Best Lifeline Phone Provider with Free Service & Smartphone

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A few years ago, a phone was just another luxury we all could live comfortably without. But in the current times, the gadget is something all ages, from the kids to the seniors, seems can’t do without. The government has even made an effort to create a lifeline program that brings free service to those who can’t afford the bill. And with the best lifeline phone provider, this free service is as good or better than some paid options out there.

We have over dozen of these lifeline providers with free touch screen government phones to give once eligible. The kind of phone and service each of these providers offers vary. Some have great options, others are good, many are decent, and select ones are something I’ll personally not recommend.

What’s the Best Lifeline Phone Provider?

As was just mentioned, there are many eligible telecommunications carriers that the FCC recognizes on the Lifeline program. I’ve been able to list down fifteen different options alongside the carrier they use and the cap of their high-speed data. But from those selections, my best Lifeline phone provider is:

  • Best Overall: SafeLink Wireless
  • Best of Phones: AirTalk Wireless
  • Best of Tablets: Cintex Wireless
  • Best of Data: Assurance Wireless
  • Best of Coverage: TAG Mobile

What Exactly Is A Lifeline Phone Provider?

First, Lifeline is a government program that offers a monthly discount on phone service to the eligible low-income consumers. It’s not exactly a new program, as it’s been around since around 1984/ 85. But in those times, the phone service was the hardwired landline.

As of now, you can get a lifeline phone with either fixed (landline) or mobile (wireless) voice service. And a lifeline provider is now the company that brings you this service.

However, the correct term for a lifeline provider is an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC). The provider only becomes an ETC after applying and qualifying to participate with the federal communications commission (FCC).

It’s worth noting the FCC is only the oversight of the lifeline program, though. The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) is the body that administers the lifeline program, i.e. distributing the funds. And for that, whoever wants to participate will require to submit an order to receive program support to USAC.

Once approved to participate in the Lifeline program, the service provider will be able to offer a discounted phone. Then the USAC will reimburse the money spent on each registered user using the federal universal service fund.

At the time of writing, the amount the government has for each consumer eligible for Lifeline is $9.25 per month. This isn’t exactly a large amount, and it’s the reason you’ll find some participating providers with super-low service allowances.

The Lifeline Allowance is Better with ACP

After COVID-19 turned into a global epidemic, many people lost their regular monthly income. A large population could no longer pay their bills and started to drown in debt.

To ease the financial burden of the affected, the government introduced an emergency broadband benefit (EBB) that would offer connectivity discounts.

Despite the name, this program wasn’t just limited to internet connectivity as there were providers who would offer free phones with the EBB. But it was a temporary thing, whereby the allotted budget from the Treasury was just about $3.2 billion.

In late 2021, about six months after the launch of EBB, the government came up with an affordable connectivity program (ACP). And as a longer-term replacement of EBB, ACP had a budget of $14.1 billion- about 440% more than its predecessor.

 Similar to the initial benefit, the consumers eligible for ACP would redeem their broadband discount with either a fixed internet or phone service. And when determining the difference between ACP and Lifeline, we saw ETCs give you the best monthly allowances by combining the two.

For instance, SafeLink Wireless offers at least 350 talk minutes and 4.5GB of high-speed data on the lifeline-only plan. But on the Lifeline + ACP combo tier, you get unlimited everything (talk, text, and data).

You Must Be Eligible to Get Lifeline Phone (or ACP Combo)

In a nutshell, the Lifeline phone is available to every US citizen. However, not everyone gets to qualify for the free government phone. To be eligible, you need to either have:

  1. Proof of low income at or below 135% of the current federal poverty guidelines.
  2. Proof you participate in an eligible federal assistance program. A few examples include Medicaid, Food Stamps (or SNAP), Federal public housing assistance, Supplemental security income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Veterans & Veteran’s Survivors Pension, and Tribal-administered assistance programs (like Head Start and Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance).

One crucial point to point here is that even when you pass these requirements, the National Verifier may turn down your lifeline phone application. The National Verifier is the system of USAC that determines whether you qualify for a lifeline or not.

