As the number of seniors using cell phones has increased, so have the number of wireless providers who see them as a lucrative demographic. Verizon, AT&T, and the other major carriers have always offered “senior discounts.” Recently, new cell phone companies have appeared whose primary purpose is to cater to the needs of seniors. Or so they say.
This guide is designed to provide an overview of how to identify what seniors really need in a cell phone and plan, to give seniors the tools they need to find the best cell phone and plan on an affordable wireless carrier, and to provide resources to help seniors get up and running with a new phone.
We’ll also shine a light on which senior-focused cell phone companies are doing right by our elders, and which companies use outdated stereotypes in an attempt to cash in on them.
Table Of Contents
- Clarifying Our Thought Process
- What Seniors Need In A Cell Phone
- Debunking Myths About Seniors And Cell Phones
- How We Chose The Best Phones For Seniors
- Best Cell Phones For Seniors
- What Seniors Need In A Cell Phone Plan
- How To Choose The Best Cell Phone Plan For A Senior
- Plans For Seniors Only
- Companies That Specialize In “Senior Citizen” Cell Phone Plans
- The Best Affordable Cell Phone Plans For Seniors
- Best Cell Phone Plans For Seniors
- Worst Cell Phone Plans For Seniors
- Before Making A Decision
Clarifying Our Thought Process
When it comes down to it, choosing a cell phone and a plan for a senior is the same as choosing a cell phone for anyone.
Unfortunately, cell phone companies often use marketing tactics that try to take advantage of seniors by portraying them as incapable of learning how to use new technology. They’ve built entire businesses around untrue and insulting stereotypes about seniors. And for a long time, we believed them.
There are also honest companies that provide great cell phone service for seniors at affordable prices.
We’re not on a witch hunt. We didn’t set out to write an exposé about the wireless carriers that use marketing tactics we disagree with.
What we discovered while doing research for this article is that some cell phone companies have taken stereotypes about senior citizens and leveraged them into money making machines. The problem is that the stereotypes themselves, regardless of their veracity, often prompt seniors into buying old, outdated technology that perpetuates the stereotypes. It’s a self-defeating cycle.
We took it upon ourselves to debunk them. We came to believe that the best way to do so was to take a square look at each stereotype and ask, “Is this really true?”
As our list of commonly held stereotypes grew, we realized that we too had been susceptible to the rhetoric. We were surprised when our initial assumptions about which cell phones, plans, and features seniors needed turned out to be rooted in incorrect thinking.
Before we continue, we want to acknowledge a truth: Although we’ll do our utmost to stay away from stereotypes, we couldn’t write an article about the best cell phones and plans for seniors without first making some assumptions of our own.
To be completely transparent, this website and many others are supported in part by commissions that cell phone carriers pay us for referring new customers to them. One of the companies that pays the highest commission for referrals (up to $75 per line) is a company we’ll tell seniors to avoid at all costs. You’ll notice that other websites recommend them highly. We couldn’t live with ourselves if we did.
And so the stereotypes themselves will lead us into the first section of this guide, which is about what seniors really need in a cell phone and cell phone plan. The insights we gained through the process of analyzing and debunking these stereotypes became a guiding light for us when it came time for us to make our recommendations about the best phones and plans for senior citizens.
What Seniors Need In A Cell Phone
“Seniors get overwhelmed by new technology.” “They’re not interested in it.” “It’s too complicated for them.” “They have no need for it.” We hear statements like these all the time. None of them are true.
As we looked through the list of stereotypes, new truths began to emerge: Flip phones are harder to use than “smartphones”. Internet access is as important to senior citizens as it is to their kids. Technology greatly improves seniors’ quality of life. It’s easy for seniors to learn how to use new technology.
It’s OK if some of these statements seem foreign at first. They run counter to the marketing messages we’re used to hearing.
Maybe you’re thinking, “That may be true for some seniors, but if you met my Mom or Dad, you’d know it doesn’t apply.” We humbly ask you to set that thought aside as you read.
Next, we’ll address the common stereotypes around seniors citizens and cell phones to separate myth from reality.
Debunking Myths About Seniors And Cell Phones
A combination of false stereotypes, media representation, and dishonest marketing have created a general perception that seniors aren’t tech-savvy. Here at UpPhone, we disagree. Seniors are just as capable as anyone else of learning about new technology and using it successfully.
In this article, we want to debunk some of the most common (and most inaccurate) stereotypes about seniors and technology. Then, we’ll explain what seniors really need in a cell phone. Underneath each heading, we’ll put the stereotypes to the test. Are they true or false?
“Seniors don't want to learn how to use new technology.”
Reality: To us, this is one of the most untrue and insulting stereotypes we hear about senior citizens all the time. What it really says is that seniors don’t want to learn. They don’t need it, or they’re just not interested. And we, as younger people, are supposed to believe they’re just not something enough to understand and appreciate technology the way we do.
The sad truth is that many seniors believe this to be true about themselves. Some companies’ marketing strategies are built around it. Don’t believe it.
How do we believe that we love technology and seniors won’t? There’s the conception that everyone loves technology, except for seniors. How is it possible that we would enjoy something so much, and they would feel overwhelmed and hate it? It’s the marketing!
In what other area of our lives do we accept that although everyone under 55 loves something, everyone older than that hates it? We couldn’t think of any examples.
The “seniors don’t want to use new technology” message has been drilled into our collective consciousness for decades. But let’s put ourselves in their shoes. Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a senior citizen, and you’ve never owned a smartphone before.
