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'Senior' cellphone plans a good deal?

Older cellphone owners are using more data, but their calling plans are stuck in the pre-Internet era.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 15, 2012 5:07PM

This post comes from Catey Hill at partner site MarketWatch.


MarketWatch logoAt a time when many older consumers are rebuilding battered nest eggs and wrestling with health care costs, the relatively low sticker price of a "senior" cellphone plan can be alluring. But many of those plans reflect a pretty old-fashioned view of how people use their phones. They charge extra for email and other kinds of data -- and that means many customers could wind up with much bigger bills than they expected.


Senior man writing check © Dennis Wise, Photodisc, Getty ImagesCellphone use among older adults is rising steadily -- nearly seven in 10 people over 65 now own a cellphone, up from 57% just two years ago, according to a study released last month by the Pew Research Center. And the percentage of older users who access the Internet or their email on their cellphone has increased from 7% in 2009 to 16% this year.


For that fast-growing group, the typical senior deal can be problematic. Both Verizon (via its Nationwide 65 Plus Plan) and AT&T (via its Senior Plan) offer people over age 65 a plan that costs $29.99 a month and gives users 200 "anytime" minutes (which can be used at any time of the day, free of charge). Both plans also include unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling.


Compared with the average wireless bill -- currently $47.21 a month, according to the International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry -- that can look like a substantial savings. But Matt Mirandi of, a site that lets consumers compare cellphone plans, points out that many seniors could find themselves on the hook for much bigger bills. Talk-time overage charges add up quickly -- typically, they cost 45 cents a minute.

More important, these plans generally don't include any data, and the extra costs for that can add up fast, Mirandi explains. With Verizon's plan, for example, a basic two-gigabyte plan -- the minimum required for a smartphone for occasional emailing or Web browsing -- costs an extra $30, and five gigs, an additional $50. Someone who likes to stream music and the occasional video is likely to need more than two gigs -- and suddenly, that senior plan costs almost three times as much.


Verizon and AT&T didn't respond to questions about limits on their senior plans. But they and other phone carriers do offer plans that can represent better deals. In general, Mirandi recommends that families consider incorporating their over-65 relatives into a group plan like Verizon's Share Everything plan or AT&T's Family Plan, which can cost as little as $30 a month for each phone. Groups of unrelated friends -- think neighbors in a winter condo community -- can also share such plans.


"Just be sure everyone's on the same page about when the bill is due and what should happen when overages occur," says Andrea Woroch, a money-savings expert for consumer-app maker Kinoli.


Here are three other ways a retirement-age consumer can slash a cellphone bill:


Negotiate a temporary increase in minutes or data. The life of a retiree can be pretty varied. One month you're relaxing at home; the next, you're driving cross-country in your RV. But if there's one month you think you'll be calling or texting more or using more data, you don't have to permanently increase the minutes and data and the cost on your current plan. Consumers can call ahead of time and ask the phone carrier to add a set of extra minutes or data to their plan just for the month for a small fee. "This can mean big savings in the long term," Mirandi says.


Don't overpay for data. A lot of people overestimate how much data they'll use checking email or surfing the Web on their phone, and thus pay too much just "to be safe," says John Marick, the CEO and co-founder of Consumer Cellular, a national cellular-service provider. Sites like help consumers analyze their data usage. To keep their cellular data usage down, users should make sure that when at home, they surf on their personal Wi-Fi network rather than on the phone company's network.


Consider a prepaid phone. Customers who seldom use their phones should consider using a prepaid model rather than being locked into a contract. "Wal-Mart has some great deals on these," says Michael Bremmer, the CEO of, a company that helps businesses find cellular service options. For some phones, you can pay a flat $30 a month, taxes and fees included, and you won't get hit with overage charges -- since you can't use more than the minutes you've paid for.


More on MSN Money:

Oct 16, 2012 4:10PM
The American Dream is not about "being rich", it's about the freedom to become what you want, do what you love, live as you want, believe what you will. If all you think important in life is money, perhaps 'Somali Pirate' would be a good career choice.
Oct 15, 2012 6:10PM
Walmart has prepaid phones from Net10, but if you don't plan to use more than a couple of hours a month, consider TracFone - it's owned by the same (Mexican) company, and it's the same phone that's available for those who can't afford basic coverage. They work on the T-Mobile or AT&T networks, depending on what zip code you select when activating them.

