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PRICE WAR COMES TO CELL PHONES FOR SENIORS: OLDER AMERICANS NOW CAN CONNECT FOR AS LITTLE AS $7 A MONTH

AGE Urges Millions of Seniors Still Without Cell Phones to Use Tips to Find the Right Low-Cost Wireless Company; Three Leading Wireless Companies Reviewed: Jitterbug, Consumer Cellular and Senior Value Cell Phone.

WASHINGTON, D.C.//December 21, 2010///Thanks to a major price war that has broken out among wireless companies, older Americans can now purchase a “senior friendly” prepaid cell phone for less than $15 and get service for as little as $7 a month, according to an analysis conducted by the Senior Advocate Health & Safety Project of the independent and nonprofit Alliance for Generational Equity (AGE), which represents seniors as well as Americans in other generations.

High prices have often been cited by an estimated 13-19 million U.S. seniors for not taking advantage of the health, safety and other benefits of owning a cell phone. In response, the Senior Advocate Health & Safety Project of the independent and nonprofit Alliance for Generational Equity (AGE) undertook a study of phones and plans offered by three leading “pay as you go” cell phone offerings aimed at older seniors: GreatCall Jitterbug; Consumer Cellular (which offers a discount for AARP members); and SVC Senior Value Cell Phone by TracFone.

AGE focused only on those nationally available wireless providers offering inexpensive prepaid plans and “senior friendly” phones with larger buttons, large-number readouts and hearing-aid compatibility. AGE is 100 percent independent and makes no commercial endorsements of any kind. AGE’s Senior Advocate Health & Safety Project has been created to provide older Americans with reliable information they can use to save money, be healthier and live safer lives.

Looking at the three wireless options, AGE found that Senior Value Cell Phone had no activation fee, the least-expensive option for service (allowing consumers to keep their phone active for about $7 a month, requiring only $20 in use or payment every three months), and the lowest-priced “senior friendly” handset, the Samsung T155G, for $14.95. By contrast, both Jitterbug and Consumer Cellular require a $35 “start up” or “activation” fee for new service, impose higher entry points for consumers ($14.99 a month for 50 minutes on Jitterbug and $10 a month to maintain service on Consumer Cellular), and feature more expensive “senior friendly” handsets ($49-$79 for Jitterbug, even though its features are very similar to the SVC handset, and $25-$30 for Consumer Cellular’s Doro handsets).

On the other hand, the price differences between the three services are less evident for higher-volume callers, with Jitterbug at $19.99 for 100 minutes, Consumer Cellular with $20 for 250 minutes and $19.99 for 120 minutes at SVC. Even at these levels, the additional activation fee and higher handset costs would offset much of the differences between these plans, AGE noted.

All three services provide nationwide coverage with no roaming costs, with SVC also providing international calls to 100 destinations for the same price as local calls.

David Herman, vice president and national spokesperson, Alliance for Generational Equity, said: Expensive cell phone plans no longer need be an impediment to American seniors getting wireless. Older Americans who still don’t have cell phones should think seriously about taking advantage of the aggressive price war now going on among wireless companies to get more seniors to take the plunge. And for seniors who are paying too much on pricey contract-based cell phone service and throwing away hundreds of minutes a year, it’s a good time to think about switching to a cheaper prepaid plan.”

Mac Haddow, senior fellow on public policy, AGE Senior Advocate Health & Safety Project, said: “The current price war among cell phone plans catering to older Americans is good news for seniors and for those who may want to buy an affordable cell phone for a parent or grandparent. What we are seeing here is basically the extension of prepaid cell phone prices savings to one of the huge markets out there – the 13-19 million older Americans who either don’t currently own a cell phone or no longer have one. The key here is to be a savvy shopper and get the cheapest possible deal that meets your needs.”

