Free Government Cell Phones: Plans, Devices, How to Apply

The government runs a program called Lifeline Assistance which gives low income Americans access to free cell phones and inexpensive cell phone plans. To qualify for the program, you'll need to meet certain income criteria, or be enrolled in a program like Food Stamps (SNAP) or Medicaid. A number of carriers specialize in free phones and low-cost service through Lifeline, including QLink and Safelink Wireless. Lifeline service entitles you to $9.25/month cell phone service.

Free Government Cell Phones: Plans, Devices, How to Apply

Free Government Cell Phones: Lifeline Assistance Program

Lifeline Assistance is the Federal Communication Commission's long running (since 1985) program designed to provide equal access to phone service for all Americans. It specifically caters to low-income residents who may not otherwise be able to afford a cell phone device or plan. The program entitles those who are eligible to wireless service for $9.25/month. It also applies to internet service, also priced at $9.25/month.

Free Government Cell Phone: Who Qualifies and How to Apply

The FCC has strict guidelines as to who qualifies for the Lifeline cell phone assistance. Those already enrolled in any of the following programs are eligible:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Medicaid
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance
  • Tribal-specific programs: Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribally-Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TTANF), Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), Head Start



You'll also qualify for Lifeline if you can show your income is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. To apply, you'll need to submit pay stubs, a W-2 form, or a letter from the government agency that you're enrolled in. Most of the Lifeline carriers allow you to apply right on their websites!

Free Government Cell Phones: Carriers

The carriers below all offer cell phones and plans via the Lifelink program. Some are more well known than others; Q Link, Safelink, and Assurance (backed by Virgin Mobile) are three of the bigger ones.

Note that each carrier serves specific states; for more information on which states each is available in, check out this page.

  • Assist Wireless
  • Assurance Wireless
  • Cintex Wireless
  • Copper Valley Wireless
  • Easy Wireless
  • enTouch Wireless
  • FeelSafe Wireless
  • GCI
  • Infiniti Mobile
  • Life Wireless
  • NewPhone Wireless
  • Q Link
  • Safelink Wireless
  • SafetyNet Wireless
  • Sprocket Wireless
  • StandUp Wireless
  • Tag Mobile
  • Tempo Communications
  • Terracom Wireless
  • TruConnect
  • True Wireless


Free Government Cell Phones: Which Phones You Can Get

The various carriers that participate in the Lifeline Assistance program do a pretty good job of giving their customers some great options in terms of cheap or free phones.

Take Assurance: the carrier offers a host of smartphones like the Alcatel Dawn, Kyocrea Hydro Reach and ZTE Prestige 2. Or Truconnect: they sell the NUU A3 and ZTE Warp Elite N9518.

Unfortunately some of these carriers aren't very forthcoming with their phone lineups until after you go through the qualification process. However, doing so will help you determine what kind of stipend you're working with for your free or cheap government phone.

Free Government Cell Phones: Low-Cost Alternatives

Fail to qualify for Lifeline? Fear not, there are a host of low-cost prepaid carriers that offer dirt cheap cell phone service, and cheap or free phones. Here are a few.

Gen Mobile

Gen Mobile is a new-ish carrier that runs on Sprint's network.Plans start at $5/month and top out at $25/month, with varying amounts of talk, text and data. This plan gives you 300 minutes and a gig of data for a mere $10/month, not far from the monthly rate you'd pay through Lifeline.

Gen Mobile sells pre-owned devices. You can get a Samsung flip phone for $19, or an iPhone 4s for just $39.00. Not free, but cheap.

Gen Mobile

Twigby is a Nashville-based prepaid mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that operates on Sprint and Verizon's networks. The carrier offers plans in 3 or 6 month blocks, and cheap prices. This plan is a couple bucks more expensive than the Gen Mobile plan but includes 200 more minutes a month.

Twigby sells tons of cheap phones, the least expensive of which is the Alcatel Cinch at $15 outright. If you want a device that more closely resembles today's smartphones, the Unimax Express is $34.

FreeUP

FreeUP offers unrestricted 4G LTE cell service on America's "top GSM network," i.e AT&T. Their plans are cheap—they've even got a free one—and you can make them cheaper by participating in the carrier's rewards program (by doing stuff like taking surveys, downloading coupons, etc.).

This plan comes in at just $20/month, pretty incredible for an unlimited talk and text plan that also includes 2GB of data.

FreeUP's phones are a bit more expensive than those already mentioned, but you can still get a great smartphone for not a lot of money. Exhibit a: the ZTE Avid Trio for $54.

Source: Whistle Out



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Rates were collected by Bankrate.com on the dates specified. Rates are subject to change without notice and may vary from branch to branch. Bankrate.com National APY Average and Bankrate.com Site APY Average are only available for MMA products in any denomination exclusively. For Savings products, neither national nor Bankrate APY averages are tabulated. For MMA & Savings products in any denomination, the presented Bankrate.com National APY Average and Bankrate.com Site APY Average are averages of the MMA products only, and are not inclusive of Savings products APY rates.

These quotes are from banks, thrifts, and credit unions, some of whom have paid for a link to their own Web site, where you can find additional information. Bank and thift deposits are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Credit Union deposits are insured by the National Credit Union Administration. Many institutions have different rates on their own Websites than those posted on Bankrate.com. Please identify yourself as a Bankrate consumer to lenders to ensure you get the Bankrate.com rate. If you believe that you have received an inaccurate quote or are otherwise not satisfied with the services provided to you by the lender you choose, please let us know.

Bankrate.com's Safe & Sound® service provides ratings information on the relative financial strength and stability of U.S. commercial banks, savings institutions and credit unions. Five stars is superior, one star is lowest rated. For more information click here.