Imagine That You’re A Senior Citizen
For your whole life, you’ve been told that new technology is difficult to use, and that it’s for younger people. Your well-intentioned family members and friends believe it too.
You remember when computers filled up an entire room, and your first experiences with them were terrible. (Sit a young person down in front of one of those computers and see how they do!) You didn’t enjoy new technology then, so why would you enjoy it now?
Second, your only experience with smartphones has been watching people you know use them at lightning speeds. You can’t imagine you’d ever be able to do what they’re doing. (They’re not geniuses. They’ve just owned them for a while, so they’re more familiar with them.)
Your family members like that you are impressed by their technical wizardry. When you have asked for help in the past, perhaps some of them were less than patient with you.
You appreciate that they don’t try to force you to use a smartphone, because you know you wouldn’t enjoy it.
Sure, you’re a little curious, but you’re afraid you’re going to fail — and that would be embarrassing. Nobody wants to fail, especially in front of the people they love. The last thing you want is to burden your family with questions.
Back To Reality
We don’t use phones for their own sake. We use them to do things. We don’t say, “I’m going to use my iPhone right now.” We say, “I’m going to send David a text message,” or “I’ll take a picture and send it to you.” But somehow, we stop at the phone for seniors.
We should stop saying, “My Mom has no use for a smartphone,” and start saying, “My Mom has no use for a great camera that she can use to take photos and videos of the grandkids. My Mom doesn’t need an easy way to stay in touch with our family. My Mom doesn’t need the same access to information that the rest of the world has. If she has a medical emergency, my Mom doesn’t need to be able to call emergency services simply by saying, “Hey Siri, call 911.”
Although the first statement might seem true, the rest are definitely false. And that means that in reality, the first statement, “My Mom has no use for a smartphone,” is false as well.
“Seniors don't use smartphones.”
Reality: First, this stereotype is false and we have the numbers to back it up. One survey found that 46% of people aged 65 or older own a smartphone. This marked a 24% increase from 2013. We expect this trend to continue over the coming years.
Second, it’s the word smartphone that’s scary, not the phone itself. Let’s level the playing field and think of phones as what they are: phones. There’s nothing scary about using an iPhone.
“I don’t want to force a senior citizen to use something they don’t want.”
In the last ten years alone, the devices we use have become much more user-friendly. Connecting to the internet used to mean opening Internet Explorer on your Windows PC and waiting for a dial-up connection.
Now, we tap on our phones and the internet appears. Looking at pictures on a computer used to mean connecting a USB cable from a digital camera to Windows, transferring files to a folder no one could find, and then searching through My Computer for them. Click the wrong thing (or sometimes the right thing), and the PC crashes — time to call the repair guy.
These days, we tap the “Camera” button to open the Camera. When we're done, we tap “Photos” to look at our photos. Seniors aren’t stupid. They can handle it.
An iPad For Dad
I bought my Dad an iPad for Christmas about 5 years ago, while I was working at the Apple Store. After seeing how seniors used them effortlessly in the store, I knew he would love one too.
I gave him a quick tutorial and he never looked back. For a few more years he said he'd never use anything but a flip phone, but he now loves to check the weather and text me with his iPhone. Once seniors are introduced to the technology we have today, they tend to fall in love with it.
“Seniors don’t (and can’t) understand new technology.”
Reality: My experience at the Apple Store revealed that age is not an accurate predictor of technical expertise. Many of the seniors I met at the Genius Bar were more tech-savvy than the younger people I worked with.
If I had to generalize, however, I’d say that seniors were more hesitant to make mistakes than younger people. Many of us remember the days where one errant keystroke could crash a computer, or when downloading a program could infect a hard drive with a virus that was impossible to remove. Those days are gone — at least in the world of iPhones.
In many cases, seniors intuitively knew what they needed to do before they arrived at the Genius Bar. They just wanted someone to be there in case something went wrong.
If there’s one thing we can tell seniors (especially those with iPhones), it’s that there’s nothing they can do to break it. They can’t make a mistake.
On an iPhone, if they see something they don’t understand, they can just press the Home button (iPhone 8 and earlier) or swipe up from the bottom of the screen (iPhone X and newer) to get back to where they started. Go ahead, seniors — just try to screw it up! (But don’t throw it off a balcony.)
“Seniors need phones with big buttons, because they don’t have the dexterity to tap tiny screens.”
Reality: Everybody like buttons that are easy to tap, including seniors. This doesn't mean that seniors have to settle for an old, clunky phone. First, we’d like to point out that the buttons and icons on an iPhone are already large — larger than the buttons on a flip phone.
Additionally, there are wonderful Accessibility features built into smartphones that make them easier to use than any “feature phone” (industry term for a flip phone) I’ve ever seen. More about this in the next section.
Setting aside the fact that a senior can operate an iPhone entirely hands-free (“Hey Siri, call my husband on speakerphone.”), iPhones have an entire Interaction section in the Accessibility settings that makes it easy for people with dexterity issues to use an iPhone.
Let’s shine some light on the marketing around this stereotype: A lot of the push behind “big button” cell phones is to charge seniors high prices for old technology. These phones cost next to nothing to manufacture, and they don’t have the same features or functionality as the latest smartphones. They’re marketed as being “easier to use”, but the truth is, they’re not.
“It’s easier for a senior to use a flip phone than a smartphone.”
Reality: Smartphones have a reputation for being complicated and difficult to use. Up until about five years ago, they were. There is a belief that the more features we build into technology, the more difficult it becomes to use. It’s easy to see where this belief comes from.