Bonus hint: Look for the Holy Scroll of TracFone bonus minute codes on Turks Forums.
Oct 22, 2012 9:24AM
Used primarily for urgent calls, I leave a cell phone in the car.  It's a Virgin Mobile plan that costs $15 every 3 mo. The air time is charged against that and the minutes NEVER expire. I think that the phone itself cost about $7 when I bought it years ago. It still holds a charge for many months and works well.
Oct 21, 2012 11:33AM
Check out "Pure Talk", it's a family owned company based near Atlanta and their plans are hard to beat. We don't use our cell phones much so it's the best deal I could find. The most reasonable plan, which I have, will send you a free flip phone plus a couple hundred minutes per month (which roll over if not used) for only $10.00. Extra phones on the account are $5.00 per month. No hidden fees or ad ons, just plain old easy to use phones. With two phones, we only pay a TOTAL of $15.00 a month. Not for the texters, twitters or techies, but great if you need a cell phone once in awhile. I'm not totally sure about the minutes, so check out their website for details.  
Oct 23, 2012 12:29PM
The very best 'Senior Cell' company, speaking as a two year customer, is CONSUMERCELLULAR. No contract required, cancel anytime. Pick your plan. Change your plan each month, according to your need. Great receiption everywhere. Feature phones, or just basic, again you pick. Even offer an modest AARP discount. Customer service is quick and friendly. You can get a direct mailed, monthly bill to pay by check, if you choose. Check'em out on the web  I've been completely satisfied at a normal monthly bill of $22.00, all local, state, and fed taxes and charges included. 
Oct 15, 2012 8:06PM

That's not true about AT&T. You get 200 anytime minutes and 400 nights and weekend minutes.  You can block your texting and check online to see how many minutes you have left.  I've had it with them for about 4 years and haven't had any trouble.

Jul 4, 2013 10:50AM

Value Plus Mobile . com offers seniors and boomers much lower rates than Verizon Wireless and AT&T starting at only $5.99 per month with no annual contracts. Visit them

Oct 21, 2012 12:38PM
For light users using only talk or text, tmobile pay per minute is a good deal too.  Nationwide, ten cents/minute.  if you buy the $100/1000 minute prepaid card.  Once you buy $100 worth of airtime, you can refill for any amount and you reset the time for another year.
Jul 15, 2013 7:39PM
How about $50/month - unlimited talk, text,web. Pay on time each month and every 6 months the bill is reduced by $5 till it reaches $35/month.  $35 a month for unlimited everything is hard to beat.
Jun 10, 2013 5:30PM
I bought a Snapfon ezTWO for my mom, it was easy to use and they offer great service plans that start at $15/month and include handset replacement for when my mom breaks the phone, man she is rough on stuff!
Oct 15, 2012 6:22PM
I just wish people would wake up and see that America is slipping away. It is not about who is for the rich or poor, isn't being rich part of the American dream? When the only reason you vote for someone or against someone, is because he is for the rich??? the news media had to think of something to make the greedy Americans say "hey why should they have what I don't"
Wake up people, we are headed for Socialism, yep free health care for all.... what about the people who fought and died for our freedom, that was not free...Why does a President have the right to send the bust of Winston Churchill back to England, it was given to the American people, why would he want to? Why will he not look at the flag during the pledge of allegiance?  Why is he not doing something about Iran's nuclear weapons? It is not about being black or white it is about loving our Country. Why are all of the people he has associated with been, lets say not Americans. how about his mother Stanley Ann Dunham, a Unitarian Socialist, Frank Marshall Davis, Communist mentor, what about his college day at Occidental College in 1979-1981, he was known as a Marxist-Leninist,   per one of his professors Mr Drew. His  professor (Manning Marable) in an interview at Columbia said he has a background in the Communist party and is an Marxist intellectual . Saul Alinsky, the Father of Community organizing, he had a huge influence on him even though he died when Obama was only 10, his methods were used in Chicago. What about his good friend Rashid Khalidi look him up for your self, do some research for your self. Who is Obama and what does he stand for, look at his book, look at his friends, stop looking at the news media for answers, use your brain!  I love America, I will be forever grateful for those who are fighting and for those who have fought to keep us free, don't throw it away for what  sounds to good to be true... for there is nothing free in life      
Oct 15, 2012 6:48PM

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