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Cell Phones for Seniors are Now Very Affordable

If you think Bluetooth is a rare dental condition and an app is what you eat before the meal, you might not be a candidate for today’s high-tech, un-intelligible smart phones. Instead, you might be happier with a cell phone designed with the senior user in mind.

Those phones typically don’t have Web-surfing capability, GPS maps and video games but instead have large buttons, oversized digital readouts and hearing-aid compatibility, along with a relatively simple calling plan.

Though senior-friendly phones aren’t new, their lower prices and variety are. A recent price skirmish among wireless companies means seniors can get an easy-to-use cell phone and cheap service to go with it, said Mac Haddow, senior fellow on public policy for the Alliance for Generational Equity.

Telecommunications analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics called senior citizens “the last untapped segment” of wireless customers.

Though about 90 percent of Americans 18 to 49 own cell phones, only 57 percent of seniors 65 and older have them, according to the Pew Research Center. And fewer than one-fourth of wireless phones are purchased by adults 55 and older, according to numbers by market research firm NPD Group.

Heightened interest recently among wireless phone companies to sell to seniors has meant more offerings and lower prices, Entner said.

Seniors can get a simple cell phone for about $15, with service as low as about $7 a month, according to an analysis by Alliance for Generational Equity’s Senior Advocate Health & Safety Project. The group said it conducted the analysis because price is often cited as a reason an estimated 13 million to 19 million U.S. seniors don’t own cell phones, said David Herman, spokesman for the Alliance for Generational Equity.

“We’re in an environment where a lot of senior citizens are having to decide between rent and medicine or medicine and food, and dollars are critical,” Herman said. “The less expensive we can make this, the more people we’re going to have that will use a service they desperately need.”

Elizabeth Marshall, 82, of Cazanovia, N.Y., gushes about her new rose-colored Motorola phone. “It’s very attractive,” she said.

She said she got the phone free from Consumer Cellular and pays $10 a month for phone service with no free minutes. She pays a rate of 25 cents per minute.

“I’m on Social Security, and funds are tight,” Marshall said. “I didn’t want to go and get a high-priced thing.”

Marshall, who has a slight hearing problem, said she likes that she can turn up the ring and the volume on the earpiece.

“Seniors as a group have either embraced technology or are kind of scared of it,” Herman said. “Larger keyboard, the (oversized) readouts, compatibility with hearing aids — these are the critical factors. It’s not whether they can text their buddy on Facebook.”

As for calling plans, the group looked at only prepaid plans, which refers to a pay-as-you-go system. That’s opposed to being committed to a contract plan and their pricey bucket of calling minutes that many seniors might not use, Haddow said.

“We just couldn’t find one that looked good,” he said of contract plans.

Prepaid plans have no penalties if users decide to exit the plan early, and prices include all fees and taxes that are tacked on to the monthly bills of contract plans.

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