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Do You Need a Smartphone Plan Marketed to Older Adults?

If an offer means slower speeds, limited data, maybe not. You can compare here

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Some folks are willing to splurge on a smartphone that costs $1,000 or more. Others seek a budget model at a fraction of the price. You may be somewhere in between.

Whichever profile fits your reality, you’ll want the best bang for the buck in choosing a wireless plan. The major U.S. wireless providers — AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless — offer discounted plans that target older consumers, albeit with different benefits, rates and restrictions.

Competition has long been ferocious among the group, which has shrunk to a trio in recent years. And consumers benefit from lower rates, at least some of the time.

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With T-Mobile’s purchase of Sprint, UScellular is now the fourth largest carrier. It does not offer plans with age-related discounts, and plans are not available in all areas.

Questions to ask when choosing a plan

Picking any cellular plan is confusing, and the same goes for those squarely aimed at mature customers. Among the questions you should ask:

Can I access 5G, or fifth generation, networks that the carriers have been crowing about in their marketing if my phone is capable? Is it the fastest flavor of 5G?

• Do plans include unlimited data, talk and text?

• Is an internet hotspot feature available to share a connection with other devices?

• Am I covered abroad?

Tests in one state lead to legal squabble

As you would expect, age requirements are associated with such plans. But in a few instances, where you live matters, too.

AT&T’s and Verizon’s test runs of “senior” discount plans require account holders to be Florida residents, prompting T-Mobile to go on a marketing attack. Its “banned seniors” website claimed that more than 9 in 10 older adults in the U.S. can’t get a wireless discount from T-Mobile’s rivals because they don’t live in the Sunshine State.

T-Mobile’s solution? (1) Move to Florida. (2) Get a virtual mailbox in Florida. (3) Switch to T-Mobile.

AT&T cried foul and countered with a lawsuit alleging that T-Mobile’s advertising claims are “literally false.” As evidence, AT&T pointed to wireless discounts it offers AARP members in all 50 states. The case is pending. (Verizon has remained quiet publicly.)

Family plans could lower your bill

The so-called senior discounts aren’t the only ways to save money. As you look at wireless plans, consider how many lines you need.

Carriers typically market lower per-line rates for four lines when all you may require is a single line, which costs more. Compare the cost of wireless plans aimed at older folks against regular family plans, says consumer tech analyst Avi Greengart of Techsponential in New Jersey.

“Typically, the initial line is the most expensive part of the plan,” he says, no matter which of the four largest companies you choose. “So it usually costs less if you join with the rest of your family even without a special senior discount.”

Older people living alone might also consider plans from mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), brands that piggyback off major carrier networks, Greengart says. They “often have less expensive plans for individuals, no matter their age.” One such brand that caters to the mature market is Consumer Cellular, which also offers discounts through an AARP partnership.

If buying a new phone, consider discounts a provider may offer in a trade-in. “If you can get a $1,000 phone for free, it can make sense to stick with a carrier that charges $5 more per month,” Greengart says.

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Unlimited phone plans have become common, but if you only occasionally make calls or tap into data, such plans may be more than you need. You typically can save money with a prepaid plan, paying in advance for service you expect to use.

Keep track of details in search for a plan

Here’s a closer look at some unlimited plans from major providers that may appeal to older consumers. Rates shown for all plans are tied to autopay and paper-free billing. Except where noted, taxes and fees are extra.

AT&T UNLIMITED 55+

Cost. $60 for a single line or $80 combined for two lines.  

Plan highlights. 5G, unlimited talk, text and data in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and unlimited texts from the U.S. to more than 200 countries. Customers also get a free AT&T anti-spam app.

The fine print. This is a Florida-resident only trial, meaning the account holder, who must be at least 55, must live in the state. If that person moves out of Florida, rates will climb to $65 for a single line or $120 for two phones, AT&T says.

AT&T also says that it may temporarily slow data speeds when the network is congested. The Unlimited 55+ plan cannot be combined with any other AT&T plan. Activation and update fees are waived for AARP members, who also get 15 percent off certain accessories.

AT&T 5G UNLIMITED PREMIUM

Cost. $85 for a single line or $50 a line for four lines ($200) total. AARP member discount lowers the single line price to $75 and the four-line price to $40 ($160 total).  