Think back to the days of clock radios. The more features companies crammed in, the more difficult they were to use. Over the past few years, things have changed — at least in the smartphone world.
Companies like Apple and Google are now more focused on improving the “user experience” than on introducing new features. Every year, cell phone companies say that their latest and greatest phone is the easiest to use.
Let’s take a look at a few cell phone features and ask ourselves, “Which is easier? A flip phone or a smartphone?”
Sending Text Messages
There’s no doubt about it: It’s a lot harder to send a text message on a flip phone than on a smartphone. Flip phones don’t have keyboards, so seniors have to learn to press the number keys between one and four times to get a single letter.
Smartphone keyboards are modeled after typewriters. Turn the phone sideways, and the keyboard gets really big.
Remember when we had to press “2” on the keypad 3 times to get one letter “C”? Those are the phones that some carriers are selling to seniors today. And we think that sucks. We’re pretty sure that if given the choice, every person, no matter their age, would choose to type with a typewriter-style keyboard rather than with the outdated “A9” number-to-letter system.
Some flip phones have cameras, but they’re nowhere near as good as the cameras built into the latest smartphones. With the exception of professional photographers, almost everyone uses their smartphone as their primary camera.
If a flip phone has a camera, it’s a bad one. At best, flip phone cameras can take small, low-quality images. They have tiny screens, so it’s next to impossible to look at the pictures after they’re taken.
Today’s smartphones have incredible cameras capable of taking high-quality photos and videos. Plus, seniors will be able to take and save a lot more photos and videos because smartphones have a much larger storage capacity than flip phones.
Remember that smartphones are our 21st century photo albums. It’s easy to take amazing photos and videos of your kids and grandkids using a phone. Once a photo or video is taken, it’s automatically saved to the built-in photo library. The large smartphone screens make it easy to look at pictures at any time. Having these photos saved on a smartphone also makes them easier to share with the rest of the family.
These days, you don’t even have to touch a smartphone to use it. iPhones and Androids have virtual assistants that respond to a variety of voice commands. You can make a phone call on an iPhone by simply saying, “Hey Siri, call Jason.”
In summary, it’s our belief that smartphones are easier to use than flip phones. And they’re getting even easier to use every year.
“Seniors need a flip phone with large text. Their vision isn’t good enough to see the tiny icons and text on a smartphone.”
Reality: One of the first questions asked when you set up your iPhone for the first time is how large you want the text and icons to be. The truth is that smartphone displays are vastly larger and clearer than tiny flip phone screens. There’s no comparison.
Big screens do not equal small text. In fact, having a big screen means you can make the font and icon size very large.
All smartphones have the ability to increase the text and icon size, which makes them easy to see and use, even for people with disabilities. On an iPhone, seniors can make the text bolder, increase the screen contrast, and much more.
Some smartphones, including the iPhone, also have accessibility settings that allow seniors to zoom in on specific parts of the screen to take a closer look.
A Touching True Story
One of the most touching stories I remember from my time at Apple came from a senior who was legally blind. Over time, her visual disability had become so bad that she couldn't see her grandchildren — that is, until she bought an iPad, zoomed way in, and saw her grandchild for the first time by holding it up to her face.
“iPhones are better than Androids for seniors.”
Reality: As a former Apple employee, I’m probably biased. However, I honestly believe that iPhones are easier to use and more user-friendly than Androids for people of any age.
At Apple, the number one reason people would switch from Android to iPhone was that the iPhone “just worked.” The typical pro-Android argument is that iPhones are too limited in terms of customizability.
My argument is this: Yes, it’s true that on Android, you can do things like move the icons on the home screen out of their neatly ordered rows and download apps from non-approved developers — but there’s a price. The added customizability of the Android OS often translates into a less-stable operating system and more confusion for people of any age.
We're certainly not saying that seniors can't handle an Android. However, for anyone new to any kind of technology, it's my belief that the more standardized the layout, the easier it is to learn. With iPhones, the limits Apple imposes makes them easy to use. And, it’s a lot easier to lend a hand to family members when the phone you own works just like theirs.
Own A Mac?
For seniors who already own a Mac computer, choosing an iPhone is a no-brainer. Apple devices are designed to connect seamlessly with each other. The icons you see on an iPhone are the same icons you’ll see on an iPad and a Mac.
The ability to use FaceTime, Apple’s native video calling app, is another benefit of choosing an iPhone over an Android. You can use your iPhone to FaceTime with other iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Mac users. You can’t use FaceTime on Android phones, and unlike the iPhone / Mac ecosystem, there’s no standard video calling app that works seamlessly across Android phones and Windows computers.
When it comes time to upgrade, Apple's process is seamless.
How We Chose The Best Phones For Seniors
Now that we’ve debunked a slew of the stereotypes surrounding senior citizens, we can put together a list of the key features we believe seniors will truly enjoy from new phones. You’ll notice that this list could apply to anyone.
- Great call quality: We’ll recommend phones that support LTE voice, the new technology that makes phone calls sound crystal clear.
- Great camera: Everybody loves to take pictures and videos. Point-and-shoot cameras have gone away, and cell phones have rightfully taken their place.
- Great display: Nowadays, the display is the phone — or most of it, anyway. We’ll focus on phones with large, clear displays. In truth, you’d be hard-pressed to find a small phone nowadays.
