If you need a cellular phone, but do not want to commit to a year-long contract, a prepaid cellular phone may be a good option for you. With prepaid cellular phone plans users prepay for the airtime, much like they would buy prepaid long-distance phone cards. There is typically no credit check, activation fees, monthly fees or early termination fees to pay.
A prepaid cellular phone comes with a specified number of airtime minutes. Once you use all your minutes, you can purchase more or “recharge” your minutes online or by calling the toll-free number on your prepaid phone. The minutes you purchase are credited to your account in your cell phone and are automatically deducted when you make calls. With most plans, you will receive an automatic warning letting you know when you need to purchase more airtime minutes. Once your airtime minutes have run out, you will no longer be able to make or receive calls.
While prepaid cellular phones can be great for occasional use, the Better Business Bureau suggests you keep the following in mind:
- Be aware of the cost of a call. Calls can be more expensive on a per minute basis with a prepaid phone plan. Some long-distance calls can cost twice as much as with a prepaid plan compared to a monthly plan. Be sure you check the plan’s details before buying.
- Not all services are included. You may not be able to get extra features, such as call waiting or caller ID, and you may not be able to surf the wireless web or use your phone in an analog area. Ask your service provider if there is a cost for these extra features.
- Pay attention to your expiration date. Be sure you know how often you must load new minutes. Most plans require you to use your airtime or purchase additional airtime within a specific timeframe, usually 30 to 90 days. You can usually purchase airtime in 30, 60 or 90 increment minutes. If you do not recharge your airtime before the expiration date, your service will be deactivated. Be sure to read your carrier’s policies carefully.
- Ask the service provider about their coverage area.
- Be aware that incoming calls and voicemail messages can deplete your minutes.
- Ask if you will be charged for incoming or outgoing calls that are not answered.
Before deciding on a service provider, be sure to check the company out with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org).