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How to get free cell phone service

By Rob Webber - Last updated on

One in four American adults suffers from a disability that impacts major life functions, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). This is a startling statistic, especially when you consider that the maximum SSI benefit is just $771 per month (SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income).

Whether or not you apply for disability benefits like SSI or SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) you may still have a difficult time meeting all your monthly expenses. In today's world, cell phone service is a necessary part of those expenses. But it can also be expensive.

If you calculate your disability benefit and find that you're still short of what you need to pay your bills, stay tuned. I'm going to tell you how to save money on cell phone service for people with a disability.

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How to qualify for free cell phone service

The government program that provides low-income people - including those with disabilities - with free or discounted cell phone service is called Lifeline. The program is funded through a small charge on every wireless bill, called the Universal Service Fund fee.

There are a number of ways that people with a disability can qualify for the Lifeline program. You automatically qualify if you meet one of these requirements:

  • Income less than 135% of the federal poverty level guidelines (a few states have a higher limit so be sure to check your state's guidelines)
  • SSI benefits recipients
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients

As you can see, you don't have to have official disability approval from the government in order to qualify. As long as your income meets the requirements you will be able to get a free cell phone and basic service.

If you are interested in finding out if you qualify for disability benefits you can begin by checking out the information available on the Social Security website.

How to sign up for free phone service

Once you've determined that you're eligible for a free cell phone and service you'll need to find a provider that operates in your state. This is very simple to do by visiting the Lifeline support website. There you can:

  • Find a local provider that participates with Lifeline
  • Find out what documents you'll need to provide
  • Get instructions to change providers
  • Get help with a technical issues

If you already participate in one of the governmental programs I mentioned earlier, like SSI, verification will likely be automatic. This makes it easy and fast to get on the road to your free cell phone service.

Free cell phone service options

The kind of phone you get depends upon the mobile provider that serves your area. Typically you'll receive a basic smartphone that can be used for calling, texting, and some limited apps and browsing functions.

As for your monthly service, that will vary according to your provider. Carriers consist of smaller providers like Assurance Wireless and Safelink Wireless.

The average plan at the time of this writing may include:

  • 350 talk minutes
  • Unlimited text messages
  • 1 GB of high-speed data

You can also typically pay extra to add more data or call time if you wish. You can learn more about free phone service for people with disabilities and other low-income people in our guide to free cell phone service.

Free cell phones

If your disability qualifies you for Lifeline, you can choose to apply your benefits to a major wireless provider instead of going with the free carriers. All four of the big carrier - AT&T, T-Mobile and, Verizon Wireless - participate in Lifeline. They typically offer a basic package for Lifeline customers. The discount amount at the time of this writing is $9.25 per month.

How to save if you don't qualify

If you do not qualify for a free phone and low-income rate on wireless service you can still save considerably on your device and cell phone plan.

Cheap cell phone plans

MVNOs - or Mobile Virtual Network Operators - are a great way for people with a disability to get a cheap cell phone plan. Prices are 50% of the cost of the big guys or less. And because these smaller carriers run on the big three networks, you'll get the same reliable service you're used to.

Buy a refurbished phone

Buying a refurbished phone will save you over 50% off the retail price of a new one. You can shop top smartphones from reputable sellers at incredibly affordable prices. Plus, you'll own your phone outright, which means you're free to take it to the best carrier for your budget.


If you have a disability you already know you need to be very careful with your money. Saving on your wireless service is simple:

Rob Webber
Rob Webber

Rob has 15+ years experience in the US and UK running price comparison sites for cell phone plans, smartphone deals, TV, and internet. He loves thinking outside of the box to build tools that empower consumers to make more informed decisions.

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