- Easy to use without sacrificing functionality: Reading the news, checking the weather, playing games, sending text messages, video chatting with friends and family — the list goes on and on. Everyone deserves to be connected to the outside world. In spite of what we’ve been told, the newer the phone, the easier it is to use.
- Support: Everybody needs help from time to time. Apple offers awesome over-the-phone and in-person support. Our websites feature How-To articles and troubleshooting guides that make it easy for anyone to learn to use and fix problems with their phone.
Let’s compare one of today’s most popular smartphones, the iPhone XS, to the Alcatel Go Flip, an “easy to use” flip phone.
|iPhone XS||Alcatel Go Flip|
|Call quality||LTE Voice for crystal clear calls||No LTE Voice|
|Camera||Dual 12 MP (megapixel) camera, 4K video||2 MP camera, no video recording|
|Display||5.8 inches, 458 pixels per inch (more pixels per inch means clearer text and images)||2.8 inches, 143 pixels per inch|
|Ease of use without sacrificing functionality||Easy to use touchscreen. Great for sending text messages, video chat, taking photos and videos, reading the news, etc.||No touch screen. Sending text messages is tedious and slow. Very few “apps” with extremely limited functionality.|
|Support||In-person support at the Apple Store, phone support with experts, and great online help.||Download a support document online, limited phone support.|
More Reasons Why Seniors Love New Phones
In spite of what some senior-focused cell phone companies may say, there are lots of reasons why seniors love to use new technology.
Another great reason for seniors to get an iPhone specifically is the ability to FaceTime with other iPhone users. FaceTime makes it easy for seniors to video chat with one person or the whole gang — up to 32 people at once!
Today’s smartphones have excellent features that make it easy for people with disabilities to use them. On the iPhone, it’s easy to make the on-screen buttons and text size bigger, zoom in on the screen, and much more. iPhones are also designed to work with MFi (Made For iPhone) Bluetooth hearing aids and other devices.
In case there’s an emergency, Find My iPhone or Find My Device (on Android phones) make it easy to pinpoint a person’s location if they need help. You can’t do that with a flip phone!
Best Cell Phones For Seniors
The iPhone XR is this year’s “budget” iPhone, but there isn’t anything really “budget” about it. The camera is great. The screen is great. It has long battery life. It’s affordable. It’s waterproof. It’s good looking. It’s everything a senior (or anyone) could need in a smartphone.
iPhones lead our list of the top cell phones for seniors for a reason: They’re easy to use, powerful, and they don’t crash.
iPhone XS & XS Max
We recommend both the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max, but seniors who want a phone with a big display should choose the XS Max. Although both phones are essentially the same, the XS Max’s larger display and slightly better camera make it the best (and most expensive) iPhone available today.
Samsung Galaxy S10 & S10 Plus
We’ve talked enough about iPhones. Let’s talk about some Androids. The Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10 Plus are Samsung’s newest smartphones. Again, seniors looking for a phone with a very large display will probably want to go with the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus.
Both phones have excellent displays, cameras, and battery life.
Google Pixel 3a & 3a XL
The Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL are the most recent models of Google’s flagship phone. What sets Google phones apart from the rest is the unlimited photo storage that comes with the Google Photos app. Seniors who want a big screen should go for the Pixel 3a XL with its 6 inch display.
Google phones used to be exclusive to Verizon, but the company recently announced that the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL will be available on Sprint, T-Mobile, and other carriers in 2019.
Cheap Cell Phones For Seniors
The messaging behind some cell phone companies’ commercials is that “cheap is simple”. This isn’t always the case. Seniors can usually get discounted prices on new phones when they switch carriers. Most carriers also sell older versions of flagship smartphones for very affordable prices.
Consumer Cellular Phones For Seniors
One important thing to notice about Consumer Cellular phones for seniors is the discrepancy in ratings between their “basic” flip phones and smartphones. If you were looking for proof that seniors prefer smartphones to old flip phones, you’ll find it there.
Flip phones like the Doro 7050 and the Alcatel Go Flip have 2.5 star user ratings. Virtually every iPhone has a 4-star rating or better. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Flip phones are terrible.
Consumer Cellular’s pricing model is fair, but the newer the phone, the larger the down payment becomes. Take the full retail price of a new phone and subtract $600 — that’s the down payment. Then pay $25 a month until the rest of the balance is paid off.
This pricing model puts the top of the line phones out of reach for many seniors. For instance, the iPhone XS Max 64 GB from Consumer Cellular costs $500 down and $25 / month for 24 months. The iPhone XS Max 512 GB is $850 down.
Last year’s models are a different story. The iPhone 8 Plus is $100 down and $25 / month for 24 months. It’s still a great phone, and it doesn’t break the bank when you buy it.
For seniors that don’t have $500 for a down payment but still want the latest smartphones, many of the major carriers offer 0% financing on the latest smartphones with $0 down. The monthly payment is higher, but there isn’t a big payment up front.
Depending on your plan, you can get the iPhone XS Max on Verizon for $45.83 / month.
GreatCall Jitterbug Cell Phones For Seniors
Formerly known as Jitterbug, GreatCall is a wireless carrier that focuses almost all of their marketing efforts on senior citizens. Their cell phone plans offer “health and wellness” features, at ridiculous upcharges.
We get fired up when we’re writing about GreatCall. Be warned: there may be some strong language in this section.
Jitterbug cell phones are a terrible choice for seniors. Let’s start by looking at one of their trademark phones, the Jitterbug Flip. Earlier, we explained why we believe smartphones are easier to use than flip phones. We also exposed the fact that carriers who market flip phones are doing so because they’re incredibly cheap to make.