Plan highlights. 5G, unlimited talk, text and high-speed data that AT&T says will not be slowed down based on usage, 50 gigabytes (GB) of hot spot data per line, 4K ultra-high definition streaming, unlimited texting from the U.S. to more than 200 countries, free mobile security app.

The fine print. Activation and update fees are waived for AARP members, who also get 15 percent off certain accessories.

AT&T 4G PLAN

Cost. $50 for a single line, $45 per line for two lines, $40 per line for three, four or five lines. Taxes and fees are extra.

Plan highlights. 4G unlimited talk and text and up to 4 GB of data per line in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Mobile hot spot, standard-definition streaming, unlimited texting from U.S. to more than 200 countries, free mobile security app, dedicated customer service staff.

The fine print. No 5G. Activation and updates fees are waived for AARP members, who also get 15 percent off certain accessories.

If you exceed the amount of data in your plan during your billing period, additional data will automatically be provided in increments of 2 GB for $10 each.

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T-MOBILE ESSENTIALS 55+

Cost. $40 for a single monthly line, $27.50 a line for two lines ($55 total).

Plan highlights. 5G, unlimited talk, text and data, standard definition streaming; mobile hot spot data, though at poky speeds; overseas texting; dedicated customer service staff.

The fine print. Limited time offer subject to change. Plan is open to customers 55 and older. Plan maximum is two lines. Data speeds may be slowed if customer uses more than 50 GB in a month.

T-MOBILE MAGENTA 55+

Cost. $50 for a single line or $70 for two lines. You can have up to four lines at $35 a line. Taxes and fees are included.

Plan highlights. 5G, unlimited talk, text and data, standard definition streaming, free international data along with the overseas texting, as well as 5 GB of mobile hot spot data at 4G LTE speeds. 5 GB of 4G data in Canada and Mexico is also included.

Other perks include one year of AAA membership, six months of Apple TV streaming service and a basic Netflix subscription. You also get an hour of in-flight Wi-Fi on select airline flights and unlimited texting in the skies when available, dedicated customer service staff.

The fine print. Plan is open to customers 55 and older. Data speeds may be reduced until to the next billing cycle if customer exceeds more than 100 GB in a month.

T-MOBILE MAGENTA MAX 55+

Cost. $65 for a single line, $90 for a pair of lines and up to four lines at $45 a line. Taxes and fees are included.

Plan highlights. 5G, unlimited talk, text and data, 4K ultra high definition resolution streaming, up to 40 GB of 4G LTE hot spot data, faster texting and data speeds when you are abroad compared with less expensive T-Mobile plans, 5 GB of 4G data in Canada and Mexico.

Apple TV and Netflix subscriptions that are included in Magenta Max 55+ come with more generous terms.

The fine print. Plan is open to customers 55 and older.

VERIZON 55+ UNLIMITED

Cost. $60 for a single line, $80 for two lines.

Plan highlights. 5G, unlimited talk, text and data, including in Canada and Mexico. DVD-quality streaming, unlimited mobile hot spot, albeit at very slow speeds. You also get a six-month trial subscription to the Apple Music streaming service.

The fine print. Plan is trial offer limited to Florida residents. The account holder must be 55 or older, though a second line can be shared with a household member of any age. Two lines maximum; if you choose to add a third line, you are no longer be eligible for the plan. Data may be slowed during network congestion.

VERIZON 5G START

Cost. $70 a month for a single line, $35 a line for four lines.

Plan highlights. 5G, unlimited talk, text and data. Includes up to 5 GB of high-speed mobile hot spot data. Unlimited texting from the U.S. to more than 200 countries. Among other perks, you get six months to try the Disney+ and Discovery+ streaming services, along with Apple Music.

The fine print. Data may be slowed during network congestion.

VERIZON 5G GET MORE

Cost. $90 a month for a single line, $55 a line for four lines.

Plan highlights. Features Verizon’s fastest 5G ultra wideband service in select areas. Unlimited talk, text and data, 720-pixel high-definition video streaming, up to 50 GB of premium hot spot data.

Additional perks include up to 600 GB of cloud storage for photos, videos and other files, plus subscriptions to Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu.

You also get a single day a month of Verizon’s TravelPass, which gives customers free unlimited talk, text and data when traveling in more than 185 countries. TravelPass otherwise costs $10 a line each day.

The fine print. Mobile hot spot data is slowed after 50 GB are used. Each line requires a month-to-month or two-year contract.