With so many companies participating in the Lifeline Assistance program, offering free cell phones, sometimes it’s hard to know which carrier is right for you. If you are fortunate enough to live in a state that has more than one service provider, you have a choice of whom to get your phone from and you can pick the one that best serves the way you will use your phone. There’s a lot of information about free cell phone providers, but not a lot on how to choose one. Don’t worry, we’re here to help!

The first step in choosing the right carrier is to determine what your needs are. Will you only use your phones for emergencies? Do you have an active social life and will be using the phone frequently? Do you use text messaging more than talk minutes? Do you have loved ones overseas and need cheap international long-distance? Is it important for you to choose your own phone? All of these things will help you determine which free cell phone carrier to choose.

Scenario #1 – This phone is only for emergencies!

If you are sure you will only use your phone for emergencies (be sure about this, when we first get a cell phone, we all say we won’t use a phone more then we absolutely need to, but most of us never stick to that), then choose a carrier with the best basic plan, especially one that offers rollover minutes, so that you don’t always lose your talk minutes when they expire.

Providers to choose: Reachout Wireless and Safelink Wireless: Both carriers offer 125 minute plans with free rollover.

Scenario #2 – I want to choose the model of my phone!

A common theme with the Lifeline Assistant free phone providers is that you generally do not get to choose the phone you are provided with. The companies make deals with phone makers like Kyocera and LG to provide them with low-cost phones for use with the program. Let’s face it, the free cell phones are functional, but they will never be the latest and the greatest models. If there are some features that you absolutely need to have in a phone, choose a provider that allows you to upgrade and choose your own phone.

Provider to choose: Reachout Wireless: Only Reachout Wireless allows their existing customers to upgrade to their phone to several different models. This upgrade, as you may imagine is not free, but Reachout has many brands to choose from on their website, from older popular models like the RAZR to today’s smartest smart phones, like the iPhone.

Scenario #3 – I have relatives overseas I want to keep in touch with.

While a computer to computer VOIP solution, like Skype, if at all possible, would be the best and cheapest way to keep in touch with people overseas, there may be some of us who want to be in constant contact with their loved ones. Therefore, you’d want to choose the provider with the best rates on long-distance.

Best provider: Safelink Wireless, the clear winner in this category. Safelink has one of the most unusual long-distance plans in recent memory. Safelink allows international long-distance to many locations for just the same price as a local phone call. Not only that, but many of the locations are ones that were traditionally very expensive. With small top-ups, you can have plenty of minutes to call friends and family overseas, frequently cheaper than the cost of an international calling card.

Scenario #4 – I have a very active business or social life and I will be using the phone heavily.

For many of us, we plan to use the phone a lot. Therefore, we should choose the phone carriers with not only the best minute plans, but also the ones with the most economical top-up plan.  All of the three biggest carriers, Assurance Wireless, Reachout Wireless and Safelink Wireless all offer 250 minute plans, but let’s face it, 250 (both incoming and outgoing) minutes is probably not going to suit our needs on a monthly basis. If we plan to use our phone heavily, we are going to have to top-up our accounts or buy a separate plan. The cell providers all have different extras and different top-up rates. Which ones provide the best value?

Best providers: Reachout Wireless and Assurance Wireless. Reachout Wireless has the most attractively package out of all of the major carriers. For just $26.50 a month, Reachout Wireless offers unlimited talk and text messages.  Now talk as long as you’d like and never be worried about coming close to your monthly limit with that plan. Assurance Wireless has a slightly more economical plan, where for $20 a month you can have 1000 talk minutes and 1000 text messages, which many people might find ample for their needs. Now, Assurance Wireless has a $30 unlimited plan, which places no restriction on talk minutes, text messages or web access!

Very Honorable Mention: Safelink Wireless. Safelink customers topping up with a Tracfone Wireless card, can get talk minutes for a penny a minute or less, as all Safelink customers receive bonus minutes from Tracfone. Therefore, adding minutes to your Safelink phone can be quite cheap.

Scenario #5 – I use text messages more than talk minutes.

Some of us use text messages far more than we use talk minutes.  Therefore, a provider that provides text messages economically along with a decent voice plan would be most appropriate.

Best providers: Assurance Wireless and Reachout Wireless. With Assurance Wireless’ announcement that they are adding 250 texts to each of their most economical plans, they are the clear winners in this category. For $20 a month, their customers get 1,000 texts a month. If sending over 33 texts a day still doesn’t suit your needs, you can choose the unlimited text plan for $30. Reachout Wireless’ $26.50 a month unlimited minutes and text plan also deserves mention here as well.

 

Scenario #6 – In addition to talk minutes, I want to have access to a good data plan

Reasonably priced data services had been a weak spot for the major providers of free phones under the Lifeline Plan. Reachout Wireless does not yet offer one. Safelink Wireless offers its customer use of a Wireless Mobile Web where they can download ringtones and pictures. Assurance Wireless offers a data plan which is a bit expensive on a pay-as-you-go basis or their smaller data packages ($1.50 per MB, $5 FOR 5MB respectively), but can be quite cost-effective when purchased as part of their unlimited plan ($30 unlimited, talk, text and data).

Best providers: Assurance Wireless is the best of the lot, but hopefully all of the plans will improve in time. See our Overhaul page to see coming changes that should help data plans get better.

We hope that we have laid out the options for you to make a decision on which free cell phone provider is right for you. Unfortunately, no carrier works in every state, so please use our cell phone provider pages to see if your preferred cell phone carrier, Assurance Wireless, Reachout Wireless and Safellnk Wireless operates in your state. You may also see our Providers in Your State page to find out which of these and other carriers operate in your state

 

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