The Jitterbug Flip is a perfect example of a low-quality flip phone. It’s cheap and it’s more difficult to use than a smartphone. In fact, the big 5Star button is only useful if you sign up for one of GreatCall’s Health and Safety Services packages.
GreatCall also offers a smartphone called the Jitterbug Smart2. Don’t hesitate to purchase this phone instead of the Jitterbug Flip. It isn’t that much more expensive and it is better, but it’s still an old, cheap phone.
The Jitterbug Smart2 does have some redeeming qualities, such as its large 5.5” inch display and its 13 MP camera. But it’s still inferior to other smartphones in virtually every single way.
What Seniors Need In A Cell Phone Plan
Just like with seniors and cell phones, there are a lot of false stereotypes surrounding what seniors need in a cell phone plan. Some carriers offer cell phone plans that are designed specifically for seniors. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless the plan itself is a rip-off. And many of them are. We’ll talk about the worst cell phone plans for seniors later in this article.
In our opinion, what seniors need in a cell phone plan isn’t much different than anyone else. Seniors need reliable coverage. Seniors need minutes and messages. Seniors need cellular data, so they can connect to the internet when Wi-Fi isn’t available.
Just like we did in our section about what seniors need in a cell phone, we’ll take each stereotype and separate fact from fiction to get to the truth.
“Most seniors just want to make and receive phone calls.”
Reality: Everybody wants to be able to make phone calls using their phone. That's what it's for! But you'd be hard-pressed to find a group of people more interested in looking at family photos and videos than proud grandparents.
And while we're on the topic of phone calls: The nature of phone calls is changing. Today, it's as easy to make a video call with FaceTime as it is to make a regular phone call. Once they see how easy it is, we believe that most seniors will love the opportunity to video chat face-to-face with their loved ones.
Many of the major wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T also support Voice LTE, a new feature that makes phone calls crystal clear. There isn’t a flip phone in the world that supports Voice LTE.
I’ll use my Dad as an example of a senior who never thought he’d have any desire to send a text message. We still talk on the phone as much as ever, but he loves having the option to shoot me a text when it’s something as quick as, “On my way.”
Younger people love to text, and so do seniors. No matter the age, everyone wants to stay in touch with the people they love.
“Seniors don’t need cellular data.”
Reality: When we talk about cellular data, we’re talking about a phone's connection to the internet when it's not connected to Wi-Fi. Cellular data usage varies from person to person, no matter their age.
We’re millennials and we don’t use more than a couple gigabytes of cellular data per month. That's because we normally have easy access to Wi-Fi at home, work, and coffee shops.
Unlimited data plans are typically expensive, and in our opinion are a good fit for people who don't have frequent access to Wi-Fi. For instance, working professionals who travel to and from work using public transportation might want an unlimited data plan.
Seniors who travel frequently to places without Wi-Fi might want to consider an unlimited data plan. Since price is an important factor for seniors who may be on a fixed income, however, we focus primarily on plans that offer a balance between price and cellular data.
Verizon's Prepaid plans are all actually unlimited data plans, but the data gets slower after a certain amount is used. We recommend these plans not because of the assumption that seniors don't need cellular data — we recommend them because they are a great value for everyone. In fact, we use them ourselves.
“Seniors don’t need the internet.”
Reality: When I was at Apple, I heard the same story over and over again. After years of computer-related frustration at work, many seniors swore off technology “for good” when they retired. Then, at the behest of a family member or friend, they got an iPhone. And they loved it.
Do seniors like making FaceTime calls? Do they like watching streaming music or videos? Doing these things without a Wi-Fi connection will use up a lot of cellular data.
The internet is a lot more than it used to be. You need an internet connection to check the weather, share photos and videos with family members, get the latest sports scores, and use the Maps app to get directions to where you’re going.
Although some flip phones can connect to an extremely limited version of the internet, the user experience is always terrible. The screen is too small to see anything. Most websites don’t load at all. And just imagine trying to type in a full domain name using the number keys on a tiny phone.
Simply put, everyone needs to connect to the internet. It’s a lot easier to do on a smartphone with a data plan.
“Seniors want a low cost cell phone plan.”
Reality: Some of them do, but at the end of the day, everyone wants a great cell phone plan at an affordable price. In fact, some of the plans marketed by wireless carriers as “for seniors” are actually more expensive and have fewer features.
“Senior citizen cell phone plans are better for seniors than regular cell phone plans.”
Reality: When it comes down to it, every cell phone plan consists of a few basic things: who your carrier is, how many lines are on the plan, and the amount of minutes, messages, and data you’re allowed to use before you start getting hit with overage charges.
There’s no difference between a “senior citizen” minute and a “regular” minute. The same goes for every other piece of a cell phone plan. The whole idea of a “specialized” cell phone plan for seniors is a marketing tactic. There’s nothing wrong with marketing, but when a senior citizen (or anyone else) is choosing a cell phone plan, let’s compare apples to apples.
“Senior citizen cell phone plans are cheaper than ‘regular’ cell phone plans.”
Reality: Some are, and some aren’t. Many carriers already offer discounts for seniors on their standard plans. Standard cell phone plans are generally cheaper and have better features than the plans targeted at seniors. We’ll compare prices later in this article.
“Seniors want reliable coverage.”
Reality: Everyone wants reliable coverage! Seniors are no different. Without reliable coverage, you'll never know when you'll have service or if you'll be able to use your cellular data plan. Ironically, some of the smaller carriers with cell phone plans targeted for seniors have less reliable coverage than a major carrier like Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, or AT&T.