First, the National Verifier will turn down your Lifeline registration if you don’t have an eligible income or assistance program. Even with either of these requirements, the National Verifier may turn down your application if your household is not eligible.

Best Lifeline Phone Provider with Free Service & Smartphone
lifeline phone

The FCC policy of the free lifeline phones is that only a single enrollment is allowed per household. A “single enrollment per household” means that only one person can register in a family with multiple people living together. Then you or whoever has applied in your household can only apply with one service provider.

With that, let’s now go through some of the best lifeline phone providers you can enroll with today.

The 15 Best Providers of Lifeline Government Phone

 Carrier NetworkLifeline-Only DataACP+ Lifeline Data
SafeLink WirelessVerizon/4.5GB (6GB California)Unlimited (2.1TB)
AirTalk WirelessT-Mobile4.5GB15GB
Cintex WirelessT-Mobile4.5GB15GB
Assurance WirelessT-Mobile4.5GB (6GB California)25GB
TAG MobileT-Mobile/ Verizon/ AT&T1GB (3GB California)8.5GB (8GB California)
Q Link WirelessT-Mobile4.5GB28GB
Newphone WirelessT-Mobile4.5GB15GB
Access WirelessT-Mobile4.5GB (6GB California)15GB
TruConnectT-Mobile250MB (6GB California)14GB
Life WirelessAT&T4.5GB (6GB California)15GB
StandUp WirelessT-Mobile4.5GB (6GB California)10GB
American AssistanceT-Mobile4.5GB (6GB California)14.5GB (16GB California)
Assist WirelessT-Mobile50MB or 3GB12GB
Safety net Wireless  AT&T1GB (6GB California)22GB
Easy WirelessT-Mobile25MB7.5GB

Out of the fifteen selections I’ve listed here, my five favorite lifeline phone providers are:

SafeLink Wireless

Safelink Wireless is the best lifeline phone provider at the moment. They have just changed their service plan structure, whereby you now get unlimited high-speed data (the app shows a cap of 2.1TB, though) with a Lifeline + ACP combo plan.  

Other amazing features of Safelink include:

  • It offers a free smartphone
  • Offer unlimited talk & texting
  • Has up to 10GB of hotspot data
  • Include free calling to emergency
  • You can call Canada/ Mexico for free
  • It has great data speeds (up to 400Mbps on 5G)

AirTalk Wireless

AirTalk Wireless has been one of the most talked about lifeline providers lately, from its large catalog of flagship free phones. If eligible, you can get smartphone brands such as iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel, LG, et cetera.

Other features you get to enjoy with AirTalk Wireless are:

  • It has a decent service allowance
  • Has free domestic roaming
  • Supports WiFi calling & texting
  • It offers international calling at friendly rates

Cintex Wireless

 Cintex Wireless is the sister brand of AirTalk Wireless, where HTH Communications, a leading phone refurbishment company, is the parent. The lifeline provider, unfortunately, no longer has the option to select the desired phone as they used to. But when eligible for the lifeline + ACP combo, you can choose the brand you’d like to get with the bonus tablet.

Other features you can expect with Cintex Lifeline free phone include:

  • It has decent service allowances
  • You can bring your own phone
  • Has free calls to emergency services
  • It offers cheap international call rates

Assurance Wireless

Assurance Wireless is another lifeline provider to consider for the free government phone. It used to have the best monthly service allowances, including unlimited data (with 35GB of high-speed browsing). But a few days ago, the carrier made a few changes, where you now get 25GB of high-speed data before dropping to 3G speeds.

Other features of the Assurance Wireless lifeline phone you should know include:

  • A free Android smartphone
  • Unlimited talk minutes & texting
  • 2.5GB of mobile hotspot data
  • Free calls to emergency services
  • It has international calling at affordable rates

TAG Mobile

 TAG Mobile is the overall best lifeline phone provider in terms of coverage. It has partnered with all three Major Carriers. Thus, you get to join the network that works best in your residence or fits your lifestyle.