FIVE TIPS FOR SENIORS BUYING CELL PHONES

1. Go prepaid. Chances are that you don’t need what you are paying for with an expensive contract-based cell phone. In addition to wasting minutes every month, you also face the threat of a major cancellation penalty if you want to switch phones. Dump the contract and save money by going prepaid.

2. Never buy more phone than you need. If you don’t need an iPhone, Blackberry or Android smartphone, you should avoid the mistake of thinking all “senior friendly” phones are alike. Look for big buttons, a clear digital readout with oversized numbers, simple features, and hearing aid compatibility. The chances are good that these features will service you much better than a lot of bells and whistles you will never use.

3. Shop around for the best prices on your phone. AGE’s analysis found that one of the three companies we examined is charging up to $79 for a phone with basically the same features that another of the three companies makes available for only $14.95! Just because you see a phone advertised heavily in magazines or late night television advertisements does not mean that’s the best price you can find.

4. Beware of hidden fees and short-term incentives. Just because you have gotten rid of the “early termination fee” on your contract-based cell phone does not mean that you are free of all fees. Two of the three companies we examined charge a $35 “activation fee,” even though another of the three does not. One of the three companies AGE reviewed offers AARP members three months of more minutes at a cheaper price, but that does not really go to the issue of the long-term cost of owning the phone.

5. Figure out your phone use profile and then shop accordingly. If you make a lot of calls on your cell phones, the differences between the three wireless companies we examined are less clear. If you are a new wireless user or just want a wireless phone for occasional or emergency-only use, then the good news is that you can keep your phone active for as little as $7 a month. Compare that to a contract-based cell phone that may charge you $60-$80 a month – whether or not you use the phone for 5 minutes or 500 minutes!

AGE emphasized that seniors should do their own homework and buy the cell phone that is right for them. For more information about the companies reviewed here, go to: Senior Value Cellphone (http://www.seniorvaluecellphone.com); GreatCall/Jitterbug (http://www.greatcall.com/); and Consumer Cellular (http://www.consumercellular.com/).

ABOUT AGE

The Alliance for Generational Equity (http://www.ageadvocacy.org) is committed to protecting each generation from abusive public policies and other practices that erode their quality of life, rob them of their hard-earned wages. AGE is dedicated to formulating and advocating public policies and other practices that protect the economic security and quality of life of each generation. AGE seeks to find solutions outside of political parties and ideological partisanship. The Senior Advocate Health & Safety Project is an undertaking of AGE to provide older Americans with reliable information they can use to save money, be healthier and live safer lives.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A streaming audio recording of the news event will be available on the Web as of 6 p.m. EST on December 21, 2010 at http://www.ageadvocacy.org.

CONTACT: Patrick Mitchell, (703) 276-3266 or pmitchell@hastingsgroup.com.

  1. Jack Esse

    I think this is an interesting report. I did some looking in to the vendor you recommend, SVC and saw this video too. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7Z71mDRFzw

  2. barbara

    i find tracfone to have the best plans and cheapest phones to suit anyone’s needs. i have a tracfone and plan, and i am very happy with it, the nationwide coverage is great and has never failed me. this idea of a special plan for seniors is a fantastic one,the 911 emergency location assist the best part of it. i think it is a must have for any senior, actually for anyone. tracfone definately has the cheapest call rates, they offer to double up all airtime i buy, the also offer international calls at local rates.they charge no activation or cancellation fees, and offer allround great service. so my tip no 6 would be to go try it out, as there is not much to loose

  3. Margaret Heglund

    I am a hearing impaired senior who needs a cell phone I can hear.

  4. beryl

    I think that Tracfone has introduced a very essential service for seniors. Having done my own research I have found the Tracfone SVC to be the most reasonably priced. $15 for the handset (which is simple) and a further $7 a month to stay activated. My folks will be Tracfoned by the end of the week

  5. Diane Hofstetter

    I have been using TracFone prepaid services for several years now, and for the most part, have been happy with the service. BUT twice I have purchased phones that do not work in our mobile home–the other six have. Recently I purchased a new phone for my husband and it doesn’t work in the home, it is difficult for him to get around, so it is basically useless for him. I have discussed it with TracFone and they simply tell me that it’s our fault, we don’t have a good enough signal. My current TracFone, which I purchased about three weeks before I purchased his, at a similiar price, works just fine in our mobile home. How can we be SURE that the senior friendly one will–before we throw away still more dollars, trying to get him a useable phone?

