The phone plays an essential role in our daily lives. They allow us to stay connected with family, friends, and emergency services. Many low-income people don’t have the luxury of having access to phone service or phones.

Not having to pay a lot shouldn’t be a barrier to your basic needs. Those who are in need of assistance may have access to government programs or other options. Here are some ways to get free or discounted phone service.

How to get a discounted or free telephone service for low-income families

Apply to the federal Lifeline Program

Lifeline is a federal program that provides discounted phone service for eligible low-income households. It can reduce your phone service costs up to $9.25 per monthly (or up to $35.25 per mois for tribal residents).

You might be eligible for Lifeline’s subsidized service if you are:

  • You are enrolled in government assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Supplemental Security Income.

  • Participation in tribal assistance programs by you or a member of your household.

Participating phone service providers are available to consumers in all 50 states. Apply online at or by mail to a participating phone company. California, Oregon, and Texas residents should check with their state websites or phone companies to find out how to apply. You will need to renew your certification annually if you are approved for Lifeline.

Learn about state programs for low-income families

You may be able to use the Lifeline program in your state as well as the federal government’s low-income program. The eligibility requirements for federal programs are generally the same as those in your state.

California LifeLine offers discounts up to $17.90 for monthly home and cell phone service, for households that meet certain income requirements, or who are enrolled in a qualified public assistance program such as Medicaid or MediCal.

The Idaho Telephone Service Assistance Program lowers the cost of installation and provides $2.50 per month in savings on service costs.

To find out if you are eligible for a program in the area, call your phone company and start the application process.

Find affordable phone plans with carriers

Are you not eligible for a low income program? There are still affordable cell phone plans available from smaller and more established carriers. You’re likely to pay less for a plan if it offers fewer text messages and/or no monthly data.

Prepaid plans don’t usually require credit checks and are often less expensive than unlimited postpaid plans. Connect by T-Mobile’s prepaid plans start at $10 per month.

Other strategies can be used to reduce your cell phone bill. For example, you could set up automatic bill payments and receive discounts from your service provider. Seniors, veterans, and service members may also be eligible for discounts. Compare the benefits and prices offered by different carriers to find the best plan for you.

Track your spending

View your spending history, see upcoming bills and find out how much you can save.

How to Get Free or Discounted Phones

Many phone service providers who partner with Lifeline offer cheap or free phones to eligible members. Assurance Wireless and SafeLink Wireless include a free smartphone, unlimited texting, data, and minutes. Pricing and availability can vary depending on where you live, so make sure to ask your carrier for more information.

You can save money on your phone regardless of your income. Check out online marketplaces like Craigslist, Facebook and OfferUp to find discounted or free secondhand phones. Be wary of fraudsters and thefts. Swappa or Gazelle are trusted sites that can help you buy a used phone. These trusted websites will screen the listings for fraud and other quality issues.

You can also check out the policies and promotions offered by phone carriers. These include free phones when you switch plans, buy one-get-one deals, or significant markdowns when trading in a device. These offers are often available during holidays or sales events like Black Friday.