Best Cell Phone Plans for Seniors

June 7, 2016 Cell Phones, Utilities
Best Cell Phone Plans for Senior Citizens

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.

t-mobile-logo-small
  • Plan name: T-Mobile Pay As You Go.
  • Price (monthly): $3.
  • Plan at a glance: Includes any combination of 30 minutes or texts. Additional usage costs 10 cents per minute/message.
  • Why we like it: This plan is as basic as it gets. It’s also as cheap as it gets.
ATT-logo-e1454363046363
  • Plan name: AT&T GoPhone Daily.
  • Price: $2 per day of use.
  • Plan at a glance: Includes unlimited minutes and text messages.
  • Why we like it: You only pay on days you use your phone. And on those days, you can talk and text to your heart’s content.

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:

» 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.

republic_wireless
  • Plan name: Republic Wireless Small.
  • Price (monthly): $25.
  • Plan at a glance: 1GB of data and unlimited talk and text.
  • Why we like it: Republic Wireless doesn’t make you pay for data you don’t use. Instead, it refunds any unused data on your next bill.
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  • Plan name: T-Mobile Basic Monthly.
  • Price (monthly): $30.
  • Plan at a glance: 100 minutes, unlimited texts and 5GB high-speed data.
  • Why we like it: This plan is one of the best data deals you’ll find if you can make do with 100 minutes.

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:

» 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.

GreatCall logo
  • Plan name: GreatCall WeTalk 200.
  • Price (monthly): $14.99.
  • Plan at a glance: 200 minutes, no text or data included.
  • Why we like it: It’s affordable and simple, and it comes with the Jitterbug, a user-friendly phone. And it has optional health 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

CarrierPlanBest forCostGet started
AT&T GoPhone DailyPeople who want a pay-as-you-go plan$2 per day of use
Get started at AT&T's site
GreatCall WeTalk 200People who want an easy-to-use emergency phone$14.99 a month
Get started at GreatCall's site
Republic Wireless SmallPeople who are mobile-savvy$25 a month
Get started at Republic Wireless's site
T-Mobile Basic MonthlyPeople who are mobile-savvy$30 a month
Get started at T-Mobile's site
T-Mobile Pay As You GoPeople who want a pay-as-you-go plan$3 a month
Get started at T-Mobile's site

Methodology

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.

Kelsey Sheehy is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ksheehy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.

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