  6. oona

    The Senior Value cell phone has bis, easy to press buttons, large text on a lit screen, louder sound for hearing aids and 911 emergency location assist. The phone only costs $14.99 from K-mart and service is from as little as $7.00 a month…how’s that for value!

  7. linda

    The Tracfone SVC I gave my Mom for Christmas is the best gift I ever gave her and it cost me all of $14.99! She is now linked to 911 emergency location assist which makes her feel so much safer and she loves the phone with it’s big buttons, large text and louder sound. It uses Tracfone airtime so I got her the double minutes card and she’s as happy as can be!

  8. Chase

    I got my parents a Senior Value Cellphone and they love it. The service is really easy to setup and super cheap.

  9. toots

    The Tracfone SVC is by far the best seniors deal that I could find. The handset (T155g) is perfectly adequate and easy to use with nice larger keys and screen at the price of $15. Then activation for 3 months was $20 including 60 minutes. This is a really worthwhile deal for all families who have seniors in them especially if the folks live on their own. There is peace of mind in knowing that no matter where if there is no landline at least the folks can use the tracfone

  10. notquiteasenior

    As this article points out, lots of prepaid phones and plans for seniors. However, most require a contract or have activation and other various fees attached. What was so attractive about the senior value cellphone and plan is you don’t have to deal with any of that. It’s all very affordable, convenient, and easy to use and maintain. The good news is if it doesn’t work out for any reason, just don’t refill the phone.

  11. Squander

    Just so everybody is aware - THERE IS NO $7 PLAN. Everybody seems to be getting off talking about the normal $20 plan that gives three months service, and creating some confusion…with me at least. Possibly the most important facet of the SVC phone now, is that it always comes with double minutes for life included (of the tracfone website that is).

  12. Mel Enoma

    Agree about SVC, It is the best offer out there with no contract, bills or activation fee. Everyone can afford $20 for a simple phone, too. Nice!

  13. Brian

    The senior value phone has been a great thing for my grandparents. They rarely use it but they spend like $20 a month on it just to keep it active. This way they dont have to worry about minutes too much. They really like ground lines a lot better anyway lol.

  14. Linda

    I’m trying to get my Mom do buy one of these…just trying to convince her it’s not hard to use a cell phone like the T155G. Help anyone?:). Great article…very informative. On top of price being an issue, I think a lot of elderly people, like my mom, are intimidated by the technology. I’m glad to finally see someone do something about it.

  15. Henrik

    Great article! 7 $ a month with the Senior Value Cellphone plan is pretty amazing. And I think that’s enough for most senior citizens. Just the fact that you can reach someone, contributes to a safe feeling for most. Point 4 in the article is something that I would be worried about. Any good advice on who to go with or who to stay away from?

  16. Howard

    I got my parents the Jitterbug phone but they didnt get service at their house and it was just frustrating. Afraid to spend $150 for another phone, I purchased the SVC phone and its worked out wonderfully! The have crystal clear service at a price you cant beat.

  17. Kim

    Hey Howard, do you know if the SVC is hearing aid compatible?

  18. thalia

    After doing research I have found the SVC to be by far the best deal. Only thing that worries me is how loud the ringtone volume is. My dad is a little hard of hearing and I don’t want him not to be able to hear the phone when calls come in

  19. jonna

    I’m thinking about getting the SVC for my grandma. She lives alone and I want to make sure everything is ok with her all the time. I know that this cell is cheap (it’s like $7 per month right?) but my real question is how high is the volume on the ring? My grandma has very bad hearing.

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