Other features you can expect in the TAG Mobile lifeline phone include:

  • It gives you a free phone
  • Has a decent service allowance
  • Includes free international texting
  • It supports caller ID & voicemail features

Apart from my favorite five, the other eligible telecommunication carriers you can check out for the free lifeline phone include:

Q Link Wireless

Q Link Wireless has key features like:

  •  It offers a free Android phone
  • Has a lovely service allowance
  • You get free domestic roaming
  • Includes free WiFi calling & texting
  • It has the option to bring your own phone

Newphone Wireless

 Newphone Wireless haskey features like:

  • It offers free flagship phones
  • Has decent service allowances
  • You can bring your own phone
  • Has free calls to emergency services
  • It offers cheap international call rates

Access Wireless

 Access Wireless has key features like:

  • It offers a free Android phone
  • Has decent service allowances
  • Supports mobile hotspot data
  •  You can bring your own phone


 TruConnect has key features like:

  • It gives a free Android phone
  • Has a decent service allowance
  • You can bring your own phone
  • Free unlimited international calling
  • Includes 2 months of Amazon Prime
  • It also gifts virtual money for purchases

Life Wireless

 Life Wireless has key features like:

  • It gives a free smartphone
  • You can bring your own phone
  • Offers decent service allowances
  • Includes mobile hotspot (up to 5GB)
  • Has a free domestic roaming feature
  • Supports Caller ID and Call Blocking
  • It has free calls to 911, 811, 711, 611, 511, 411, 311, & 211

StandUp Wireless

StandUp Wireless has key features like:

  • It offers a free smartphone
  • Has a decent service allowance
  • You can bring your own phone
  • includes free Caller ID & Voicemail
  • It offers a bonus tablet with a combo plan

American Assistance

 American Assistance has key features like:

  • It has a free Android phone
  • Has decent service allowances
  • Offers free domestic roaming
  • Includes Caller ID, voicemail, & call waiting
  • It has free calls to Canada/ Mexico (in California)

Assist Wireless

 Assist Wireless has key features like:

  • It offers a free smartphone
  • Has decent service allowances
  • Supports Caller ID & voicemail
  • Offers free calls to emergency services
  • Includes amazing rewards from time to time
  • It has physical stores for live customer support

SafetyNet Wireless

SafetyNet Wireless has key features like:

  • It offers free decent smartphones
  • Has good service allowances
  • Supports Caller ID & voicemail
  • Includes domestic roaming benefits
  • It has free calls to emergency services

Easy Wireless

Easy Wireless has key features like:

  • It has a free smartphone
  • Offers decent service allowances
  • Calls to 911, 611, & 611 are free
  • Includes mobile hotspot to share data
  • Has physical stores for live customer service
  • It supports Caller ID, voicemail, & 3-way calling

Key Takeaway: The Free Smartphone on Combo Plan

Before the government launched the broadband benefit (ACP or EBB), the carriers on the Lifeline program would give you a free phone when you join. The “free phone” used to be a classic flip phone. But a few years ago, the providers started to send a smartphone, a brand with at least a 5.5-inch display.

Sadly, however, many eligible telecommunication carriers no longer give a free phone on the lifeline-only service plan. They need you to apply for the Lifeline + ACP combo plan (or ACP-only plan) to send your smartphone. A perfect example is three of the favorite five on my list, including SafeLink, AirTalk, and Cintex Wireless.

Remember to Check Your Recertification:

In general, the fifteen selections I’ve listed here are decent free government phones. The difference is that they may run on a network not available in your area, and also the service perks you receive are different. But then, the perks are best when you combine the lifeline with ACP.

For instance, SafeLink Wireless, in my opinion, is the overall best lifeline phone provider to try. Yes, the lifeline-only plan offers only 4.5GB of high-speed data as most of its competitors. But when you apply the Lifeline + ACP combo service, you now get unlimited high-speed data- or at least the app shows a 2.1TB allowance.

Regardless of your preferred ETC, remember each enrollment to the Lifeline program supports you for 12 months (about 1 year). After one year, you will have to qualify through the National Verifier again. The USAC system (National Verifier) is now recertifying most people automatically. But in other cases (when the automatic recertification fails), you will need to reapply manually with your carrier.