Cell phones have become a necessity for everyday life. However, while the first cell phones arrived in the 1970s, they didn’t become widely used until the 1990s, when they became more affordable.
Fast forward to today, and your cell phone is now a minicomputer capable of connecting you to almost every web service, media, and any company you desire, all in the palm of your hand.
And also, for a price.
As cell phones have become more powerful, they have also risen in price. A new iPhone will now set you back over $1,000, and even older model phones will typically cost several hundred dollars. Even with 0% payment plans, that’s a lot of money to spend on a phone, and not everyone can afford it.
The good news is that even if you cannot afford the latest smartphones, you may qualify for free phones. Programs offer free phones to low-income households, and you could also receive free phones for signing up for specific phone plans.
If you need a frugal phone or a cell phone plan, you have options. Check out these ways to get free phones.
Free Phones to Qualifying Low-Income Households
The first option for obtaining free phones is the programs for qualifying low-income households.
The Lifeline Program offers discounts on phones and phone service to qualifying households.
The Lifeline Program began in 1985, and its purpose is to ensure that all Americans have access to phone service. Lifeline services now focus primarily on cell phones and internet services with the near eradication of landlines.
Lifeline is available in every state, territory, commonwealth, and on all Tribal lands. It is one of several universal service programs overseen by the Universal Service Administration Company.
A consumer can qualify for Lifeline Program benefits if their income is 135% or less than the federal poverty guidelines or participate in SNAP, Medicaid, or other federal programs. You can see the complete list of qualifying eligibility requirements here.
Unfortunately, only one benefit is allowed per household, but Lifeline subscribers can apply that benefit to a home or mobile phone service or high-speed broadband.
Although Lifeline won’t give you a free phone, several Lifeline affiliated programs offer free phones to qualifying individuals. Go to this site to see what Lifeline affiliated companies are near you and the services that you may qualify for.
As mentioned above, Lifeline is available in every state, and you’ll typically find wireless service partner options that may be specific to your state. One more widespread option is Assurance Wireless.
Assurance Wireless is a service provider subsidized by the Lifeline Program and provides services to those who qualify for Lifeline. Assurance provides a free smartphone, free unlimited data, unlimited text and minutes, and 10GB worth of hotspot data.
Furthermore, those qualifying for Assurance do not receive a bill, do not have to sign a contract, and do not have to pay activation or other fees.
Assurance Wireless is currently available in most states, and you can check here to see if it is now available in your area.
Those who qualify for Lifeline services will be eligible for Assurance Wireless if they live in one of the states covered by the program.
When applying, eligible customers can receive Lifeline-only benefits (free text, data, and minutes) or take advantage of the Assurance Wireless Unlimited program that combines Lifeline with the new Emergency Broadband Benefit.
Visit this site and apply to see if you qualify for free phones and services through Assurance.
Another Lifeline-supported service is Safelink Wireless, a program provided by TracFone Wireless, which prides itself on offering no-contract service.
Like Assurance, Safelink offers qualifying customers a Lifeline plan with a free smartphone or SIM card and free minutes, text messages, data, and 10GB hotspot data.
According to the SafeLink website, they base eligibility on the state that offers the service and participation in state or federally supported programs or meeting Income Poverty Guidelines.
While qualifying states/areas are not listed online, you can input your zip code on this page and see if services are available in your area and if you qualify.
Free Phones for New Lines
If you don’t meet the requirements for Lifeline or other low-income household programs, you may still be able to get free phones for opening new lines with various service providers. Most major service providers will give you free phones when you switch to their service.
Most wireless carriers, including Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T, offer cell phone plans that will give you a free phone to sign up for a qualifying service plan.
Previously, getting these deals required a two-year contract. Most prominent providers now offer a selection of free phones when you sign up for one of their qualifying plans. Currently, you can spread the cost of your phone over a 24- or 30-month span.
If you cancel the service before the 24- or 30-month period, you’ll be responsible for paying the remaining balance on your phone. Thus, your service plan subsidizes the cost of the phone.
If you don’t want to sign up for the qualifying plan, another option is to purchase a phone and pay for it in installments. You can now buy most phones over a 24- or 30-month period with 0% interest.
While not a free phone, the benefit to purchasing with an installment plan is that you can pick whatever phone you want and then save money on your cell phone plan by finding cheaper service options.
Most new and sometimes existing customers are eligible for these cell phone deals if you pick a qualifying phone and sign up for a qualifying service plan.
However, there may be other eligibility requirements to access the best deals and plans, such as credit score requirements. You also may be required to turn in your old phone if it is an eligible device.
If you’re looking for a free phone deal, the best bet will be to contact your current service provider and see what they offer. If you’re unable to find an acceptable bargain, shop around with other service providers to find the best value for your situation.
Why Do These Providers Offer Free Phones and Free Cell Phone Service?
Service providers offer free phones and services, depending on the provider and the available offers.
Lifeline Program partners and service providers offer free phones and services because they receive government subsidies. That means that the government has given them grants to promote activities that are in the best interest of the public, in this case, access to communication and internet services.
Because our government has deemed access to cell phones and Wi-Fi a vital component of our lives, programs and money is available to help ensure everyone has access to them.
On the other hand, providers who offer free phones to sign up for service plans are motivated by gaining you as a customer. The money they make from the qualifying service plans more than makes up for the free phones offered. Those who pay off the balances on their phones also help cover those costs.
Plus, keep in mind companies can only offer certain phones for free. They usually aren’t the most expensive options available and may not be the latest phones.
In short, service providers who offer free phones in exchange for your commitment to a service plan more than make up for the hook of the free phone in the end.
So, Are Free Phones Free?
Yes and no.
Phones offered through Lifeline Program partners will likely be completely free to you if you qualify. However, you may need to pay out-of-pocket costs for services depending on your eligibility and offered plans.
However, free phones received as part of signing up for a service plan are not free because you need to pay for a qualifying service plan to get one. However, depending on the plan’s cost, you may be spending less than if you were to buy a phone and then pay for service.
Whether a free phone through a service plan signup is worth it to you will depend on the phone, the cost of the service, and whether you could get a better deal by buying a phone on an installment plan or outright and then getting cheap service.
If you’re looking to lower your phone bill, you’re likely better off buying a cheaper phone and signing up for a more affordable wireless carrier.
You have a few options when it comes to finding free phones.
Suppose you qualify as a low-income household and for other government services. In that case, the chances are good that you’ll be eligible for some Lifeline Program assistance or free phones through one of its partner programs.
If you are not from a low-income household, you can check the options available through all major service providers. Most offer free phones to sign up for a qualifying service plan.
Just check your options with several providers and weigh whether the monthly money spent on these qualifying service plans is worth the free phone.
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Tawnya is a 34-year-old Special Education teacher in the sixth year of my career. Along with her partner, Sebastian, she runs the blog Money Saved is Money Earned. Tawnya has worked extremely hard to reach my goals and remain debt-free.
She holds an Honors BS in Psychology from Oregon State University and an MS in Special Education from Portland State University and has had a pretty successful writing career, first as a writing tutor at the Oregon State University Writing Center, and in recent years, as a freelance writer.
Tawnya and Sebastian have a wealth of knowledge and information about personal finance, retirement, student loans, credit cards, and many other financial topics. It is this wealth of tips and tricks that they wish to pass on to others.