The 4th quarter of the year is the very best time to pick a new wireless carrier -or- renegotiate with your existing wireless company.
Even with a movie playing on TV in the living room, you find yourself drifting off to check your phone. Now more than ever, Americans are simply spending more time on their phones. According to eMarketer, as smartphones become more sophisticated and offer improved viewing options, more and more Americans are spending time on their phones than on the TV.
It’s no wonder finding the best cellphone plan is so important. With so much of your digital life and time spent on your cell phone, it’s crucial to pick the best plans for your needs. Best of all, most major carriers offer special rates for seniors.
Top Features to Look for in Cellphone Plan
It’s easy enough to shop around for a good cellphone plan but with so many competitors out there it is harder to narrow it down. Below are some top categories to consider when you are comparing cellphone plans.
1. Unlimited data plans
Back in the day, you could pay for cell service by the number of minutes you used per month. With so much time being spent on phones, however, it’s important to pay attention to the amount of data you get from your phone carrier. If you don’t use data as much, it might be better to look for a smaller data package. Or if you’re unsure of how much data you use or want to use as much as you want whenever you want, it is best to get an unlimited data plan as you often end up paying a premium if you go over the allotted data package.
Gone are the days when you could pay based on coverage level: local, regional, national, or international. Luckily, coverage for your phone service is generally national and you can get service where the carrier has towers. There are a core number of legacy carriers who do have more coverage, which means if you travel often, it might be worth it to go with a carrier with better coverage. If you plan on traveling outside of the country often, getting a carrier with decent international plans might be best.
As you may recall from our article, How to set up a personal hotspot so you can stay connected from anywhere, a mobile hotspot is a point that wirelessly gives you service. Hotspots use both WiFi and cellular service, and allow you to set them up to provide a connection to another one of your devices like a phone, tablet, or laptop. As an example, if you want to surf the web on your laptop, you can set up a hotspot on your mobile phone and get access to the internet from your phone’s hotspot.
Different carriers have varied approaches on how they offer hotspots to their customers. Hotspots can not only be more convenient and safer but also faster depending on whether your carrier offers 5G. Some carriers offer hotspots at a premium price whereas others include it in their most basic packages. Some carriers also count your hotspot usage toward your monthly data usage.
4. Good rates for seniors
Now aging has even better perks as cellphone carriers offer special plans and pricing for seniors. Usually created for people 55+, these cellphone plans can be cheaper yet just as inclusive as those available to the broader public.
5. Type of contracts: Prepaid vs. Monthly, Short-term or no contracts
Gone are the days when signing up for cellphone service meant being trapped in an endless contract! Now most carriers do not even force their clients on any contracts. Those who could not commit to longer-term timeframes such as annual or monthly payment plans, usually gravitate toward prepaid plans. The give and take of prepaid plans were that those ‘budget’ carriers usually came with worse coverage and limited options. Prepaid carriers, however, are giving these premium carriers a run for their money with their offerings and often using the same towers as the premium carriers to offer comparable coverage.
To remain even more competitive, many carriers are including additional features such as free subscriptions to streaming services. If having Netflix included as a bonus matters to you, then paying attention to the bonuses can make a big difference in which carrier you go with.
Top Cellphone Carrier Picks
Verizon is a long-standing, legacy carrier that has one of the most comprehensive networks in the nation.
- Largest wireless carrier in the nation
- Offers 4G & 5G services nationwide
- More expensive plans include perks such as Disney+ , ESPN+ as well as Apple Music
- Mobile hotspots are offered and vary by plan
- Expensive (Plans start at $65/month for one line), but note the promotions below.
Promotions (now- 10/31)
- Switch to Verizon Home Internet and get a $150 Verizon Gift Card with a 5G Home Plus plan.
- Get 20% off the new iPhone 14 cases, screen protectors & Magsafe accessory bundles.
- Get iPhone 13 mini for $0/mo. No trade in req’d.
- Get up to $200 when you switch. With any 5G unlimited plan
- Get iPhone 12 for $0/month. No trade in req’d. Plus, $200 when you switch.
