The Best Cell Phone Plans and Phones for Seniors
Last Updated: December 17, 2019
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 one of many senior smartphone users. The number of seniors using smartphones is growing every year, varying substantially by age: 59 percent of 65- to 69-year-olds have smartphones. But that drops off as seniors get older. Only 31 percent 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, or built-in contacts for health providers and adult day care? 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 make your purchase.
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 frequently visit, such as adult day care, medical offices, or family and friends’ homes. 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. If you attend adult day services, ask your friends there, and even ask for recommendations from caregivers and facility staff. 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 phones or internet (not both) through the Federal Lifeline program.
- How much data do you plan to use? Consider this when selecting a plan. Do you want to plan daily activities and use navigation and social apps? Or do you simply want the phone function?
- Shared family plans. Consider piggybacking onto a spouse or child’s plan for $10-20 a month extra. Even if you aren’t living with any other family members, you can still share a family plan.
- Switching plans. Many people stick with the same company or the same plan for years because they don’t know about their other options. But you could save $60 a month or more by switching, and most companies offer attractive benefits to make the switch.
- 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.
Six 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. When selecting a plan, consider who you contact most, and when. Do you make a call to adult day care every day, or have a standing phone date with a relative? Do you make calls mainly from your home, or would you like the freedom to make calls while out and about? There are many types of cell phone plans to accommodate your needs. Here are six popular plans for seniors:
- AT&T’s GoPhone Daily – AT&T’s GoPhone Daily is a 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.
- 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.
- Consumer Cellular – Whether 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. Some benefits of this company are low prices, flexible plans, and discounts for AARP members. 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. These rates help you keep in touch with friends from adult day care and close-knit family members, too.
- Jitterbug – 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. Many seniors value the assistance of the larger features and simpler menus – not to mention the direct connection to health and safety services such as on-call nursing advice and fall detection.
- 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. This is a great option if you plan to use your phone only in the event of a medical or other crisis.
- 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 can be younger. With unlimited talk and text, you can contact family, friends, and caregivers easily and without the worry of being charged extra. The unlimited data is wonderful for planning meals, monitoring your health, and making day-to-day living more convenient.
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. Ask around your adult day care or church groups to see what types of plans your peers have and what they like or dislike about their plans.
What Are the Best Cell Phones for Seniors?
Because of the vast array of phones available, there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to cell phones and seniors. Some senior citizens have greater capabilities and desires than others – and some cell phones have greater capabilities, too. If you want to be able to plan activities and events with your friends or schedule adult day services on a whim, you probably want a more advanced device. If you simply want the comfort of knowing you can reach out for assistance in a pinch, then a basic phone is all you need.
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. If your cohorts at adult day care or in your nursing home have cell phones, ask them what they like and dislike about their phones. Ask to try it out yourself, too.
- 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 complaints 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”).
What Are the Best and Most Reasonable Cell Phones for Seniors?
The trick to finding the best cell phones for seniors is to assess needs, features, and costs. Maybe you don’t plan on designing art or creating websites from your cell phone – but you may very much appreciate benefits such as the ability to order meals, schedule transportation services, and contact assisted living facility staff from anywhere. The most reasonable phone, therefore, is simply one that meets your needs and your budget. This set of standards will vary from one person to the next, so don’t worry about what your niece or nephew has – just focus on finding the right phone for your lifestyle.
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 indifferent 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.
Are There Classes on How To Use Cell Phones for Seniors?
If you’re new to cell phones in general or have recently upgraded to a fancier gadget, it can seem daunting to learn at first. Luckily, many businesses offer classes to learn how to get the most out of your phone.1 After you make a purchase from a large retailer, you may receive an invitation to join an educational session. This can be valuable to learn about your new device and get help with setting it up just the way you like. If you don’t receive a notification about this type of service, just hop online (or use your mobile browser!) and search “classes for seniors on how to use a cell phone near me” to see what’s available in your area.
If you don’t find any relevant classes in your area, perhaps you can organize one. Whether you live in a nursing home, an assisted living community, a retirement home, or independently, there are likely other seniors who would appreciate this type of event. If you attend a senior center or any other social activities, consider asking the facility manager to plan a session to help seniors learn how to use cell phones. A cell phone workshop makes a great addition to any schedule of adult day services. The teacher can be someone’s child, niece or nephew, or a member of the community staff.
Why Seek Help With Your Phone?
New cell phones can be complex and hard to figure out – especially if you haven’t had one before, or if you switch makes and models. To maximize the ease of use and get the best experience from your device, don’t be afraid to seek help. Learning in a group setting such as adult day care or other social club helps build a sense of connection, too. Tech-savvy individuals can teach you a lot about your phone. Here are some benefits of asking for assistance with your device:
- Security: If VPN and phishing sound like a foreign language to you, you may want to have someone take a look at your network and security settings. Making sure your device is secure helps protect you from identity theft, social engineering scams, and online fraud. Activities that you may not even consider risky, such as using shopping apps or RSVP’ing to your adult day care class, can put you at risk if performed from an unsafe connection.
- Settings: You may prefer a higher screen brightness or bigger icons than other people. A workshop or in-person tutorial teaches you how to adjust your phone’s display, color scheme, volume, and much more.
- Apps: Apps rule the world of smartphone use these days. If you aren’t familiar with them, it can be very beneficial to get some assistance. Apps can help you get from one place to another with navigation (walking, driving, and even public transportation or rideshare options), and they can help you plan healthy meals and keep or revise your medical appointments. You may even be surprised to learn that many businesses have apps – so you can see the schedule at your adult day care or message a caregiver at the touch of a button.
- Functions: Cell phones can combine several other items into one compact device. You can have your calendar, calculator, phone, messenger, maps, watch, alarm clock, books, music, and more all in one place. There may be a learning curve to figure all of these out – and that’s why taking a class is beneficial.
- Texting: If emoji and T9 aren’t in your vocabulary, you will probably need a little help when it comes to texting. Cell phones have different keyboards, and if you don’t already know how to use them, a class can help you learn. From basic texts to advanced photo and video texts, with the right teacher, you can become a communication whiz.
- Convenience: All of these features can help make your daily living more convenient. From booking transportation to adult day care to organizing a celebration, when you learn how to use your cell phone effectively, many tasks become much easier.
No matter your current level of comfort with cell phones, or your desired features, there is an option for you. You can always learn how to use new devices with a little help. Having a reliable and affordable cell phone can make life easier and also keep you better connected to your loved ones.2 When shopping for a new plan or device, use these tips and considerations to help you make the best choice.
Which cell phone plans and phones for seniors are you currently using? We’d like to hear more about your experiences in the comments below.
1Get Training On How To Use Your Computer, Tablet, Phone, Or Other Devices. (2019, September 6). Retrieved from https://forums.bestbuy.com/t5/Services-Knowledge-Base/Get-Training-On-How-To-Use-Your-Computer-Tablet-Phone-Or-Other/ta-p/1047056.
2Frank, D. (2018, July 24). Tech Training Helps Older Americans Socialize. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/home-family/personal-technology/info-2018/technology-training-for-older-adults.html.
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