Cancellation Policies and Fees in Low-Income Mobile Plans?

Low-income mobile plans are designed to provide affordable cell phone service to qualifying individuals and families. These plans offer discounted rates, waived fees, and other benefits to help make staying connected more financially feasible. Especially in today’s digital world, having access to a mobile phone and service is very important. It enables people to search for jobs, keep in touch with support systems, manage healthcare, access educational resources, and more.

However, the financial hurdle of expensive monthly service fees and overage charges can prevent lower-income households from being able to obtain mobile service. By offering discounted or free cell phone plans, government assistance programs and mobile carriers aim to close the connectivity gap. These specialized mobile plans play an important role in addressing digital equity and inclusion.

Background on Low-Income Plans

Major carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and others offer discounted or free mobile plans for low-income households who qualify. These plans provide affordable connectivity by lowering the cost of monthly bills. Some of the major low-income programs include:

  • The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) – This FCC benefit offers up to a $30 monthly discount on internet service for eligible households. Most major carriers participate in ACP. (
  • Lifeline Program – This is another FCC benefit that lowers the monthly cost of phone or internet service. It provides up to a $9.25 monthly discount. (
  • Carrier Specific Discounted Plans – Companies like T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, and Metro by T-Mobile offer their own heavily discounted or free plans for qualifying low-income customers.

These major low-income initiatives by carriers and the FCC aim to make connectivity more affordable and accessible for households in need.

Eligibility Requirements

To qualify for low-income mobile plans, customers must meet income thresholds based on the Federal Poverty Guidelines. According to the FCC, the income threshold is set at 135% of the federal poverty guidelines For example, for a family of four in 2023, the income threshold is $36,620. Customers can also qualify through enrollment in certain government assistance programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Federal Public Housing Assistance, Veterans Pension or Survivors Benefit Programs, Tribal Programs, or Free & Reduced Price School Lunch Program.

Plan Details

Lifeline plans offer free or discounted monthly service to eligible low-income consumers. Key plan details include:

  • Data – Most Lifeline plans include unlimited talk and text, along with a set amount of high-speed data, typically 3-10GB per month. After the data cap is reached, speeds are reduced to 2G (FCC).
  • Minutes – Lifeline plans provide unlimited nationwide calling within the U.S. Additional minutes for international calling can be purchased.
  • Networks – Major carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and others provide Lifeline service using their existing wireless networks. Many plans use 4G LTE networks.
  • Phone Options – Basic smartphones are offered free or at heavily discounted prices with Lifeline plans. More advanced smartphone upgrades are sometimes available for an additional cost.

Key Lifeline providers like Assurance Wireless, Safelink Wireless, and TruConnect offer plans with differences in data amounts, networks, and phone options (Nerdwallet). Understanding these differences can help find the right plan.


Low-income mobile plans offer several key benefits to eligible users. Most importantly, these plans provide substantial discounts on monthly service. For example, the federal Lifeline program offers up to a $9.25 discount per month.[1] With this discount, users on qualifying plans can get wireless service for free or at very low cost. Low-income plans also frequently waive deposits, so users don’t have to put money down to start service.

Additionally, low-income mobile plans do not require a credit check. This makes it possible to get wireless service even with bad credit or no credit history. By removing financial barriers like deposits and credit checks, these plans aim to make phone service accessible for all.[2] For low-income seniors and other eligible groups, this can mean the difference between being connected or isolated in modern society.

Cancellation Policies

Major mobile carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile offer discounted phone plans for low-income customers who qualify based on certain eligibility requirements. However, the cancellation policies and fees can vary between carriers and plans.

In general, the account closing process involves contacting customer service and requesting to cancel service. Customers are typically responsible for paying any remaining balances on devices or service plans when closing an account.

For example, T-Mobile has a cancellation policy that charges up to $200 in early termination fees for customers who cancel service before completing their contract term. Fees are reduced by $10 for each completed month of service. T-Mobile may also charge applicable taxes and unpaid phone balances when closing an account.

Meanwhile, AT&T waives early termination fees for qualified customers enrolled in the Access from AT&T discounted plan. However, the phone installment balance may still be due, and accounts must be in good standing to qualify for fee waivers.

Customers in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program can switch providers without early termination fees, but unpaid device balances may still apply. ACP participants must transfer service to remain in the program if canceling service completely.

Understanding the cancellation policies and potential fees in advance can help low-income customers make informed choices if they need to close mobile accounts.

Early Termination Fees

Most low-income mobile plans include early termination fees (ETFs) if you cancel service before the end of your contract term. According to The Informr, ETFs for basic phones on AT&T are typically $150, while ETFs for smartphones are $350 [1]. AT&T’s basic phone ETFs reduce by $4 for each month of service. Verizon’s smartphone ETF starts at $350 and decreases by $10 per month [2].

T-Mobile does not charge ETFs but may charge a balance for a device payment plan if you cancel service early. The typical ETF for low-income plans ranges from $100-$350 depending on the carrier, phone type, and months of completed service [3].

ETFs are charged if you cancel your service before the end of your 1-2 year contract term. Reasons for early cancellation may include switching carriers, inability to pay monthly fees, or no longer needing cell phone service.

Alternatives for Cancellation

If your circumstances change and you need to cancel your wireless plan before your contract is up, there are some alternatives that allow you to avoid paying steep early termination fees. According to Smart Strategies to Avoid Cancellation Fees for Your Wireless Data Plan, one option is to check if your carrier offers a suspension policy. Many major carriers allow customers to temporarily suspend service for a certain period, usually 3 months, without penalty. This allows you to pause service if you will be traveling or otherwise unable to use your phone for an extended time.

Another option is to transfer your service to someone else who is willing to take over your contract. Most carriers allow you to transfer service to a new customer if they pass a credit check and agree to the same terms. This fully relieves you of the remaining contract obligations. Just be aware there may be a small transfer fee.

If available, downgrading your data plan to a cheaper option can reduce your monthly bill and allow you to ride out the rest of your contract term. Check your carrier’s policy, as some charge fees for downgrades while others allow it for free. This avoids cancellation while making your wireless bill more affordable if needed.

Closing Accounts

To close a T-Mobile account entirely, customers need to contact T-Mobile customer service by phone, online chat, or in store. T-Mobile’s website outlines the following steps for closing an account:

  • Pay off any remaining device payments, fees, charges, and account balances
  • Return any leased or financed devices to T-Mobile
  • Port your phone number to another carrier if desired, or it will be released after account closure
  • Request that the account be closed

T-Mobile notes that final bills are typically generated within 1-2 billing cycles after an account is closed. Any remaining credit balances will be refunded via check mailed to the account holder [1]. Customers who received subsidized devices on an installment plan must pay any remaining balance owed on the device immediately when closing the account.


In summary, it’s important for low-income mobile plan customers to thoroughly understand the cancellation policies and any associated fees. While these plans provide discounted and sometimes free mobile service, ending the service early can result in fees that negate the savings achieved initially.

Customers should carefully review the terms and conditions when signing up for low-income plans so there are no surprises later on. Key details to look for are how long a minimum commitment is required, when early termination fees apply, how much those fees are, and any ways to avoid fees if needed, like transferring service instead of fully closing an account.

With proper understanding of the cancellation and fee policies, low-income mobile customers can confidently utilize these plans for affordable connectivity, while avoiding unnecessary charges if their circumstances change during the service contract.

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