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Advice & More November 2014

Dollar Sense

A Phone Plan to Suit Your Personality and Your Pocket Book

By Teresa Ambord

There’s one TV ad that for a different kind of plan, where they ask snidely “It’s not a prepaid plan is it?” The actor says “prepaid” in the same way you might say “toenail fungus.” Of course it’s just a sales tactic, and kind of funny.

What is your phone personality? It may determine how much you want to spend on a phone plan. Are you lost without your cell phone? Adept at texting the grandkids? Have trouble fumbling with keys that are too small and a display that is too dim? Or maybe you’re like me. I work from my home office, so my cell phone is a simple, low-cost emergency phone and it costs me a grand total of $100 per year. As you can see by the never-ending, fiercely competing TV ads, cell phones are huge business these days, whether you seldom use yours or consider it your life’s blood.


Some Options

If you want really basic, like I do, you can get a no-contract prepaid phone. I don’t want to lock into any plan that I can’t walk away from easily. Because I use it infrequently, I’ve built up over 2,000 minutes. What works best for me is a TracFone. But most major carriers and also some independents offer inexpensive prepaid plans, like T-Mobile.

T-Mobile has one plan that lets you buy 30 minutes for $10, and the unused minutes don’t expire for 90 days. That means if 30 minutes will cover your phone needs for the full 90 days, you may be able to get phone service for as low as $40 a year. T-Mobile also has an annual plan where you can buy 1,000 minutes for $100 the first year, plus a one-time activation fee of $35. Plus unused minutes will roll over for a payment as low as $10 for the entire next year. Not bad at all!


What’s Wrong with a Prepaid Plan?

Nothing that I can see. But there’s one TV ad that for a different kind of plan, where they ask snidely “It’s not a prepaid plan is it?” The actor says “prepaid” in the same way you might say “toenail fungus.” Of course it’s just a sales tactic, and kind of funny.

Besides the low cost, a prepaid plan is predictable. You will never end up with an unpleasant surprise on your phone bill, because there is no bill. I remember when my son gave up his prepaid plan and got onto some kind of family plan, with a relative of ours. I was against it, because I knew my son loved to text. But, he explained, the plan includes a huge number of texts, so they went for it. When the bill for $900 arrived (for just one month), they understood my objection…too late.

Chances are the plans that are out there today are much better, but I’ll stick to my prepaid phone.

You can also get a plan that is not prepaid, but is also no-contract like PureTalk. PureTalk offers 50 minutes a month for $5 or 130 minutes for $10. I have no first-hand information about PureTalk, but the price seems right. On their website, you’ll find other options, like a family plan, and plans that include unlimited texts and minutes.


Virgin Mobile allows you to buy minutes for as low as $5. That’s 250 minutes and 250 texts, which last until you use them up. And there is no contract.


What to Beware:

Some carriers lure people in with subsidized prices on phones, in order to get you to sign up for a more expensive contract than you need. You pay less up front for the phone and overspend later. You can avoid this by taking the time to figure out what your phone usage generally is.

  • How much do you really use your phone in a month? Is it for emergencies or do you love to make calls?
  • What extras do you need and are you willing to pay for?
  • What can you do without?

A couple of years ago, Nielson Ratings did a survey which showed that most people age 65 and older make or receive 99 calls per month, on average. If you fall into that range, 300 minutes a month should cover you easily. In that case, a no-contract plan might be best. If you do choose a plan with a contract, beware locking into a multi-year contract plan with a major carrier. You can easily end up paying for minutes you never use.

With all this said, if you already have an existing family plan which allows you to add extra lines, this might be your best bet. Or, if you work for a major employer, most large companies have special arrangements with carriers like Verizon.


Low Income?

Is there a senior in your life with very low income? He or she may qualify for the Lifeline Assistance Program. It is government subsidized for wireless and landline phones. The phones are free plus about 250 free monthly minutes for calls or texts. Most of these plans are provided through Safelink or Assurance Wireless, or a regional carrier. The phone is basic, and offers texting, voice mail, call waiting, and caller ID.

To qualify you need only prove that you receive government benefits, such as Medicaid, SSI, Food Stamps, housing assistance or home energy assistance. The income eligibility varies by state, but in general, for a single person, qualifying income is about $15,754, and for a couple, $21,235.

You can find out more at or


If You Are Shopping for a Phone for a Senior

Ask these questions:

  • How will the phone be used? Emergency? Texting? E-mails? More? Generally, simpler is better, so while you want it to have all the features your senior needs, keeping it simple will eliminate headaches.
  • Does the senior have physical limitations that will affect phone use, like eyesight issues, deteriorating motor skills, impaired hearing? If he or she has shaky hands due to palsy or Parkinson’s, a touchscreen phone would not be helpful.

For those with limitations, Jitterbug is a good phone for ease of use. It is predominantly voice focused. Jitterbug also has plans which add texting and e-mailing if desired, as well as features like sending photos and finding

Doro Phone Easy 618 has bigger buttons and simple features. Consumer Cellular sells this phone for $60, and has plans starting at $10 per month.

ATT GoPhone Prepaid has low cost, easy-to-use phones with large print and buttons, quarterly charges, and if you pay on time, the minutes roll over.

Both Consumer Cellular and GreatCall have rates which are competitive, and both offer senior-friendly phones with large buttons and displays that are easier to read. These service providers are small companies, but they use large networks, like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint, so the coverage and connectivity is as good as the large networks.


Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

Meet Teresa