The prepaid cell phone — the next best option if you cannot get a free government cell phone

Many people know that the government gives free cell phones and 250 monthly minutes to needy Americans through its Lifeline Assistance program. But what’s the next best option if you don’t qualify for a free Lifeline cell phone?

Fact is, everyone needs a cell phone these days. They’ve rapidly moved from luxury items to necessities because they can be literal lifesavers for anyone with health or aging issues or other challenging circumstances.

If you don’t qualify for the Lifeline program, there are several reasons you might want to consider a prepaid cell phone.

Prepaid Cell Phone Advantages

1. There are no contracts and no surprises.

With a prepaid cellphone you only pay for the minutes you actually use. There are no recurring monthly fees, no federal taxes, no fees, network fees, no data fees, no deposits required, and no costly changes in terms of service that may push up your monthly cell phone bill to an unaffordable level.

If the prepaid cellphone provider you’ve chosen doesn’t give you good service you aren’t tied to it by a long-term contract. That means you won’t be charged one of those hefty early termination fees if you decide to switch to a different provider. You simply use up your minutes and then purchase service with a different provider.

With contractual phones you will pay steep overage charges if you use more than your allotted minutes. But if you use up your allotted minutes with a prepaid cell phone, it simply stops working until you buy more minutes and activate them.

2. Prepaid cell phones and minutes are easy to purchase.

Most prepaid cellphone providers offer prepaid cellphone service, phones and minutes online through their website and at merchants such as Walmart, your local supermarket or your local convenience store.

When you shop for a prepaid cell phone, look for a “bundle” that include the activation, the phone and your initial minutes purchase, since providers will sometimes offer sales and deals on these bundles. For example, some providers offer generous double or triple minutes deals that can really stretch your cell phone budget.

When you buy a prepaid cell phone you’ll pay an initial activation fee that gets you a phone number to which the minutes you purchase will be attached. Activation fees are typically around $20 in the United States.

Most prepaid cellphone companies offer a very basic, inexpensive phone with an initial service purchase. If you are able to pay a bit more, you can choose from a number of upgraded phones with more features.

If you need more minutes, you can easily purchase them online directly from your prepaid cellphone provider or by purchasing an additional minutes card at many stores right in your neighborhood. Activating a new minutes card is easy – just go to the provider’s website and follow the simple instructions.

3. Bad credit, no problem.

People who’ve had life and health challenges often end up with bad credit scores that can limit their access to cell phone service. Most contract cell phone providers will turn down people with bad credit or make them pay exorbitant deposits, but with a prepaid cellphone there is no qualification of any sort. If you have the cash or an active credit card you can get the phone, the service and the minutes, no questions asked.

4. Prepaid cell phones are available without age restrictions.

You must be 18 years of age to enter into a contract. That means you won’t be able to get a contractual cell phone if you’re underage. But the good news is that there is no age qualification of any kind for prepaid cell phones.

Prepaid Cell Phone Disadvantages

Now that we’ve told you all the advantages of a prepaid cell phone, you might wonder if there are any disadvantages. There are, but they are minor.

For example, minutes are usually good for a specific period of time, usually 60 to 90 days. To roll them over you need to purchase more minutes prior to the expiration of your current minutes.

When you first purchase your prepaid cellphone it may be tricky to gauge how many minutes you actually need. If you purchase too many minutes you might be put in the position of having to pay for more minutes just to save the ones you’ve already purchased.

The per minute charge is a bit higher on prepaid cellphones, but this is more than offset by all the advantages.

Prepaid cell phones are an outstanding alternative

Considering all the pros and cons, we come to the conclusion that prepaid cell phones are an outstanding alternative to the government’s free cell phone program.

Check it out. It may be perfect for you.


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  1. terri says

    I’m still looking for the LOW cost pre-paid cell link,I have TracFone for awhile now & I can’t stand them in fact I bought a El Cheapo phone 7 bucks & it’s Junk I just wanted a separate phone so I can try to start a home business & moved out of old state & wanna keep old number but start a new area code phone here but the 7 dollar phone was so bad I went & bought another better 15.00 one & Nothing but trouble w TracFone finally got a phone number but no service & I have other tracfones & they work here in middle of no-where & I really can’t afford how much I pay monthly for dam cell phone & I don’t even like talking on the phone just got for emergency’s yet still looking for anything cheaper for me & my son,I pay like 20.00+ for 2 phones but w him trying to get a job is using more mins & it stinks ughhhh on fixed income I’m disabled it’s not easy…..

