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The best cell phone plans for seniors

A cell phone can be useful to have on hand even if you don't use it 24/7. Here are some cell phone plans that allow you the convenience of a cell phone without paying for data you don't need.

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High-speed data and unlimited minutes are now standard order for most cell phone plans. But these plans are not ideal for everyone.

Nearly 80% of adults ages 65 and older own cell phones, and nearly 30% own smartphones, according to the Pew Research Center. Although many senior smartphone owners use their cell phones much like younger adults — keeping up with news and posting to social media — the majority of these people want to avoid the extra hassle, money and confusion of bloated, data-centric plans.

Many carriers have done away with “senior plans,” but there are still a handful of cell phone plans designed with seniors in mind. These plans are typically prepaid and have fewer minutes and frills than standard plans. That means you can stay connected without committing a large chunk of your monthly income.

Before picking a cell phone plan, consider how you’ll use your phone. Want to text and talk with your children? Then you’ll want a plan with enough minutes and messages to keep you connected. Want to keep up with your friends and grandkids via Facebook? Look for a plan that includes a few gigabytes of data, minus the extra fees. Simply want a phone for emergencies? A simple plan with minimal minutes will give you and your family peace of mind.

We looked at plans offered by the four major carriers — Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon— as well as some smaller prepaid carriers to find the best cell phone plans for seniors. The plans highlighted are all prepaid, so in most cases you will need to pay full price for a phone. If you are on Medicaid, Food Stamps/SNAP, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or other government programs, you may qualify for subsidized plans various cell phone companies offer through the federal Lifeline Program.

Best pay-as-you-go cell phone plan for seniors: T-Mobile

  • Monthly price: $3
  • Minutes/texts: Includes 30 minutes or texts. Additional talk and text are 10 cents per minute/message
  • Data: Not included
  • Phone prices: Start at around $60, but you can bring your own device, if it’s compatible.
  • Activation fee: $20 “SIM Starter Kit” fee

Learn more

WHY WE LIKE IT:

This plan is as basic as it gets. It’s also as cheap as it gets. For just $3 per month, you can use any combination of 30 minutes or 30 text messages. And, if you have a compatible device, you don’t need to fork over precious cash for a new cell phone. This plan is perfect for people who don’t really want a cell phone, but want the peace of mind that comes with knowing they can reach family or a medical professional in an emergency.

Best cell phone plan for mobile-savvy seniors:
T-Mobile Basic Monthly Plan

  • Monthly price: $30
  • Minutes: 100
  • Texts: Unlimited
  • Data: 5GB high-speed data, unlimited 2G data
  • Phone prices: Start around $40
  • Activation fee: $20 “SIM Starter Kit” fee

Learn more

WHY WE LIKE IT:

If you were tech-savvy at age 64, chances are good that you’ll still be tech-savvy when you hit age 65. So there’s no need to turn in your iPhone when you officially become a senior. You may, however, want to re-evaluate your cell phone plan to ensure you’re not wasting precious retirement savings on a bloated plan. This prepaid T-Mobile plan is one of the best data deals you’ll find, if you can make do with 100 minutes. This plan is only available on phones purchased via T-Mobile’s website or at participating Wal-Mart locations.

Best emergency cell phone plan for seniors:
GreatCall WeTalk 200

  • Monthly price: $14.99
  • Minutes: 200
  • Texts: Not included
  • Data: Not included
  • Phone price: $99
  • Activation fee: $35

Learn more

Why we like it:

It’s affordable. It’s simple. And, unlike other plans, it’s designed with seniors in mind. The Jitterbug, GreatCall’s signature phone, features big buttons, a loud speaker and a bright screen with large display text. GreatCall didn’t stop with the phone, though. The prepaid carrier allows customers to add on health services, such as weekly or daily wellness calls; a personal operator to help you make phone calls or add appointments to your calendar; and 5Star Urgent Response, which connects you to a 911 operator at the push of a button.

This article updated May 27, 2016. It originally published Jan. 25, 2016.

Kelsey Sheehy is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email:ksheehy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.

This article first appeared at NerdWallet.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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