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How to Buy a Pre-Paid Cell Phone



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How to buy a prepaid phone

How to buy a prepaid phone

90 percent of cell phone customers have a traditional cell-phone plan. 10 percent have pre-paid phones but pre-paid is growing rapidly. Here's how to get started with prepaid:

1. Choose a carrier

There are few differences in customer satisfaction among T-Mobile, Verizon, and Virgin prepaid phone users. AT & T falls behind these carriers. Many of the others are not major carriers and contract for network access with the majors. Tracfone and Net10 rate high in satisfaction but contract for network access.

2. Choose a plan that works best for your phone usage and budget

You always pay in advance, rather than after you get a monthly bill. But carriers have devised a variety of charging schemes. You can pay a monthly fee for a set number of included minutes; pay no monthly fee and 5 to 20 cents per minute; pay a daily access charge, every day or only on days you use the phone, plus a per-minute fee; or pay a monthly fee ($30) for unlimited local calling or more ($50 to $80) for unlimited national calls and no roaming fees, with free long distance.

Free nights, weekends, and in-network calls are available on some plans. You can prepay online using your credit card, as needed or automatically with a scheduled credit-card payment. You then draw down your balance based on use and monitor your time left via the handset display. Minutes do expire, but usually not if you add more money to the account, typically $15 to $50, in which case the leftovers roll forward.

To figure which prepaid phone plan would be least expensive for you, check your recent cellular bills and total up how many day, night, weekend, and in-network minutes you use per month. Then compare what you'd pay under prepaid plans with the carriers customers rate well: T-Mobile, TracFone, Virgin, Net10 and Verizon.

3. Choose your phone

Prepaid phone models are available online from the carriers and at walk-in stores, including dedicated wireless retailers, discounters, and drugstores. Prices range from free (with airtime purchase) for Motorola W376g camera phone from TracFone, to $180, which buys a Motorola mobile Web-capable handset with MP3 player from Boost. Verizon's $100 Blitz prepaid handset has a 1.2-megapixel camera, Bluetooth, Web browsing, GPS navigation, and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.

Some carriers' phones work under both contract and prepaid plans. You might, then, be able to use a phone you received under contract with the same carrier's prepaid service. But check first with the carrier, and be aware that you might have to fulfill any remaining contract term on the phone or pay the early-termination fee to end the contract.

Best Rated Pay as You Go (Prepaid) Cell Phone Plans

T-Mobile Prepaid

T-Mobile's To Go plans offer great coverage in T-Mobile friendly areas, a wide array of basic phone features and competitive pricing make this a great option. Customer satisfaction is excellent and getting started is easy. Friendly customer service representatives and a great website make for smooth and easy answers to your questions. T-Mobile offers some of the lowest rates available.

AT & T Prepaid

A large national network is AT & T's best prepaid benefit. Two distinct plan types give customers flexibility not afforded by many prepaid providers.

Page Plus Cellular

Page Plus Cellular offers an extremely simple and cost effective service, but lacks some sophistication in phone choices. But, if your concern is cost per call and not available features, this company may be a good choice.

PlatinumTel Prepaid

PlatinumTel is one of the highest rated prepaid cell phone providers on the market. Great prepaid plans at great prices.

Boost Mobile

Boost Mobile is a reliable prepaid wireless provider that takes special aim at the youth of the cell phone user population. With tons of in demand features available, it is easy to see why Boost Mobile is a popular choice for the younger generation.

Locus Prepaid

Locus offers free international calling to over 50 pre selected countries upon entering a special access code. Has slightly higher per minute domestic rates and lack of downloadables and picture messaging.

Metro PCS

MetroPCS has limited availability and will not be available to all consumers shopping for prepaid phones. But, MetroPCS is rapidly expanding in availability areas and has cool phone features along with excellent customer support.


Net10 has low per min. rates, simple pricing and decent phone selection. A true prepaid service, minutes are priced competitively, directory assistance calls are charged as normal calls and nationwide long distance is included.

Ready Mobile

Ready Mobile is a Prepaid Cell Phone service that offers a number of plans to suit your budget.

Red Pocket Mobile

Red Pocket Mobile offers great international calling options while on a prepaid plan.

Total Call Mobile

Total Call Mobile targets Americans with families overseas, providing them with cheap and easy international calling rates. Their domestic rates are also around the industry average, comparable to Net10.


Considered the leader and recognized as the largest provider in nationwide wireless prepaid plans. Simple pricing, ease of use and great customer service make this company stand out as a prepaid provider.

Verizon Wireless

Verizon Wireless enters the prepaid market by offering a large selection of phones and great plans that give you the same quality and customer service of their traditional cellular service without contracts or credit checks.

Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile offers one of the most feature rich plans available. Great coverage area and plan pricing is competitive, though it can be a little complicated.

Alltel Prepaid

Alltel offers several plans. If you talk a lot on your cell phone you may find one of the monthly or pay per day plans to be a deal. If you're not a frequent talker, AllTel's prepaid plans might be a bit high priced.


Parents will find this service to give them a lot of control and will likely rate it higher than the average user. No complicated plans and fair per minute prices, but a lack of roaming, phone choices and a daily access fee, rates this service down.

Simple Freedom

Simple Freedom is a prepaid wireless provider that is available in most Wal-Mart stores. With competitive pricing and good coverage, Simple Freedom is a worthwhile choice for people looking for simplistic prepaid service.

Straight Talk

Straight Talk is a service of TracFone Wireless Inc., America?s largest no-contract cell phone provider in the U.S., with over 11 million subscribers.

US Cellular Prepaid

US Cellular offers you prepaid service that mimics traditional cell phone plans with Talk Tracker. There are no minute plans, but their month to month plans are well priced and featured, though their phone choices leave a little to be desired.


Jitterbug offers flexible plans, and targets the baby boomers and older Americans. Multiple service tiers but expensive per-minute rates.

o2 Wireless

All the benefits of traditional service in a prepaid plan. A wide range of coverage areas, good customer service and cool features.

Xtreme Mobile

Xtreme Mobile provides simple service with no confusion and calls are carried out on the Sprint PCS Network. Limited choices in phones and a per day access charge are drawbacks to this provider.

Cricket Prepaid

Inability to roam outside Cricket coverage areas will make this a poor choice for those who travel frequently, for those who stay close to home within the coverage areas this is a nice featured plan with good pricing and customer service.

Jump Mobile

Jump Mobile offers flexible plans, and targets the youth market with free text messaging and free incoming calls while within the local calling area, but be on the look out for limited phone choices and super high roaming fees.

Liberty Wireless

Great plans that closely mimic that of a traditional cell phone provider - but without the hassle of credit checks, deposits or contracts. A ton of great features included, but customer service severely lacks.

Prepaid Cell Phone Providers

Prepaid cell phone providers can be classified as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) or traditional wireless carriers. The MVNOs focus on the prepaid phone business, leasing space on traditional carriers' networks rather than having their own. Among well-known MVNOs are Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, NET10, TracFone and AllTel Wireless.

Here are some strengths for each of these prepaid cell phone providers:

Virgin Mobile -- Feature-rich plans with competitive pricing. Ranked highest in J.D. Powers' survey of wireless prepaid customer satisfaction, scoring particularly well in service cost, account management, initial activation and service plan options.

Boost Mobile -- Targeted at youthful users; strong on in-demand features like push-to-talk (PTT) walkie-talkie capabilities and a camera phone with MP3 player and video recorders. Reduced-rate evening and weekend calling.

TracFone -- Simple pricing and easy to use; inexpensive phones, carry-over minutes, screen view of number of remaining minutes. Recommended by for infrequent users like emergency users and seniors.

Alltel Wireless -- Monthly or per-day plans may be a deal for frequent talkers; phones include Motorola Razr and Kyocera Slider Remix. Some plans offer unlimited text messaging and unlimited nights and weekends.

Where prepaid users buy phones with prepackaged minutes:

Nearly 60 percent at retail stores and 25 percent via the Internet.

How prepaid users buy additional minutes:

36 percent buy a card at a local retailer and 36 percent buy through the provider's Web site.

Major Carriers

Traditional cell phone providers have done business mainly through long-term monthly contracts with customers. However, they also are now offering prepaid service to get a piece of this growing telecom market.

Traditional providers with prepaid offerings include AT & T (formerly Cingular), T-Mobile and Verizon. Here are some strengths for each.

—»   AT & T GoPhone -- Large national network and flexibility of two plan types; Motorola phones offered; reduced-rate or unlimited nights and weekends with some plans.

—»   T-Mobile To Go -- Sidekick (with camera and keyboard) and Motorola phones, plus a wide array of phone features, including free incoming text and picture messaging and competitive pricing. Nokia phones with two plan options, "pay-by-the-day" and "pay-as-you-go" with refill minutes up to 1 year (1000 mins.)

—»   Verizon INpulse -- Same good quality and customer service as the traditional plans; large selection of phones including keyboard-equipped LG and Motorola; unlimited calling at night and to other Verizon phones.

How to buy a prepaid cell phone - Carriers, Providers

How to buy a prepaid cell phone - Advantages, Disadvantages, Plans, E-mail

How to buy a prepaid cell phone - How I did it. Real world experience Step by Step

How to buy a prepaid cell phone - SIM card

How to buy a prepaid cell phone - Details about Providers, Phones

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