    • sstone says

      if it free what are you complaining about I am disabled and you are only allowed one phone with the prepay government services if you can afford to buy a phone for you and your son then you don not need a free government prepaid cell phone. I need mine for emergencies and cannot afford to buy one or pay for minutes and if you are disabled then why are you working?

  2. bill says

    The person that is in need of the free phone don’t have a phone number are a computer
    I am trying to sumit this applacation for her . We live in a very small town where if you have your mail
    left at the curb it may not be there when you check it. It seems that poor people have no chance, we don’t even have a police here in town , it would seem that you people should make allowance for
    things such as this

  3. BobSSS says

    OK, back to low-cost phones…
    Apply for a “free” phone, and if you don’t qualify for the “free”, you may still qualify for the “low-cost”, and it’s NOT from Walmart…
    Phone companies like Reach-Out, are still phone companies… The difference is they are willing to collect a little from lots of people, rather than alot from a few people… 2 differing business styles…
    The government is “handing them” potential customers, what do you do with potential customers that don’t quite qualify for a program? Throw them away or build a program they may be able to afford that provides even minimal profit…
    Walmart, et. al., have larger over-heads that have to be covered, Online-Only companies don’t… In this case, they don’t even have to pay for advertising… tens of millions of people are being handed to them… It’s almost unfair competition, but it is what it is…
    I would be willing to bet, they don’t throw anyone away, I wouldn’t…

  4. BobSSS says

    You guys with jobs are amazing…
    1/3 of our country has been destroyed… Just because you are in the 2/3rds doesn’t mean that the other1/3 is as good off as you are, or even has the opportunities that you have…
    25% of the construction industry is still down from pre-Obama times… In case you haven’t noticed the increase of “HandyMen” in your neighborhood, open your eyes… These are the fortunate handful of construction workers that have an ability to sell their abilities on the open market… Others aren’t so fortunate… and they earn in a month what they were earning in a week… SURVIVAL, not SUCCESS…
    Obama is the founder of the “Micro-Business”
    “Wealthy” people are living in their motor (not Mobile) homes, fortunate to have a motorhome to live in… Reagan started this “obamaPhone” thing so people can get jobs, we just never needed it so much until Obama… Today, for most occupations, the internet may be a necessity for applications… I know Home Depot ONLY takes online applications, and ONLY responds by phone and eMail… What do you do live at a library waiting for a eMail?
    It’s super easy to say “Get a Job”, but we have just gone from 30 million to 45 million people QUALIFYING for Sub-Standard, Un-American way-of-life survival methods… if you think that extra 15 million people are simply “Cheating the System”, “Living on the Dole”, you need to re-think… maybe ask yourself “Why Now?”, these programs have been around for decades, why NOW, all of a sudden, did “Everyone” figure out how to cheat the system? The qualifications did not get easier, in fact they got tougher… quarterly reports are required to keep food on the table… and people certainly didn’t get smarter, 10 minutes in public proves that easy enough…
    If you are thinking about that Surfer that eats lobster and think that everyone is like him… wake-up… besides, he gets maximum $200 each month, divided by 90 meals, that’s NOT alot of lobster… He’s over-compensating for the miserable life he has… “putting on a face”…
    You might also want to look at the comments and how they are written… these are NOT affluent people here, they can’t spell, their grammar is terrible, most of them “sound” like they spent most their lives in a swamp… How do victims of our Hippie-inundated education system even find anyone that would hire them? Would YOU hire any of them? Beating up on people that are so obviously inferior to you is called “bullying”, and it doesn’t help…
    You want people OFF the government Tax-Payer Dole, you need to get rid of people that destroy our economy, so those that ARE capable of holding down a job, can get one to hold down… Start bullying those that you think are superior, especially the King himself… This is STILL America, for the most part…
    This country and all it’s greatness was built on Logic and can never hope to survive on emotion…
    America made an incredible mistake, and then repeated it… fortunately they are figuring it out, sadly it ALWAYS takes too long, and this mistake is the daddy of mistakes…
    IF we wise up in time, we WILL be able to regain our country and all of this will fade into the background… In the meantime… help people survive this… drop money in every box you come across and VOTE so those boxes will become less common again…

  5. timothy c.mckown says

    I’m trying to contact the certain person to leave some info about
    Receiving services or continuing my service,I’m loving all the wonderful
    Help I’ve been receiving thus far.

