Dear Savvy Senior,
I'm interested in downsizing my smartphone wireless plan, and am looking for the best low cost options. I use my phone primarily for talking and texting, but also need some cellular data for checking my email and other functions when I'm away from WiFi. What can you tell me?
There are several great low-cost deals I can recommend for older smartphone users who are looking to save some money by paring down their bloated cell phone plan. Here are three good options to consider.
If you're an Android smartphone user, Republic Wireless (RepublicWireless.com) offers one of the cheapest deals available for light data users. Republic uses a mixture of Wi-Fi and cellular networks - Sprint and T-Mobile specifically - to transmit calls, texts and data. This patented technology automatically offloads as much as possible to WiFi when available, so you'll consume less data than you would with traditional carriers.
Republic's no contract service plans with cellular data start at only $20 per month for unlimited talk, text and 1 gigabyte (GB) of data. If you need more data, their $30 per month plan gets you 2GB, and $45/month buys you 4GB.
How much data do you need? The best way to find out is to check your current phone bills. The average smartphone owner uses between 2GB to 3GB of data each month, but most older smartphone users use less than 1GB.
To use Republic you'll need a compatible Android phone (you can't currently use Apple iPhones), or you can buy a new phone through the company. It currently offers eight Android phones with prices starting at $99.
Another excellent low-cost option for lighter data users, and one that caters to older adults is Consumer Cellular (ConsumerCellular.com, 888-532-5366). Rated the number one wireless service by Consumer Reports seven years running, Consumer Cellular offers a variety of "pay for what you need" talk and connect plans that let's you choose exactly what you want.
Their talk plans start at $10 per month plus 25 cents per minute used for infrequent callers, or $15/month for 250 minutes, $20/month for 1,500 minutes, and $30/month for unlimited minutes.
And their connect plans for text messages and cellular data run $2.50 per month for 300 texts and 30 megabytes (MB) of data, $5/month for 2,000 text and 200MB data, $10/month for unlimited texts and 500MB, $20/month for unlimited texts and 1.5GB, $30/month unlimited texts and 3GB, and $40/month for unlimited texts and 5GB.
Consumer Cellular, which offers 5 percent monthly fee discounts to AARP members, also lets you bring your own smartphone by offering free SIM cards. Or, you can purchase a wide variety of Android and Apple iPhones along with the senior-friendly Doro 824 SmartEasy for $100.
If your income is low enough, another option to check into is the Lifeline Assistance Program. This is a federal program that provides a $9.25 monthly subsidy that could go towards your smartphone service.
To qualify, you'll need to show that your annual household income is at or below 135 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines - which is $16,281 for one person, or $21,924 for two. Or, that you're receiving certain types of government benefits, such as Medicaid, food stamps, SSI, public housing assistance, veterans pension or survivor's pension benefit, or live on federally recognized Tribal lands.
To apply, contact a wireless provider in your area that participates in the Lifeline program (see LifelineSupport.org or call 800-234-9473) and ask for an application form. Be sure to check all wireless providers in your state because some offer better services - like a free smartphone, monthly talk time minutes, unlimited texting and some cellular data - than others.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.