Dear Savvy Senior: 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 basic flip phones? My old 3G flip phone is about to become obsolete, so I’m looking for the cheapest possible replacement. I only need a simple cellphone (no data) for emergency calls when I’m away from home. — Penny Pincher
Dear Penny: For seniors who want a simple, basic cellphone for emergency purposes and occasional calls, there are a number of super-cheap plans available from small wireless providers you may have never heard of. Here are some of the best deals available right now.
For extremely light cellphone users, the cheapest wireless plan available is through US Mobile (USMobile.com), which has a “build your own plan” that starts at only $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 Verizon’s and T-Mobile’s networks and gives you the option to bring your existing phone (if compatible or unlocked) or purchase a new device while keeping your same phone number, if you wish.
If your flip phone is becoming obsolete, as you mentioned in your question, you’ll need to buy a new device. US Mobile offers new customers the “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 in flip phones right now is the (unlocked) “Alcatel GO FLIP 4044 4G LTE,” available at Amazon.com for $80.
Other deals in wireless plans are Ultra Mobile’s “PayGo” plan (UltraMobile.com/PayGo), which provides 100 talk minutes and 100 texts for only $3 per month; and Tello’s (Tello.com) “build your own plan” that starts at $5 per month for 100 talk minutes and unlimited texting.
Both Ultra Mobile PayGo and Tello also run on T-Mobile’s network and will let you use your existing phone (if compatible or unlocked) or buy a new one.
In addition to these super-cheap plans, there are several other wireless companies that cater to older customers and offer low-cost basic plans and simple flip 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 providers that are popular among seniors are Snapfon (Snapfon .com), which offers a monthly plan with 100 minutes and unlimited texting for $10. Consumer Cellular (ConsumerCellular.com) provides an unlimited talk plan for $15 per month as well as 5% discounts to AARP members. And Lively (Lively.com), maker of the popular Jitterbug Flip2 senior-friendly flip phone, offers 300 minutes of talk for $15 (plus 10 cents per text).
The federal Lifeline program, which offers free or subsidized wireless plans, is available to some on a government program such as Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income or food stamps/SNAP; and to some whose annual household income is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines — $21,101 for one person or $28,431 for two.
Find out whether you qualify for the Lifeline program or apply at LifelineSupport.org.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.