How to Get a Low-Cost Smartphone and Plan

If you are part of a qualifying low-income household, you and your family may be eligible to receive free phones via the federal Lifeline Program.

Lifeline is designed to ensure that, regardless of income, families are able to access and stay connected to employment opportunities, essential social services and, when needed, emergency help.

Qualifying individuals receive free touch screen government phones and approximately one hour of no-cost air time per month. Applying is quick and free, but you must be willing and able to document your household income to begin.

Free Government Phones Eligibility

Eligibility for government-funded phones and SafeLink minuets is based on total household income. Total household income is determined by adding together all sources of income received by each member of your household. This includes:

  • Earned income, such as wages or salary.
  • Support payments, such as child support or alimony.
  • Unemployment, disability, pension and other regular payments.
  • Income from owned property, financial investments, inheritances, and other sources.

If your total household income is at or below 135 percent of the United States Poverty Level guidelines, you are eligible for assistance. Poverty guidelines are structured using a sliding scale, based on the number of members in your household. So, for example, a single person household might meet the standard with an annual income of $16,862. The limit for a family of four, by contrast, would be $34,763.

In most cases, if you qualify for any of the following programs, you will also be eligible for a ZTE z3001s or similar smartphone through the Safelink program:

  • Medicaid
  • SNAP
  • SSI
  • Section 8
  • HEAP
  • TANF
  • Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefits

How to Apply for Free Phones

You can typically apply for free phones online, in person or over the phone.

  • You can apply for government-subsidized phones and minutes directly through Safelink’s website. The company offers an online chat feature for applicants who need assistance.
  • In person. Most phone carriers can assist you in applying for a Safelink phone. You can visit one of your current carrier’s retail outlets for more information. Alternatively, if you are receiving benefits through SNAP, Section 8 or another public support program, your agency representatives for those programs can generally assist you in applying for Safelink upon request.
  • Over the phone. You can call Safelink’s customer service line to apply or, in many states, you can call a state-managed social services hotline for information and assistance starting an application.

Calculating your household income can be more complex than it sounds, and variations in cost of living and other factors can make it difficult to determine at a glance if you are eligible for free touch screen government phones through the Safelink program.

As a result, the federal government strongly encourages all applicants in need of reliable phones for health, employment and safety reasons to apply for Safelink, regardless of whether or not they think they will qualify. Trained representatives can assist you in determining your eligibility during the application process.

Documenting Your Eligibility for SafeLink Minutes

Whether you apply for free phones online or through other methods, you will need to provide a variety of information to prove your eligibility. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Proof of identity.
  • A list of the members of your household.
  • Proof that you do not have or have already canceled any other Safelink program benefits you were receiving.
  • Proof of income.

To prove your household income for Safelink free government phone application purposes, you may only need to provide evidence that you are receiving services under another government-funded support program, such as SNAP. Alternatively, you may need to supply Safelink with current documents showing your income from various sources. Examples of accepted documents include:

  • A Social Security, Unemployment or VA award letter showing your award amount.
  • Divorce decrees showing spousal or child support owed or paid.
  • Pay stubs or current W-2 forms.

In the event that you have no income at all, you may be required to write and sign a formal statement to that effect. SafeLink minuets program representatives can assist you in identifying, gathering and submitting the necessary documents to complete your application.

Program Requirements and Limitations

While Safelink can provide you with a free government iPhone 5 or ZTE z3001 s, the program is not without limitations and restrictions. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Safelink provides only one phone per household. Each phone is equipped with a set number of free minutes per month, regardless of the number of people in the household. It is applicants’ responsibility to manage their phone and airtime usage.
  • Program rules forbid Safelink to mail phones to post office boxes. Applicants must have physical addresses at which they can receive their free phones or make alternative pick up arrangements. Once applicants receive their phones, it is their responsibility to care for those phones appropriately. Phones will not necessarily be replaced free of charge if they are lost or broken due to recipient negligence.
  • Program enrollees cannot receive more than one type of Lifeline phone benefit at a time. In order to apply for free cellular phones through the program, applicants receiving program discounts on their home phones must first stop those services. Packaged home phone, cellular phone and internet service bundles may be available in some states, but the total value of free services recipients receive will be the same in all cases.
  • Recipients must re-certify their eligibility for free touch screen government phones once per year. This means that, upon request, once annually recipients must provide updated income documents for their households demonstrating that they still meet income eligibility guidelines. Recipients who no longer meet these guidelines will have 30 days to make other arrangements or prove eligibility before their benefits are terminated.
  • Devices modified to accommodate the needs of individuals with impaired vision, hearing or other disabilities are available through the Safelink program upon request.
  • Enrollees must use their devices to make at least one phone call or text message every 30 days to remain enrolled.