Our coverage map is the easiest way to compare every wireless carrier's coverage, side by side. Remember to check your favorite vacation spots, too!
How To Choose The Best Cell Phone Plan For A Senior
Between the major carriers’ senior discounts, plans from senior-focused cell phone companies, third-party senior discounts, and the world of affordable “everyone” cell phone plans, it’s difficult for anyone to make heads or tails of which cell phone plan is best for a senior citizen. We’re here to help.
When it comes down to it, there are six important questions to ask when choosing a cell phone plan.
- Who should your wireless carrier be?
- How many minutes do you need per month?
- How many text messages do you need per month?
- How much data do you need per month?
- How much does it cost if you go over your minutes, messages, or data allowance?
- How many lines do you need to sign up for? Is it a single line or family plan?
We used our cell phone plan comparison tool to see how the plans offered by senior citizen cell phone companies stack up against the plans offered by other carriers. We were surprised by the results.
We’ll start by taking a look at the cell phone plans from major carriers that are available only to seniors. We’re not making any recommendations yet, because we’ve excluded their “everyone” plans. Next, we’ll talk about the cell phone plans and discounts offered by companies that specialize in senior citizens: GreatCall, Consumer Cellular, and AARP. We’ll wrap up with a list of our favorite cell phone plans for seniors (including plans not just for seniors), keeping affordability and quality uppermost in mind.
Plans For Seniors Only
Verizon Cell Phone Plans For Seniors
|Plan||Lines||Minutes, Messages, and Data||Price|
|Go Unlimited 55+||1||Unlimited||$60 / month (normally $75, but only available in a few locations)||View Plan|
|Go Unlimited 55+||2||Unlimited||$80 / month (normally $130, but only available in a few locations)||View Plan|
Verizon’s Go Unlimited 55+ Plans are, simply put, a great deal. Verizon consistently receives #1 ratings for overall performance and reliability, and we’d recommend them to anyone. These plans also include unlimited talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada, and unlimited mobile hotspot.
For those who don’t know, mobile hotspot lets other devices (like iPads and laptops) connect to the internet using your phone. In other words, you wirelessly connect your laptop to your iPhone, and your iPhone shares its internet connection with your laptop.
The speeds aren’t nearly as fast as a cable internet connection, but they’re fast enough for checking email and surfing the web on an iPad or laptop. It’s still 10x faster than dial-up used to be. Just don’t expect to be able to watch HD videos on Netflix or YouTube.
Now for the unfortunate reality: Verizon’s Go Unlimited 55+ Plans are only available if your billing address is in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Texas, or the city of Detroit, Michigan. If you already have Go Unlimited, you have to call Verizon and ask for the discount. It won’t be applied automatically.
We highly recommend this plan to seniors who need 2 lines and want high-quality cell phone service as the rest of us.
Sprint Cell Phone Plans For Seniors
|Plan||Lines||Minutes, Messages, and Data||Price|
|Unlimited 55+||1||Unlimited||$50 / month (with AutoPay discount)||View Plan|
|Unlimited 55+||2||Unlimited||$70 / month (with AutoPay & multi-line discounts)||View Plan|
If you’re switching from another carrier to Sprint, the Unlimited 55+ plan is a great option if you’re (you guessed it) 55 or older. For $50 / month for 1 line or $70 / month for 2 (after Auto-pay discount), you’ll get unlimited data, unlimited minutes, unlimited messages, and international roaming in 185 countries.
If you’re thinking, “Great! I’ve been a Sprint customer for years, and I’ve put up with some pretty bad service at times. Finally they’re doing something for me!” — think again.
If you’re a loyal Sprint customer, you’re not eligible for this plan. It’s only available for people who are switching to Sprint. New customers will have to head into a local Sprint store to sign up, because it’s not available online.
AT&T Cell Phone Plans For Seniors
|Plan||Lines||Minutes, Messages, and Data||Price|
|AT&T Senior Nation||1||200 “anytime” minutes, 500 “nights and weekends” minutes, and unlimited minutes to other AT&T mobile customers. No text messages. No data.||$29.99 / month + $0.45 / minute if you go over the limit||View Plan|
|AT&T Prepaid||1||Unlimited talk and text, 1 GB high-speed data, and unlimited reduced-speed data.||$30 / month (after $5 AutoPay discount). No overages.||View Plan|
One of these plans is a pretty good deal, and the other is an absolute rip-off. We were surprised that AT&T even offers a plan like this. To us, it diminishes their credibility as a carrier we can trust to have senior citizens’ best interests at heart.
Let us be clear — unless everyone you call is also an AT&T mobile customer, this plan isn’t for you. (If you do have this plan, don’t call your friends to check, because you could end up paying extremely high overage charges.)
In short, seniors will pay $30 or more per month for a phone they can hardly use. And it’s only available for “basic phones.” Seniors won’t be able to use this plan with an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel, or any other phone that doesn’t insult their intelligence.
My biggest problem with this plan is that it sets seniors up to pay insanely high overage charges if they’re not keeping track of how many minutes they talk on the phone between billing cycles. Nobody should have to do that today. To illustrate how bad the overage charges can be, let’s look at the numbers:
If a senior spends 15 minutes per weekday on the phone with a non-AT&T customer, their phone bill would be $81.64 for the month. If they spend a half hour on the phone on weekdays, their phone bill would be a whopping $137.49.
