Estelle Carlson of Redondo Beach, California, has had a smartphone for at least 10 years. Carlson, who is in her 70s, does everything on it: she banks, Facetimes with her cousin in Scotland and her granddaughters in Boston and Kaui, she writes “letters” and texts. “I can’t imagine being without it,” she says of her iPhone.
Carlson is not alone. Smartphone use among seniors is growing every year, but it varies substantially by age: 59% of 65- to 69-year-olds have smartphones. But that drops off as seniors get older. Only 31% of 75- to 79-year-olds use them, according to the Pew Research Center.
What if you’re not a savvy iPhone user like Carlson and you want a cell phone only to use for emergency calls and texts? What if your elderly parent needs a phone with big buttons and loud volume, what then? Here, we break down the best cell phone plans and phones for seniors, no matter their mobile proficiency. From flip phones to the iPhone X, here’s what you need to know before you buy.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Cell Phone Plan
The first thing you should do when choosing a cell phone plan is to find out what companies have decent coverage in your home and in the areas you frequent. AT&T doesn’t work at our house in upstate New York, for example, but Verizon does. The last thing you want is to get a phone that won’t work in your home.
Start by asking neighbors what they use or ask family members if their phones work in your house. Every cell phone company – big or small – should have a map of coverage and allow you to plug in a zip code to see if it should work.
Here are five other things to consider when choosing a plan:
AT&T, Consumer Cellular and Cricket Wireless offer AARP discounts. AT&T, Sprint and Verizon offer veteran discounts. It may pay to ask, “Do I qualify for a discount?” Also, seniors who qualify as low-income can get money to help pay for their cell phone or internet (not both) through the federal Lifeline program.
How much data do you plan to use? Consider this when selecting a plan.
Shared family plans. Consider piggybacking onto a spouse or child’s plan for $10-20 a month extra.
Switching plans. Many people stick with the same company or the same plan for years because they don’t know what else is out there. But you could save $60 a month or more by switching.
You can get a plan for under $20 a month to pair with a $60 flip phone. Or you can pay $100-plus a month for a plan to use on your $1100 iPhone X. There are dozens of options in between. Determine what you’re willing to pay and ask the salesperson to add up all the fees, taxes, etc. so you know exactly what your bill will be each month.
6 Great Cell Phone Plans for Seniors
When it comes to cell phone plans, you can go with one of the big cell phone providers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon) or opt for a smaller company (like Boost Mobile, Consumer Cellular, Cricket Wireless and Jitterbug). All of them have their pros and cons.
Here are six popular plans for seniors:
1. AT&T’s GoPhone Daily
AT&T’s GoPhone Daily is another great option for seniors who want a phone for sporadic use and prefer AT&T’s coverage. It’s $2 a day only if you use the phone that day. And if you do, it’s unlimited calls and texts.
2. AT&T Senior Nation Plan
If you have a basic phone and not a smartphone, AT&T’s Senior Nation Plan is an option available only to seniors age 65 and older. You get 200 anytime minutes, unlimited calls to other AT&T customers and 500 nights and weekend minutes, all for $29.99 a month. This doesn’t include texting.
3. Consumer Cellular
you have a basic phone or the $1000 Apple X, Consumer Cellular is a good option for seniors, because it’s a U.S.-based company created with seniors in mind.
Plans for individuals start as low as $20 per month for 250 minutes, 250 MB of data and unlimited texting. A 2-line plan shares the same data and minutes for $35 per month.
Jitterbug, aka “GreatCall,” offers plans specially designed for seniors. Plans start at $14.99 for 200 minutes, $3 for 300 text messages and $2.49 for 40MB of data. Both phones (a flip-phone and a smartphone) have big buttons and bright screens and include an Urgent Response button and 24/7 access to a registered nurse or doctor as part of the plan.
5. T-Mobile’s Pay As You Go
Seniors who want a cell phone for emergency use only will love T-Mobile’s Pay As You Go plan. It’s $3 a month for any combination of 30 minutes of phone calls or 30 text messages. Anything over that is 10 cents a minute per talk or text.
6. T-Mobile Unlimited 55+ Plan
One of the best plans for seniors who want to talk, text and stream videos is T-Mobile’s 55+ plan. You get two lines with unlimited talk, text and LTE data for $60 a month (including taxes and fees!). The primary account holder must be 55 or older, but the other person doesn’t.
Other great options for tech-savvy seniors include: Boost Mobile and U.S. Mobile. These companies don’t offer plans tailored specifically for seniors, but they offer great rates and are well-respected alternatives to the Big 4.
Selecting a Phone for a Senior
There are so many phones on the market, choosing a good one can be daunting. I recommend finding a plan first, then selecting a phone that works with that plan.
Here are tips for finding the perfect phone:
Basic vs. smart: You have two options for phones, a basic flip phone and a smartphone. Do you want apps, games and video capabilities on your phone? Opt for a smartphone. Will you use the phone for calls and texts only? Opt for a basic flip-phone.
Make a list: Create a list of the features needed before you shop. These could be big buttons, bright screen, easy on/off switch, GPS or voice command.
Read reviews: If you find a phone you like, check online to make sure it gets decent reviews.
Return policy: I’m convinced there would be fewer negative reviews if people took advantage of return policies. Almost every carrier will let you return a phone with no questions asked during a 14- to 30-day trial period.
Test drive: Those with dexterity, hearing or vision problems should try out phones in person to ensure the buttons (including the on/off buttons) are big enough, the ringer loud enough, etc. Many of the negative reviews I’ve read complain about volume (“I can’t hear the phone when it rings!”) and problems with buttons (“My fingers are too fat, or these buttons are too skinny”).
There are a few phones designed just for seniors, including the Doro 824 SmartEasy, the Jitterbug Flip and Jitterbug Smartphone. While these are designed with simplicity (and seniors) in mind, I couldn’t help but notice the reviews for them aren’t great. Of course, many seniors absolutely love them, but just as many seem to be “meh” about the design, function and simplicity. You might be better off with a phone from a more well-known brand like Apple, Google or Motorola that isn’t designed just for seniors.