Lifeline FAQ

There are a number of pages on this site related to the Lifeline program that answer virtually every question you could possibly have.  However, to make it even easier, I've compiled a list of frequently asked questions to help you quickly find the answers to common questions.  You'll find links throughout this Lifeline FAQ to other Lifeline related pages on this site!Lifeline FAQ

1. Is Lifeline really a free phone service, or will I get surprise charges?

Yes!  Land-line and wireless phone bills all pay a small fee to the Federal Communication Commission to fund the Lifeline program, which is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company.  Thus, it's a government funded (not taxpayer) program, and is in place to provide truly free service to income eligible households.  Check out the eligibility requirements at Lifeline Phone Service Introduction.

2. What if I run out of voice, texts, or data on my free plan?

Almost every Lifeline provider offers the ability to purchase additional services.  Each program has a different process, so you'll need to check their website for details.  For example, some allow you to directly purchase it through their site, while others have you purchase topup cards from partner/sister programs.  There's also a universal Lifeline topup card called AirFair that you can use if your provider is a partner.

3. I live with a friend; how can we both get a Lifeline phone?

The short answer is that you can't.  It's one phone per household, which is based on your address.  The long answer is that they're working on improving this experience so that two families living at the same residence can apply.  Your best bet is to contact your desired provider(s) and inquire.  I definitely recommend doing this before you apply to facilitate as smooth a process as possible.

4. When do my minutes/texts/data get applied?

The standard rule of thumb is that your monthly allocation of services are applied on the same day that your service was activated each month.  The only time that can vary is if you activated service on the 29th, 30th, or 31st.

5. What should I do if my monthly services aren't refreshed for the new month?

First, make sure your phone is on.  If it's already on, try power cycling your phone.  If that doesn't work, and you're certain your monthly date has passed, you need to contact your provider.

6. What happens if I don't use my phone regularly.

It's my understanding that the official Lifeline rules require that you make at least one call or send one text each month.  If you don't, you run the risk that your service will be canceled.  Be sure to find out the policy of your provider to avoid any issues!

7. What's annual certification?

The Lifeline program requires that you re-certify your eligibility each year.  Your provider should send you information on the re-certification process.  However, I recommend taking responsibility for remembering to do it.  Put a note in your calendar at least a month in advance of your anniversary, and seek out how to complete the process on your provider's website.  Some will allow you to complete this online, while others will require you to download and mail in your paperwork.

8. Can I transfer my Lifeline service to a different Lifeline provider?

No, you can't transfer service per se.  You CAN, however, re-apply with a different provider.  That new provider will take care of canceling your old service.  You can also request that they transfer your phone number to the new service.  The process of porting out a number from one provider to another cancels the originating service, so make sure you request the number transfer before your service is transfered.

9. If I transfer to a different Lifeline provider, will I get another free phone?

Yes.  You will be eligible for whatever phone and service offer your new Lifeline provider has available.

10. Can I use my own phone, or am I stuck with what they provide me?

Many Lifeline providers support BYOP (Bring Your Own Phone).  I've created a page that lists the major Lifeline providers and whether or not they support BYOP.  Check out Lifeline Providers.

11. If I didn't get a free smartphone; can I use my own?

Some providers will allow you to use your own phone (see #10 above), while others won't.  Some will also allow you to purchase an upgrade directly from their website.  In addition, some providers will allow you to activate phones from sister brands.  For example, you may be able to activate a TracFone smartphone on SafeLink, etc.

12. Is data included in the Lifeline program?

As of December 2016, yes!  Lifeline plans now include some allocation of data.

13. Does Lifeline offer free mobile broadband?

Yes!  As of December 2016, standalone mobile broadband is also part of the Lifeline program.  You can keep up to date as providers start offering this service by visiting Free Broadband Internet Access.

14. I don't qualify for for Lifeline, can I still get free service?

Yes!  There are wireless providers that offer free phone and/or mobile broadband service.  FreedomPop was the first to pioneer both free phone service and free mobile broadband offers.  You can check out all of your paid and free mobile broadband options by visiting Best MiFi Plans.

15. What happens if I lose or damage my free cell phone?

Many Lifeline providers will give you a replacement phone depending on when you last receives a new phone.  Some will only provide a replacement once, while others will require that you purchase a replacement.  You'll need to check the policy of your particular provider.  Another option is to apply to a different Lifeline provider to get a new phone as a new customer.

16. Do I need to return my phone if I fail to re-certify or no longer qualify?

Generally speaking, no, they'll cancel your service, however, you can keep the phone.  You can even continue using the phone by paying for service, just like you would pay for additional service if you run out of your free allocation.

17. Can I make money with Lifeline?

Yes!  You can signup to be a Lifeline agent, and make commissions.  You can find a full discussion at Become A Lifeline Free Cell Phone Agent.

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