It can be frustrating not being able to afford a decent smartphone — after all, phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and iPhone X sure do look attractive. You might not even be able to afford what many consider “budget” phones, which is really unfortunate since smartphones are how the world communicates now. But there’s good news: you don’t have to be without a phone. There are programs in place for even those that can’t afford a phone to get a free phone alongside free services. Most of these are government sponsored programs, although some private companies offer programs like these thanks to government grants.
So, if you need a phone, you have two primary options for a free device with service: Assurance or Safelink. Follow along, and we’ll show you the pros and cons of both.
Assurance seems to be the network that most people put an application into first. It’s one of the better programs available for those that need a free phone and minutes. The neat thing about Assurance is that you get a free phone from Virgin Mobile that operates on Virgin Mobile’s network. Since Virgin Mobile is a subsidiary of AT&T, it’s technically a Virgin Mobile phone that operates on the AT&T network, since Virgin Mobile does piggy back off of AT&T’s network. This means that, with your free smartphone from Assurance, you’re going to get great service and coverage that will keep you connected almost anywhere you go.
As far as being eligible goes, you’ll need to provide your proof of income. This is so that Assurance can see proof that you make less than 137% of the federal poverty guidelines for your state. There is another option for qualifying as well — if you’re already approved for a government program like Medicaid or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), you can provide proof of your inclusion in one or both of these programs for your application approval.
Once approved, Assurance will send you a free phone. You aren’t going to get any data it appears, but you will get a whole 500 minutes of talk time and unlimited texting per month. This allows you to make all of the important calls you need to make, all while being able to stay in touch with friends and family.
Safelink is your other option, which admittedly, offers much less service than what Assurance provides its applicants. Safelink has agreements with Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T to provide your free phone with cellular coverage; however, the coverage itself is pretty abysmal in comparison to the performance of Assurance.
With Safelink, the approval process is similar. You enter your zip code, start filling out the application, and then you’ll need to provide your proof of income to make sure you’re eligible. Again, it’ll have to show that you’re making less than 137% of the federal poverty guideline for your state of residence. As an alternative, you can provide proof of your inclusion in one of the many federal programs to prove your eligibility — this can be for Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or others that prove your poverty. The downside with Safelink is that it is one account per home, which means that your kids won’t be able to get a phone, which is actually important since it’s good to stay in touch with them as they get older and are off at school.
Safelink’s service is rather abysmal in comparison to Assurance — you only get 68 minutes of free air time per month, and there’s no mention of any texting capabilities; however, Safelink does allow you to upgrade to a smartphone for as little as $50, and then they do offer discounted talk, text, and 1GB of data for just $15 per month.
It’s also not clear if Safelink provides you with a smartphone or if they just hook you up with a dumb phone, although it seems that it’s more like the latter, as Safelink has done this all along and likely hasn’t moved up with the technological world.
So, which government wireless phone plan should you try for first? We recommend putting an application in for Assurance. If you get approved, you get a free Virgin Mobile smartphone with up to 500 minutes of talk time and unlimited texting. Not only that, but you’ll get great coverage because Virgin Mobile piggy back’s off of AT&T’s network. There’s supreme value here compared to what Safelink offers, and it’s all for free. If you can’t get approved for Assurance because of your location, unfortunately, one of your only options is going to be Safelink, although it’s still better than nothing.