- Get a free certified Pre-owned phone, select phones.
- Military and veterans save up to $25/mo on all of Verizon’s unlimited plans.
- save $10 with 1 line, $25 with 2-3 lines or $20 with 4 lines on Welcome Unlimited
Verizon also has a plan specific to seniors as well. If you’re 55+, you can qualify for their 55+ Unlimited plan:
- Need to be 55 or over, whereas some plans require you to be in your 60s to qualify for a senior discount
- Plan includes unlimited talk, text, & 4G LTE data
- DVD-quality streaming and unlimited hotspot connections
- Plan covers service in Mexico & Canada
- Large selection of smartphones
- Unlimited Mobile Hotspot (600 Kbps)
- Only for individuals who have a billing address in Florida
- Expensive as it starts at $60 for a single line and $80 for two lines
While generally more expensive than most carriers, AT&T stands out amongst the pack because of the completeness of its service plans.
- Unlimited data plans
- 40 GB of hotspot data included per line
- 4K video streaming
- Free access to HBO max
- No throttling of speed based on usage
- 5G network
- ActiveArmor, a spam protection and fraud call-blocking service, is included on all AT&T postpaid and prepaid phone plans
- Expensive (AT&T’s edge is in offering a plan that is complete. Their unlimited plans start at $65/line.). Note the promotions below.
AT&T’s special offering for Seniors:
Save $10/month per line on the AT&T Unlimited Premium plan — with 5G access included at no extra charge
- Unlimited talk, text & high-speed data that can’t slow down based on how much you use
- 5G access included
- AT&T ActiveArmorSM advanced mobile security
- 50 GB of hotspot data per line per month
- Unlimited talk, text & data in and between the US, Mexico, and Canada.
- Unlimited talk, text & high-speed data in 19 Latin America countries
Get 2 lines with unlimited talk, text and data for $40 mo/line
Unlike other carriers that are generally geared toward all walks of life, Lively is specifically designed for seniors.
- Starting at only $14.99/month for 300 talk minutes (plus $.10 per text)
- No long-term contracts
- Allows you to choose basic or smartphone
- US-based customer service
- Senior-focused services available:
- Urgent Response: When you push this button in an emergency, it will connect you to an Urgent response agent, who confirms your location helps you evaluate your situation, and provides assistance.
- Urgent Care: Lets you speak to a nurse or doctor at any time
- GreatCall Link: Updates your loved ones about your health and safety
- Personal Operator: Press ‘0’ to get an operator that will help you from finding a contact number on your phone to making calls and scheduling rides!
- Lively Rides: Partnered with Lyft; you can speak to someone who will help set up a ride for you via this rideshare service
- You have to buy their phones including many popular Jitterbug models
- You have to buy data separately to talk and text plans
- Your speed will be throttled if you exceed 20GB on the unlimited data plan during a billing cycle
- While great services (listed above) are available, you have to purchase these services separately (plans to include any of senior-focused services start at $19.99 in addition to the phone and text plan)
Tracfone is a contract-free, prepaid wireless cell phone carrier. Tracfone keeps it nice and simple by giving you pay-as-you-go options.
Please note: Tracfone was acquired by Verizon so information and terms may change.
- Nationwide coverage included
- Basic International calling included
- No contracts
- Pay for what you need as you go (if you know you only need a limited set of minutes or data, you can pay only for you need vs. get locked into a plan for every month.)
- Add-on services so you can customize based on your needs
- Only certain plans include hotspots
- Doesn’t appear to have a senior-specific service plan
A newer carrier that runs on T-Mobile’s cellular network, Mint Mobile is becoming a forerunner as a reliable cellphone provider because it ‘cuts’ out the middleman of in-store retail operations to pass those savings to its customers.
- You can sign up directly online
- You can buy wireless in bulk or in 3, 6, or 12-month plans, with more savings, the more you buy
- Flexible plan options: You can switch to a lower data plan and save more if you realize you aren’t using it as much.
