Choosing the right Prepaid Wireless Plan
All the shady characters on TV have them and teens in the shadows can’t live without them. Whether you are afraid of the commitment of a two-year contract, want to stay "off the grid" or just like to control your cellular service spending, a prepaid wireless plan may be just what you’re looking for.
Basics of Prepaid Wireless Plans
Prepaid wireless plans are cellular service plans that require an upfront purchase of minutes without a contractual agreement to buy more or keep the phone activated. A prepaid phone is akin to a disposable camera – you can buy one and start using it within a few minutes but you won’t have the same features or the higher quality you get with a professional set up.
Before buying a wireless phone, prepaid or monthly billed, you need to make sure your frequently traveled areas are within the coverage areas. If your home is outside the service map, you either won’t get a signal or you’ll pay an arm and a leg every time you get a ring in your living room.
Since you aren’t charged any extra fees, some providers charge a number of minutes per minute used as a way to fine you. If your prepaid plan charges one minute per minute in your region (say, California, Nevada and Arizona), they may charge three minutes per minute out of your region (like Idaho.) A five minute call from your California home to your friend in Nevada will result in five minutes deducted from your prepaid balance while a five minute call from home to Idaho will result in a deduction of fifteen minutes. It is important to understand the coverage maps and extra minute fees for roaming on your plan before you buy.
Just like monthly-billed plans, prepaid minutes are cheaper when you buy them in bulk. And just like monthly-billed plans, the minutes do expire (usually within 90 days.) It doesn’t make sense to buy 1000 minutes if you only use 100 per month, even if you are paying far less per minute.
You can top up or add minutes to your prepaid phone quickly and easily. Most, but not all providers offer three options:
- Buy a card at a store, good for a specified number of minutes, call the number on the card & input the card information
- Go to the provider’s website, enter your phone number and credit card number to purchase certain number of minutes
- Call the provider and use an automated telephone system to charge minutes to your credit card
If the method of top up is important to you, find a provider that offers your favorite one.
You may or may not get free night and weekend minutes the monthly-billed customers are offered. Don’t assume you do just because you buy your phone from a mall store or big box store.
Mickey Mouse Club
In this day and age, everyone wants your name, social security number and blood type – you can’t even get a super-saver grocery card without giving up personal information. Choose a prepaid wireless plan and you can register with any information you like – you can be Mickey Mouse in Anywhere, USA, for all they care.
Unless you’re doing top-secret missions in your spare time, one of the simple prepaid phones from the mall or discount store will do. Some providers require you "top up" or add more minutes to your phone every 60 to 90 days to keep the phone number and service active.
Globe trotting mystery men and women need service throughout the nation and beyond. If you travel a lot and need a calling plan that is as mobile as you are, you might want to head to a cellular store and ask for a prepaid regional or national plan. These aren’t impossible to find but usually do not come with the discount-store phones.
You can also buy a new plan in each state, region or country you visit. It’s going to cost you far, far less to pick up a prepaid wireless phone when you arrive in Paris than making just a call or two with your US phone in the City of Love.
Completely non-scientific data says that nine out of ten teens suffer from logarrhea, or diarrhea of the mouth. Whether you have 100 or 1000 minutes on a traditional cellular service plan, chances are your teen will still talk above and beyond that limit and put you in the poorhouse with overages. A prepaid service plan won’t let little Suzie or Johnny talk beyond the minutes already loaded on their phone. Bye-bye overage buys.
Teens love to text message, a feature only a few prepaid wireless providers offer. If it’s important to your teen and you don’t mind him or her texting at all hours (school, middle of the night, etc.) then you’ll need a phone and provider that offer such an animal.
One of the benefits of teens using a prepaid wireless plan is that it forces some pre-planning and forethought on their part. If you only top up their phone with 100 minutes per month, it’s up to them to spread them out. Once the minutes are gone, they have to wait until the next month. If you expect your teen to use the prepaid cell as a primary form of communication with you, you should stress the importance of keeping enough minutes for Mom & Dad communication.
Since teens aren’t often on the go outside of their city or town, the local plan that comes with most discount-store or mall kiosk prepaid phone should suffice. Parents get to control how many minutes little Suzie or Johnny gets each month. This is perfect if you use the cell phone as a form of praise for work well done – more minutes for better grades, completed chores, etc.
Not everyone can have the purchasing power, or credit score, of Donald Trump. If you fall into the "less than stellar" credit classification, you might benefit from a prepaid wireless service. The only downside, since there’s no credit check for most prepaid wireless phones, your payment (or top up) history doesn’t add to your credit score. If you are trying to build your credit, consider a traditional monthly billed phone but be prepared for a hefty deposit.
Getting a Fancy Prepaid Phone
You won’t find nearly the same selection of phone models available for pre-paid service out of the box, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use a feature-filled phone. If you find a phone you really like on eBay or from a friend (and you have proof the phone is no longer on their service plan) you can often ask a prepaid wireless provider to activate it on their prepaid network. You’ll need to make sure the phone will work on the provider’s network, so find a provider that serves your area and offers the prepaid services you need before buying the phone. You will probably need to buy the provider’s SIM card as well as minutes and activation.