One of my readers, Richard, recently sent me this question regarding cell phones for seniors via the “Contact Me” form on my website:

I want to get a cell phone for emergencies only.  I don’t need it for e-mail or Internet access, and I’m having a hard time figuring out which cell phone options won’t break my bank. I was very happy to read last month’s posts about using cell phones while traveling abroad and wanted to know if you have any suggestions for finding good cell phone plans here in the US?

Thanks for your question, Richard! I’m glad the info on using phones abroad (part 1, part 2) was helpful to you!

I’d love to give you a definitive answer about which phone to get, but unfortunately I can’t. Not only do coverage and plan availability vary wildly throughout the country, but the companies offer so many options these days that it’s impossible to come up with a “one size fits all” solution! You’ll need to take some time figuring out who offers what in your geographical area, and what talking and data (just in case!) needs you have. (An online data usage calculator can help you determine how much data you’re likely to consume on a monthly basis.) Then you can shop around by browsing company websites, calling their customer service departments with your questions, or visiting a store to get the lowdown in person.

That said, the fact that there are many (many!) options available means you’re sure to find a device and a plan that work for your budget and lifestyle, whether you want to use your phone only for talking or need a device with Internet access. And although I may not be able to advise you on which plan is best for you, I can give you one very excellent piece of advice on this subject: always check for discounts!

While I was researching my posts on travel discounts for senior citizens, I came across a ton of information on other discounts for seniors—especially for domestic phone plans! Here are just a few of the ones I found:

AT&T: For users 65 and older, AT&T offers the Senior Nation 200 cell phone plan with 200 anytime minutes (but no data) for $29.99 a month. This plan works for anyone who’s not a heavy cell-phone user and can be vigilant about keeping track of minutes: you’ll pay 45 cents for every additional minute over your monthly allotment. (Note: AT&T introduced this plan several years ago and has mostly discontinued it. It’s not advertised anywhere or listed on the company’s website, but you can still sign up for it by calling AT&T customer service at 1-800-331-0500 or visiting an AT&T store.)

Verizon: Through their two Nationwide 65-Plus Plans, Verizon offers discounts to customers aged 65 and over. The single-line plan is almost identical to AT&T’s Senior Nation Plan: here, too, $29.99 a month gets you 200 anytime minutes. The two-line share plan lets two people share 450 minutes for $59.98 per month. You also have the option of adding discounted data packages to either of these plans. (Verizon doesn’t offer any of these discounts online. To enroll in one of these plans, you’ll have to call customer service at 1-800-922-0204 or visit a Verizon store.)

T-Mobile: If you want a very simple phone without having to worry about watching your minutes balance—and without having to sign any contracts—check out the pay-as-you-go plans from T-Mobile. For $100 you get 1000 minutes that are good for a whole year. This plan (available to anyone, regardless of age) comes with no data and is ideally suited for people who primarily use a landline or home phone but like to have a cell phone for when they’re out and about or want a backup phone for emergencies.

Note that the last offer on this list isn’t just for senior citizens! So keep in mind that although seniors enjoy some terrific discounts, those discounts aren’t necessarily the best deals out there. And sometimes so-called discounted senior rates can actually be higher than regular rates (as I pointed out in my discussion of Greyhound tickets in a post earlier this week), so be sure you also look for discounts that aren’t in the “senior” category.

As far as phone discounts for senior citizens go, this list is just the tip of the iceberg! Whenever you shop around for phones and calling plans (or anything else, for that matter!), always ask the companies if they offer any discounts for seniors. They might say yes or they might say no—but it never hurts to ask.

Do you have any suggestions for senior-friendly cell phone plans?  If so, please share them with us in the comments!  And keep those questions coming as well!