- Plans include free calls to Mexico & Canada
- Free mobile hotspot included on all plans and is based on your data plan (5 GB mobile hotspot on unlimited plans)
- It doesn’t require carrier-specific cellphone
- Starts at $15/month, but it includes unlimited talk and text as well as 5G, Nationwide coverage
- No in-store retailers
- Data speeds reduce after 4GB
Mint also has a 55+ Senior offer, which can only be redeemed via phone (833-655-1768):
- $15/month for customers 55 years or older
- Includes the plan features of the basic plan mentioned above plus:
- Full activation by Mint advisor at no additional cost
- 4 GB of 5G service/4G LTE data per month
- Can’t purchase online; must speak to a rep over the phone
- After the initial $15/month charge, you do have to pay more per month for service unless you pay for the 12-month plan
One of the major cellphone carriers in America, T-mobile has extensive nationwide coverage. With acquisitions of Metro PCS and Sprint under its belt, T-mobile has certainly expanded its reach and coverage to become one of the largest carriers in America.
- Large, expansive national, network coverage
- Offers unlimited talk and text for all plans
- Offers hotspot use and access that is tiered at different price points
- One of the few carriers who offer separate hotspot plans for non-mobile devices, which can be paid annually or monthly
- All plans include unlimited data
- All plans allow texting abroad
- Higher-priced plans include ‘freebies’ like Netflix Basic or standard
- No annual contracts
- Can be more expensive (Starts at $60/month)
- Hotspot runs on 3G or 4G
- Lower-priced plan paying customers may have their data speeds throttled (slowed down) during peak traffic times
T-Mobile does have a senior-friendly plan called Essentials 55+.
- Unlimited talk, text, and data starting at $27.50 per month
- Available to those 55 and older
- No annual contracts
- Only 3G hotspots are available for the basic $27.50/month plan, but you can get 4G mobile hotspots at the higher price points
- But no hotspot via 5G
Straight Talk is a great option if you want to have comprehensive nationwide coverage without the price tag from the major carriers. It offers affordable prepaid plans.
Please note: Straight Talk was acquired by Verizon so information and terms may change.
- You can sign up for service online or in-store at a Walmart
- Backed up all major networks
- No contracts
- Offers mobile hotspot tiers with different wireless plans
- Offers separate hotpot plans starting as low as $15/month
- Limited cellphone plan options
- Data plans are limited in speed depending on plan tier (For instance, on the Bronze Unlimited plan for $35/month the first 10GB of data at high speeds but then 2G & Hotspot data is enabled up to 5 GB only)
- No senior-specific plan
Summary of plans
|Data Plan||Coverage||Hotspot?||Good rates for Seniors?||Type of Contract||Extras|
|Verizon||Yes||Excellent||Yes||Yes: (Military and 55+ Discounts-FLA only||Postpaid/Prepaid||Disney+ , ESPN+ as well as Apple Music (with higher priced plan tiers)|
|AT&T||Yes||Excellent||Yes||Yes: (AARP & 55+ Discounts- FLA only)||Postpaid/Prepaid||HBO max (with higher priced plan tiers)|
|Lively||Yes, but costs additional||Excellent (runs on Verizon's network)||No||Yes: all plans geared towards seniors||Postpaid||No|
|Tracfone||Yes, but costs additional||Excellent (recently acquired by Verizon)||Yes||Nothing specific for seniors||Prepaid||No|
|Mint Mobile||Yes||Good||Yes||Yes: 55+ Senior offer||Postpaid||No|
|T-Mobile||Yes||Excellent||Yes||Yes: Essentials 55+||Postpaid/Prepaid||Netflix Basic or Standard (with higher priced plan tiers)|
|Straight Talk||Yes, but costs additional||Excellent (recently acquired by Verizon)||Yes||Nothing specific for seniors||Prepaid||No|
Are you on your phone more than any other tech in and out of the home? What options and features are the most important in a cellphone plan? Have you switched over to a senior-specific plan?