Ever get fed up with the high cost of wireless service? We do too.
Affordable cell phone service seems like an oxymoron. After all, Americans pay more for wireless service than anyone else, averaging $47 per cell connection. When you factor in all the costs with smartphones, this number can snowball towards $140 and more per month.
If you don't use your phone regularly, or maybe you need a cell phone for senior citizen use, there's no need to overpay for items like unlimited texts and large data plans. Instead, you can take advantage of free plans. It's important to note there are limitations with these plans, but if you don't need the unlimited talk or text messages then they should align well with your needs.
The Best Option for Free Phone Service
Currently, there are two providers offering free cell plans. They are FreedomPop and Ring Plus. Here's a closer look at each provider and what their respective free plans entail.
- No contract plans, meaning no long-term commitments
- Free smartphone
- Nationwide 4G LTE coverage
- A plethora of online resources for support
- Lack of phone support
- No in-network Wi-Fi hotspots
FreedomPop started with the vision of providing cellular access for all. To this end, the wireless carrier achieves this by offering nationwide 4G LTE coverage, a free smartphone, and a free plan. The free plan, called the Basic Plan, includes the following features:
- 200 minutes of phone call time
- 500 text messages
- 500MB of data allowance
What's beneficial about this FreedomPop plan is it provides a sampling of all cell phone services without a cost. It's perfect if you want to send the occasional text or chat on the phone sparingly. Pertaining to data, it doesn't offer much, but you can allow for an automatic top-up to your account.
What if you exceed your data allowance? You'll receive 1GB of data for $10. FreedomPop charges your credit or debit card on file once you exceed the 400MB. Of course, if you want to keep your free cell phone service, here are two ways to do this:
- Disable the automatic top-up on your account.
- Use your cell phone where they offer free Wi-Fi hotspots like Starbucks or your local library.
If you don't want to watch the meter when you text or call others, feel free to download the FreedomPop app. This app includes free phone calls to anyone in the United States.
You can also receive a free cell phone through FreedomPop. If you want one of the most popular offerings like the Apple iPhone, you can buy the older models like the 5S at a discounted rate. This phone company also carries used and refurbished models, including the Samsung Galaxy S5, Samsung Galaxy S7 and HTC Evo.
Overall, FreedomPop offers a good range of discounted Android phones and iPhones, a free cell plan, and nationwide service to make it a smart choice.
Pro Tip: This cell phone provider allows you to keep your phone number, or get a free phone number with your new FreedomPop device.
Free Government Cell Phones
Another option, outside of these two providers, is to seek government assistance like the Lifeline program. The government offers its Lifeline service, which gives you access to a free cell phone and service through a variety of providers such as T-Mobile, AT&T, and regional companies.
To qualify for these benefits, you must meet certain requirements:
- Your household income is at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. You can use this chart to see if you are eligible for the Lifeline assistance program based on household income.
- Another way you can qualify is if someone in your household participates in government assistance programs such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps), Veterans Pension, Tribal Programs, and Supplemental Security Income.
If you qualify, you receive one benefit per household. What does that mean, exactly? The Lifeline program provides access to a variety of free services - basic phone service via landline, home internet, or Lifeline cell phone service. Each household may only receive one type of Lifeline service.
The exception is if the government determines that there is more than one household residing in your home. You can complete the program's household worksheet to see if you are eligible for more than one Lifeline cell phone or another service.
How Lifeline Phone Service Works
You may be thinking: okay, I qualify for Lifeline phone service - what now? Here's the scoop:
You choose from two main cell phone providers: SafeLink Wireless or Assurance Wireless (a phone company called ReachOut Wireless used to be part of the Lifeline assistance program, however, ReachOut Wireless no longer participates). You can see which service is available in your area by checking the wireless carriers' websites.
Devices and Service
Once you register, you will receive a free Android phone with Wi-Fi and data capabilities. The devices now provided by the program are a major improvement over the basic phones that were initially offered. While you don't get unlimited talk with your free government phone, you will get a set number of minutes along with unlimited texting and a small amount of data.
Are you wondering which phone company provides the service for your free government phone? Here's the answer: SafeLink phones are TracFones, while Assurance Wireless uses Virgin Mobile service. Virgin Mobile phones operate on the Sprint network, while TracFone utilizes all four of the major carriers' networks - Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.
If you'd rather bring your own device than use the SafeLink phone, you'll have more flexibility than if you go with Assurance Wireless. SafeLink Wireless allows you to use most T-Mobile compatible devices. Another bonus of SafeLink: you can bring your own phone number, or get a new, free phone number from this provider.
With Assurance, you cannot bring your own iPhone or Android smartphones like a Samsung Galaxy or HTC Evo, although they do allow certain Virgin Mobile devices. Contact customer service with your device questions if you're not sure whether you can bring your phone.
Pro Tip: Toll-free isn't actually free with SafeLink Wireless. While you won't pay for calls such as those to 800 numbers, toll-free calls will count against your minutes' allotment.
Affordable cell phone service is available. You can choose to partner with providers such as Ring Plus or FreedomPop, who both offer free cell phone plans along with solid customer service. Additionally, if money is really tight and you are on government programs like food stamps (SNAP) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income), you could qualify for a free phone and reduced or free cell phone service through Lifeline.
The best part: these providers offer lower cost opportunities so that you won't have to overpay for the service you deserve. For more strategies to lower your cell phone costs, check out our tips to save money on your cell phone bill.
If you're looking for access to more data and perks from one of the major cell phone carriers but still want to work on a budget, feel free to read our guide on cheap cell phone plans.