If everyone used mobile devices in the same way, picking the right phone plan would be easy.
But we know that’s not even close to being true for the 97 percent of U.S. adults ages 50 to 64 — or the 92 percent of those 65 or older — who own a mobile phone. Picking a plan often seems overwhelming.
Some use their device only to talk or maybe text with friends and family while others also may need a robust data plan, so they can browse the web, download apps, post to social media, read email and stream music.
Along with deciding on a carrier, you also must figure out if you should go “unlimited” with your services or buy buckets of time or data. Should you go prepaid or postpaid? What’s the cellular reception like in your area for a carrier you’re considering? Should you bring your own phone to a carrier or add one on as part of your package?
Frankly, it could all make your head spin. We can help. Here are several considerations when choosing a phone plan that meets your needs and budget.
Total bill is biggest concern
“When choosing a phone plan, price is the biggest consideration in the 50 and older crowd,” says Ian Greenblatt, managing director for technology, media and telecom intelligence at J.D. Power. The Troy, Michigan-based company, known for its automotive awards, also analyzes data from other industries.
Some 50 percent of those surveyed in the company’s 2021 U.S. Wireless Total Ownership Experience Study said cost is the dominant reason for going with one plan over another; 43 percent said quality, Greenblatt says.
“Interestingly, the under-50 group prioritized ‘network quality’ as the number 1 criteria, followed by price and then service plan options,” he says. “Remember, J.D. Power has no opinions.… We simply report the voice of the customer and amplify it back to the companies based on what the data tells us.”
Tim Bajarin, a veteran technology analyst and president of the San Jose, California-based market research firm Creative Strategies, agreed that “for most seniors, the monthly cost of a phone plan is the number 1. I usually direct people to the Wallet Hub Cell Phone Savings Calculator, which breaks down how much you’re paying over two years.”
Unlimited data: biggest factor in cost
Unlimited data will raise the price of a phone plan. Most plans include unlimited talk and text, but you’ll pay more for unlimited data, which means you can access the internet on your device when you’re away from home. At home, you can use your Wi-Fi network to cut down on cell plan data totals.
“Whether you go with unlimited data boils down to your lifestyle,” Bajarin says. “If you are active, maybe traveling in a motor home and don’t spend a lot of time in one place, then an unlimited plan is ideal so you can share photos and video chat with the kids or grandkids without worrying [about going over your monthly data allowance].”
On the flip side, if you’re at home a lot or you simply don’t use your phone for things like this, you can go with a more modest data plan — or none at all. Bajarin says Verizon’s 55+ Senior Phone Plan and AT&T’s Wireless Plan Discount for Seniors are both $60 a month, or $80 for two lines for those 55 and older, an average savings of $5 to $15 per line compared to their regular unlimited plans. T-Mobile also has comparable plans for those 55 and older, but with several variables to choose from, as outlined on its 55-plus plans web page.
If you don’t need unlimited data, Bajarin says, “Mint [Mobile] is considered one of the best carriers for value, as it offers 4 gigabytes (GB) of data for $15 a month for three months, and after that you can renew for about $12 a month if you commit to a year.”