  6. ANN says

    Opinions are like buttholes and everyone has one including myself. Why come to a site about free government phones just to bitch & whine. I am dirt poor. I do not even have one phone. I am not eligible for any type of cash assistance because my husband has a part-time job. SSI has done nothing but run me around . There are plenty poor ass people who don’t just want a hand out and really need help. But some people have a crystal ball and know it all. If you are so bored with your life that you go web surfing just to find sites to bitch on sounds like you’ve too much time on your hands. Go volunteer; maybe at a soup kitchen be part the solution not the problem.

  7. Shelia says

    Disabled American I am disabled too and I understand exactly what you are saying. However this program is being accessed by millions of people and though the economy is bad there are not that many people in need of this program. It is the ones taking advantage of these programs that are causing so much resentment towards those actually in need, and there are just entirely too many of them to sustain the resources allocated.

  8. Shelia Sinqueffield says

    If anyone else finds this program as offensive as I do I have started a petition on
    asking this program to be eliminated. I believe we can recycle used phones and the companies that provide this service already could offer a program whereby the phone reaches 911 for free and each additional minute could be paid for on an as needed basis if the phone were needed for medical or job application.

    • Free Government Cell Phones says

      You cannot use 911 to contact employers or non-emergency medial care. Have a heart Sheila.

      • Nothing Is Free says

        Sheila has a heart and a job however she is probably tired of seeing the program being abused. Riddle me this who is monitoring the use of the phone? Nobody that really cares for the well being of the taxpayers. I can see issuing a Landlines for the poor, elderly, and disabled but a mobile. We all have needs and wants a cell phone is a want therefore a need would be food, water, shelter, and etc. Wake Up Free Government Cell Phones “Nothing is Free.”

    • Nothing Is Free says

      I agree this program is offensive I will sign your petition but to be honest it will do nothing anyone that speaks out about the corruption on the “We the people” website gets ignored. The only way to fix the problem is do without a phone “yourself” and cut off some of their support. The program at first was helpful for the disabled, poor, and elderly but has became a viral drain on the American Tax Payer.

      • vicki gilbert says

        yes i dont know how but my neighbor has 4 of these cell phones that she traded drugs for from people who got them free…thats crazy she never pays a phone bill when one runs out of minutes she uses another!

  9. disabled american says

    Safelink has been a lifesaver. Many times I have to go to the Dr. alone and gotten sick while on my way to or from. If I have a flare up and have to pull off the road for hours at a time it is good to know I have a cell phone if I need help. I am greatful for programs like Safelink and Assurance, but disgusted with people who take advantage in a negative way and also disgusted with people who have no tolerance for the disabled or low income. Not everyone is a mooch. I make less than $6000.00 per yr from disabilty, but am greatful that I have that. I unfortunately will never work again. I can make it stretch, I just have to be really creative and not live beyond my means. I would survive if I didn’t have a phone, but very thankful I do. Until you walk a mile in someone elses shoes please don’t judge them. I too was a taxpayer and worked full time before I became disabled

    • another american sucker says

      find another part time gig for those other 3-4 days. still leaves one day for rest, then back at it for another week. repeat.

  10. Mrs Dixon says

    In my opinion, tracfone is the best prepaid cell-phone. I have reviewed all of them with the information they provide on their websites, and tracfone is by far the best, sure you can buy minutes and service for 30, 60 or 90 days, but what makes this one better than the others is that you can buy minutes and service for 365 days, that’s 1 year, and depending on how many minutes you buy, it can be as low as 10 cents per minute. And I don’t buy into the unlimited plans even on a pre-paid phone, they are too-much. All the prepaid companies have this information on their web-sites, so do some research, it’s all there from ATT, Net10, Verizon, tracfone, etc.

    • Walter Ward says

      You can purchase a cheap T-mobile phone at Walmart for $20 and buy a 1000 minutes for $100 that are good for a year. Tuff to beat a $100 a year for an emergency phone.

  11. Dick Lackmond says

    the social security is my only income and it puts me just above the limit and therefore must buy prepaid which I cant really afford and the lower income persons get 250 minutes and a better phone for free , my minutes are 30 per month . I am screwed because I get just a little to much . It seems that the realy poor are better off than the just getting by on lots of things. NOT FAIR !!

    • Linda Lucas says

      Dick that is my situation. I meet my bills/expenses every month, but there darn sure isn’t anything left. I too am on Social Security to which I paid in all my life… no free lunch here. Once again, those of us who aren’t high income, but aren’t sucking the life out of welfare benefits… well just sucks to be us at times.

      JWright sounds very bitter. How sad.

