Low-Income Qualifications for Free Cellphone Programs

May 7th 2016

Income Requirements

Consumers receive a discount by proving they have an income at or below 135 percent of the federal guideline for poverty. For 2015, a household with one person must earn $11,770 in one year to be considered impoverished. At 135 percent, that figure rises to $15,890. The poverty level for a family of four is $24,250, and 135 percent of that total becomes $32,738 for the purposes of the Lifeline program.

Household Eligibility

Eligibility for this type of assistance is determined for a household as a unit. A consumer may receive a discount on a land line or a wireless cellphone, but not both at the same time. If you have more than one Lifeline provider, you must de-enroll from one provider and keep just one line, or you could face penalties. Separate low-income families living at the same address may connect to this service, so long as one family lives as an "economic unit" without any overlap with another.

Other Assistance Programs

People already enrolled in certain federal assistance programs become eligible for Lifeline automatically. Contact your provider if you already receive Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, Supplemental Social Security Income, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or free lunches from the National School Lunch Program.

Some state assistance programs also signify that you qualify for the Lifeline program. Other assistance programs include tribal programs, energy assistance and Head Start. Enrollment in these programs does not mean you are automatically enrolled in Lifeline, but proving you receive any of these types of assistance may help streamline the application process for Lifeline.

Providers by State

You must sign up for the Lifeline program with a provider within the state in which you reside. The Universal Service Administrative Company provides one easy way to find a provider through its state-by-state search service. Click on your state to see names, websites and telephone numbers of companies that provide Lifeline program assistance through home phones and cellphones. Contact one of these companies, or your state agency, to receive service.

Prescreening Tool

The USAC website has a prescreening tool that lets you estimate your eligibility based on wages, income and economic status. Although you cannot apply for Lifeline through USAC, this tool helps you start the process by telling you the information you need. You must also find the documentation that supports your application.


The U.S. government has provided a way for low-income people to receive discounts on phone service since 1985. Beginning in 2005, the Lifeline program allowed customers with prepaid cellphone plans to receive discounted wireless service after meeting certain criteria. Determine if you qualify for this program with this handy guide.

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