Dear Ilium Elder; A few months ago I read a column you wrote on extremely cheap smartphone plans for budget-conscious seniors. Can you do a similar column for those of us who still use the main flip phones? My old 3G flip phone is going to be obsolete, so I’m looking for the cheapest possible replacement. I only need a simple cellphone (without data) for emergency calls when I’m away from home. – Penny Pincher
Dear Penny; For seniors who want a simple, basic cellphone for essential use and occasional calls, there are several super-cheap plans available from small providers you’ve never heard of. Here are some of the best deals available right now.
For light cellphone users, the cheapest wireless plan available is through US Mobile (USMobile.com), which has a “build your own plan” that starts at just $2 per month for 75 minutes of talk time. If you want text messaging capabilities, an extra $1.50 will buy you 50 texts a month.
US Mobile runs on the Verizon and T-Mobile networks and gives you the option to keep your existing phone (if compatible or unlocked) or buy a new device while keeping the same phone number if you want.
If your flip phone is obsolete, as you said in the question, you need to buy a new device. US Mobile is offering new customers a “NUU F4L” flip phone for $39, or you can purchase an unlocked phone through retail stores such as Walmart or Best Buy, or online. One of the best values on flip phones right now is the (unlocked) “Alcatel GO FLIP 4044 4G LTE” available at Amazon.com for $80.
Other wireless plans covered are the Ultra Mobile “PayGo” plan (UltraMobile.com/PayGo), which offers 100 minutes of talk time and 100 texts for just $3 per month; and Tello’s (Tello.com) “build your own plan” that starts at $5 per month for 100 minutes of talk and unlimited texting.
Both Ultra Mobile PayGo and Tello also work on the T-Mobile network and you can use your existing phone (if compatible or unlocked) or buy a new one.
Apart from these super-cheap plans, there are several other older wireless companies that cater to customers and offer low-cost basic plans and simple phones. One of the least expensive is TracFone (Tracfone.com), which offers a 60-minute talk, text and web plan for $20 that lasts for 90 days. That averages out to $6.66 per month.
Three other popular providers are Snapfon (Snapfon .com), which offers a monthly plan with 100 minutes and unlimited texting for $10. Consumer Cellular (ConsumerCellular.com) offers an unlimited call plan for $15 per month and a 5% discount for AARP members. And Lively (Lively.com), maker of the popular Jitterbug Flip2 senior-friendly flip phone, offers 300 minutes of talk time for $15 (plus 10 cents per text).
The federal lifeline program, which provides free or subsidized wireless plans, is available to some people on government programs such as Medicaid, Social Security Supplement or food stamps/SNAP; and some whose annual household income is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Level – $21,101 for one or $28,431 for two.
Find out whether you qualify for a lifeline support program or apply at LifelineSupport.org.
Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC-TV “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your inquiries to Savvy Senior, PO Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.