      • TJ says

        Seriously people are actually complaining about free phones and level of service? I have to imagine you’re on SS as a young person and not a retiree because everyone I know retiree age does not look for free crap from the government. The sense of entitlement in America now is disgusting.

  12. George Worley says

    Most cell phone prepaid plans these days have unlimited plans for a flat fee per month some have even unlimited international calls. Most prepaid plans these days don’t carry minutes over from one month to the next. Most of the time these plans are cheaper then a monthly plan.

  13. james solomon says

    If I get a prepaid phone can I keep and old cell number or my last cell number even if it was and assurrance free phone.

  14. Jackie says

    Good afternoon, I was wondering since I have no income coming in at the moment and I am not under any government assistance, can I apply?

    • travis says

      Jackie, yes you can apply for a job that is i garantee there is plenty of fast food and grocery stores in your area that are looking for help and would be glad to let you apply and probably give you a job but you would rather spend your time on the internet trying to get a handout from taxpayers of this country

      • TJ says

        Wonderful comment. This whole idea of a free cell phone for people is ridiculous. Get a job, get your priorities straight, get an education, get a better job, then consider purchasing a cell phone.

      • Nothing Is Free says

        Great comment but you were probably too late; by now he has already upgraded to the iObamaPhone 5.

  15. Greg says

    I’m on SSI disability and Food Stamps which combined gives me a yearly “income” of $5570 below poverty level. I have not, as of yet, had any success in actually getting a free phone from the companies I have so far tried (but I have not stopped trying). But since I need a phone for medical, and other, reasons. I’ve managed to scrape up the $ for a pre-paid cell phone. Due to the service providers in the area I live in, I went with Straight Talk, which uses Verizon Wireless in my area. It has been excellent, and I’m saving $18/month over my Verizon contract service. I’m still hoping to actually GET a free cell phone, that I do qualify for, from a company that offers them. Right now, my budget allows for $2.10/day for food, so a free phone and service would really be appreciated. Try eating (even un-healthfully) on $2.10/day!

    • Narodnik says

      You can get a tracfone at Walmart or K-Mart or Target for 15 bucks, a simple phone; each store carries different phones. I prefer a phone that folds close; but there are others, the ones that don’t close and once that slide up to use. Look for the “double minutes for life of phone” on the phone. Then just buy minutes. I LOVE Tracfone. I find that either Motorola or Nokia has the best sound/connection, etc. LG is good too, my husband got an LG fold up phone for 15 dollars. Just buy minutes before time is up or you lose the phone number – but that’s not a problem for us. The company also sends you offers which include bonus minutes.

      Then again I rarely use my phone, and my husband uses his for work only.

  16. Sharleene D. Bell says

    I enjoy using my free cellphone it really come in handed for people. Who cannot afford it by contract or the regular monthly fees. It have been a true source of communication for me & I miss it.

  17. cathy says

    maybe if I didn’t have to cover three or four free phones for those who do qualify, I would be able to afford to just get a regular phone

  18. rachel says

    is it possible to buy a data package for reach out wirelss phones? are they plannin on offering unlimited internet and text and talk plans? i think this is really important these days since most job applications are done online

    • Free Government Cell Phones says

      We don’t know about the extras with ReachOut, you’ll have to call them.

      But there are new, affordable internet plans coming out for low income people, and you can learn about them at this site: cheap internet

    • Pat Stevens says

      Rachel, The library has free internet for job aplications. I have done many at the library. Also are you not using the internet to post this? So you have some sort of internet access. I think that beggars cant be chosers and a free phone is plenty.

      • Nothing Is Free says

        Easy there Pat…it is only fair that they have what others have but only free. It disgusts me how society is willing to sacrifice their dignity and pride at the expense of the taxpayers only to ask for more handouts. It is obvious that Rachel has found a source of internet or is misusing her cell phone.

      • Free Government Cell Phones says

        Yeah Troy, For realzzzzzz. When you don’t have the money, you do what you can.

  19. james murphy says

    if i have a life wireless what kind od phone card can i buy if i can’t find the one i need for my phone. i have a life wireless phone (sport mobile)

  20. nelda davis says

    i got one of the free phone, but it would notget no one. you could not talk on it, I try to let tham know , But got no where. So i still dont have a phone. I am on s.s.I and i dont have much ,to do with

  21. sandra ayers says

    can you get minute from you to put on a phone that someone already have or not.i have net10 no money to put minutes on it right now.

    • Greg says

      Just have someone give you the $ to buy more minutes or they can buy a “more minutes” card and give it to you. I don’t know of any other way.