This plan is an insult to seniors and does them a disservice. No, AT&T isn’t forcing seniors to sign up for a terrible plan. But the fact that two plans that cost essentially the same exist, and that the plan marketed to older people is far worse than other, doesn’t seem right to us.
We feel that AT&T should discontinue this plan immediately, and we strongly urge every senior citizen to avoid AT&T’s Senior Nation Plan.
T-Mobile Cell Phone Plans For Seniors
|Plan||Lines||Minutes, Messages, and Data||Price|
|T-Mobile Magenta Unlimited 55+||1||Unlimited||$50 / month (after AutoPay discount)||View Plan|
|T-Mobile Magenta Unlimited 55+||2||Unlimited||$70 / month (after AutoPay discount)||View Plan|
T-Mobile Magenta Unlimited 55+ plans are an excellent choice for seniors who don’t live in one of the areas where the Verizon Go Unlimited 55+ Plan is available. The Magenta Unlimited 55+ plan includes unlimited minutes, messages, and data, as well as mobile hotspot at 3G speeds.
This plan is also one of the best choices for seniors for like to travel. It includes unlimited talk, text, and 5 GB of 4G LTE data in Canada and Mexico. You’ll also be able to text and use limited cellular data in more than 200 different countries.
All current and new T-Mobile postpaid customers (everyone without a prepaid plan) who are 55 years of age or older are eligible for the Magenta Unlimited 55+ Plan.
T-Mobile’s website makes it clear that new customers will have to prove their age, so don’t forget a government-issued ID if you’re going to sign up at a T-Mobile store. If you’re already a T-Mobile customer, you can either visit a local store or call 1-800-T-Mobile to sign up.
Companies That Specialize In “Senior Citizen” Cell Phone Plans
GreatCall Cell Phone Plans
GreatCall cell phone plans are incredibly expensive, especially when you compare their prices to the competition. It costs $49.99 / month for unlimited minutes, unlimited messages, and only 100 MB of cellular data.
Compare that to Verizon’s cheapest prepaid plan, which includes unlimited minutes, unlimited messages, and 500 MB of data for $30 / month. And, by choosing Verizon Wireless, seniors will have a variety of higher quality cell phones to choose from.
GreatCall also offers a variety of health and wellness services which you can add onto your cell phone plan. If you do sign up for a Health & Safety Services package through GreatCall, you’ll save 50% on minutes.
Sounds great, right? Wrong.
The cheapest Health & Safety Services package offered by GreatCall starts at $19.99 / month. Add that to your unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 100 MB data plan and you’re still paying about $45 / month.
The most expensive Health & Safety Services package $34.99 / month, which could balloon your cell phone bill up to $60 / month.
When we looked at GreatCall’s marketing strategy, it became obvious that their focus is on the adult children of senior citizens, not the seniors themselves. First, they evoke feelings of fear for our parents’ safety. Then they position themselves as the guardian angel with a paid monthly service called 5Star that’s supposed to keep our elders safe. Marketing tactics aside, there’s a big problem with this.
If 5Star was superior to 911 in emergency situations, then it would probably be worth the extra cost. If it were equal, we could chalk it up to an effective marketing strategy. But 5Star is worse than 911, and we feel it could place seniors in a position where they might not get the help they need in an emergency situation. If you’d like to learn more, watch out for our upcoming article about how cell phone companies take advantage of seniors for the inside scoop.
Are There AARP Discounts On GreatCall Or The Jitterbug?
Some people connect Jitterbug with AARP, because Jitterbug ran a big marketing campaign on AARP’s website in 2017. In case you were wondering, there aren’t any AARP discounts on Jitterbug plans today.
Consumer Cellular Cell Phone Plans
Coupled with a modest 5% AARP discount, Consumer Cellular plans are some of the most affordable plans around. They offer a mixed selection of the latest phones (and some mediocre old ones) and have reasonable payment plans with 0% interest.
Seniors won’t have access to mobile hotspot or other premium features with Consumer Cellular. Consumer Cellular runs on AT&T and T-Mobile cell towers. It’s a good idea to check coverage at home and in your favorite vacation spot before choosing a new carrier.
One thing we like about Consumer Cellular is that their approach to marketing is a lot more respectful to seniors than GreatCall’s. Here’s an excerpt from one of their recent commercials:
“Of course we like to use learn new technology!”
AARP Cell Phone Plan Discounts For Seniors
Although AARP doesn’t sell seniors cell phones or cell phone plans, they do endorse and offer discounts on certain wireless carriers. As you look through our list of discounts, you’ll notice that some are much better than others. ,
There’s one important thing to keep in mind about buying a “senior” cell phone from AARP’s recommended carriers: We’re 99% sure that they’re getting kickbacks for they’re recommendations — just like we do! Some cell phone carriers pay us a commission when people sign up for a new plan after clicking a link from UpPhone to their website. Others don’t, and we don’t let that influence our recommendations in any way.
|Carrier||AARP Discount||Other Bonuses|
|AT&T||10% discount on Mobile Share Plus plans with more than 300 MB||Waived activation & upgrade fees|
|Consumer Cellular||5% discount on “service and usage” (Refers to their cell phone plans)|
Note: Cricket Wireless used to offer AARP discounts, but they don’t anymore.
The Best Affordable Cell Phone Plans For Seniors
Now that we’ve taken everything into account, we’re ready to share what we believe are the best affordable cell phone plans for seniors available today. We focused on plans that are compatible with great phones, not plans that only support old flip phones.
