” Then go to “Plans” again and select “Other Plans.” Since it’s a prepaid plan, you’ll pay retail price to purchase a new phone, unless you have one that’s compatible. Either way, you’ll pay $20 for a SIM Starter Kit.
WHAT OTHER CARRIERS OFFER:
- Virgin Mobile – Unlimited: $40 for 4GB and unlimited talk and text.
- Cricket Wireless – Basic: $40 for 2.5GB and unlimited talk and text.
- Verizon Wireless prepaid: $30 for unlimited talk and text, data via Wi-Fi only.
» COMPARE: Best family cell phone plans
Best emergency cell phone plan for seniors
GreatCall’s cell phone plans are specifically for seniors. The Jitterbug, GreatCall’s signature phone, features big buttons, a loud speaker and a bright screen with large display text. The prepaid carrier also allows you to add health services to your plan, such as weekly or daily wellness calls; a personal operator to help you make phone calls or add appointments to your calendar; and 5Star Urgent Response, which connects you to a 911 operator at the push of a button. No other carrier comes close to these services.
THINGS TO KNOW:
- GreatCall: You have two phone options: the Jitterbug Flip ($99.99) and the Jitterbug Smart ($149.99). And you can get 10% off either using code GCJB016 when you buy via GreatCall’s site. You can also buy a GreatCall phone or plan at select Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Rite Aid and Sears stores. Optional heath services carry an additional cost and can be purchased as a bundle — the basic package costs $19.99 per month — or a la carte in some cases, starting at $4 per month. GreatCall’s service runs on Verizon’s network.
Best cell phone plans for seniors: summary
|Carrier||Plan||Best for||Cost||Get started|
|AT&T GoPhone Daily||People who want a pay-as-you-go plan||$2 per day of use|
|GreatCall WeTalk 200||People who want an easy-to-use emergency phone||$14.99 a month|
|Republic Wireless Small||People who are mobile-savvy||$25 a month|
|T-Mobile Basic Monthly||People who are mobile-savvy||$30 a month|
|T-Mobile Pay As You Go||People who want a pay-as-you-go plan||$3 a month|
We evaluated more than 200 cell phone plans offered by the following carriers: AT&T, Boost Mobile, Consumer Cellular, Cricket, GreatCall, Google’s Project Fi, MetroPCS, Net10, Republic Wireless, Sprint, Straight Talk, T-Mobile, Tracfone, Verizon Wireless and Virgin Mobile.
To determine the best plans, we looked at the monthly plan price before taxes and fees, as well as features such as health service and plan flexibility. We only considered national carriers, which ruled out regional providers like U.S. Cellular. For pay-as-you go plans, we prioritized low monthly price over large minutes or data packages. For mobile-savvy users, we looked at plans with that included at least 1GB, but had no more than 5GB. Lower monthly price was favored over a lower price per GB.
This article was updated on June 7, 2016. It originally published Jan. 25, 2016.