May 19, 2011 |

Best Cell Phone Plans for Seldom Calling Seniors

Dear Savvy Senior

What are the absolutely cheapest cell phone plans for seniors? I’ve had a cell phone for nearly four years that I rarely use, but I like having it for emergency purposes.

Infrequent Caller

Dear Infrequent,

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.

Prepaid Plans

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 T-Mobile (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 that are 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) also offers some nice value plans that start at $10 for 50 minutes per month.

Senior-Friendly Phones

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 senior-friendly 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 (jitterbug.com, 800-918-8543), 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 free airtime each month through a program called SafeLink Wireless, which was created by TracFone, and is currently available in 29 states including the District of Columbia.

To qualify, 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 at or below 135 percent of the poverty line – that’s $14,621 for an individual and $19,670 for a family of two. To learn more or apply, call 800-723-3546 or visit safelink.com.

If, however, you don’t qualify or if your state doesn’t yet have a SafeLink 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 www.911cellphonebank.org/agencies.asp.

Savvy Tip: If you’re in a long-term cellular contract and want to escape without paying the hefty early termination penalty see cellswapper.com or celltradeusa.com. These companies match cellular customers who want out of their contracts with people who are willing to take them over.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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