Even though there are companies that claim to specialize in cell phone plans for seniors, we believe that seniors shouldn’t automatically count out one of the major carriers like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint.
A lot of the time, the only thing that differentiates senior-focused cell phone companies from the others is marketing. Our goal in writing this article was to look past the gloss and think about what features seniors really need when choosing a cell phone or cell phone plan.
About Affordability And Cost
We recognize that many seniors live on a fixed income, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get the latest and greatest technology. There are important differences between carriers’ payment structures when it comes to purchasing a new phone and plan.
With some carriers, seniors will need to pay big bucks up front, but their monthly payment will be low. With other carriers, seniors will pay next to nothing for the latest and greatest phone and have higher monthly payments. 0% financing is standard across the board.
Seniors on a fixed income may want to choose a carrier like Verizon that gets them up and running with a new phone for less than $100. Seniors who can afford a down payment and prefer lower monthly fees may want to consider a carrier like Consumer Cellular.
If you’ve already decided on a phone, you can use UpPhone’s phone comparison tool to compare every carrier’s price for that phone on one page.
Best Cell Phone Plans For Seniors
Single Line Plans For Senior Citizens
|Carrier||Plan||Minutes, Messages, and Data||Price|
|Verizon||6 GB Prepaid||Unlimited minutes and messages, 6 GB data. Includes mobile hotspot.||$35 / month (after $5 AutoPay discount)||View Plan|
|Sprint||Unlimited Kickstart||Unlimited minutes, messages, and data. No mobile hotspot.||$25 / month||View Plan|
|Consumer Cellular||2 GB Talk and Connect||Unlimited minutes and messages, 2 GB data. No mobile hotspot.||$30 / month (AARP members can save an additional 5%)||View Plan|
|AT&T||1 GB Prepaid||Unlimited minutes and messages, 1 GB data. Includes mobile hotspot.||$35 / month||View Plan|
2 Line Plans For Senior Citizens
|Carrier||Plan||Minutes, Messages, and Data||Price (total)|
|Verizon||6 GB Prepaid||Unlimited minutes and messages, 12 GB total data. Includes mobile hotspot.||$60 / month (after $5 / line AutoPay discount & $10 multi-line discount)||View Plan|
|Sprint||Unlimited Kickstart||Unlimited minutes, messages, and data. No mobile hotspot.||$50 / month||View Plan|
|Consumer Cellular||2 GB Talk and Connect||Unlimited minutes and messages, 2 GB shared data. No mobile hotspot.||$45 / month (AARP members can save an additional 5%)||View Plan|
|AT&T||1 GB Prepaid||Unlimited minutes and messages, 2 GB total data. Includes mobile hotspot.||$50 / month (after $20 AutoPay & multi-line discounts)||View Plan|
|Verizon||Go Unlimited 55+||Unlimited||$80 / month (normally $130, but only available in a few locations)||View Plan|
Worst Cell Phone Plans For Seniors
AT&T Senior Nation Plans
The AT&T Senior Nation plan is, in our opinion, an insult to senior citizens. It’s undoubtedly the weakest of the cell phone plans for seniors offered by a major US carrier. AT&T’s plan includes 200 “anytime” minutes, 500 “nights and weekends” minutes, and unlimited calling to other AT&T mobile customers. Oooooohhhh. No texts. No data.
AT&T’s website also boasts that their plan comes “without roaming and long distance charges,” but so does every other cell phone plan in the US. “Nights & weekends” is another outdated concept.
To make matters worse, AT&T’s Senior Nation plan isn’t available on smartphones, and additional minutes are 45 cents / minute, which is insanely high.
GreatCall: Seniors will pay at least $19.99/month for the most basic Health and Safety package, which may actually be less safe than 911.
About The Watered Down “Senior Discount” Plans From Major Carriers
Sprint and T-Mobile’s 55+ cell phone plans don’t include international calling or mobile hotspot. Actually, they don’t use the term “senior discount” at all. It’s not really a discount if you’re paying less for fewer features.
All the 55+ plans from the major carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint) are similarly priced. They mostly include the same basic features — unlimited talk, text, and data. However, with the exception of Verizon’s they don’t all include international calling or mobile hotspot. For a senior who plans on traveling, especially to Canada or Mexico, international calling may be something to look for in a plan. Those rates can get very expensive if you’re not paying attention.
Mobile hotspot is great for people of any age. It allows seniors to connect their laptops, tablets, and other devices to the internet through their cell phone’s internet connection, no matter where they are.
Before Making A Decision
Remember this: The phone you give to a senior citizen is a reflection of who you believe they are and what you believe they’re capable of.
When we looked closely at the marketing tactics that some “senior citizen” cell phone companies are using, we were disgusted. It all boils down to them trying to convince us of this: The way to do right by seniors in our lives is to give them a phone that’s just like them: old, and dumb.
At UpPhone, we believe that senior citizens have the same right to information and connection to the world as everyone else. And we should ask ourselves, what good reason do we have for denying them the same opportunity to learn and grow that the rest of us enjoy?
They can’t break the phone. Go ahead and drop a flip phone in a glass of water. See how long that lasts!
If a senior gets lost using an iPhone, all they need to do is tap a button or swipe up on the screen to go back to the home screen. If they need more help, UpPhone and Payette Forward are great resources for easy-to-understand how-to and troubleshooting guides. Every iPhone comes with excellent phone and in-store support as well.
We've discussed the best and worst of senior cell phones and cell phone plans in this article. We hope the information helps you to make the right decision for you or a senior you care about.
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