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How to Buy a Pre-Paid Cell Phone



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How to buy a prepaid phone

How do Pre-Paid cell phones work

How to Buy a Prepaid Cell Phone, plans, costs, activation, codes, email. How to decide what's best for you.

A Pre-paid cell phone works like any other cell phone as far as making calls and getting calls. The difference is how you pay for service and a few other advantages if you do not like, or cannot get, standard service. With a standard plan from AT & T or Verizon for example, you pay by the month with a check, credit card or debit card. You can pay online or get a bill in the mail. You get a set number of minutes for the month and you often have a commitment for two years. There are penalties for cancellations and your cell phone identifies you whenever it is on the network. A pre-paid setup does not require you to have a credit card, debit card or checking account, has no commitment, no penalties for cancellation, allows a certain amount of hidden identity and can be less costly. There is no monthly bill because you purchase your minutes as you like allowing you to control your usage.

You might want a pre-paid cell phone if:

o you want a no-frills phone for occasional use and 911 emergencies
o your credit record is bad or you have no credit card
o you have no bank account

Prepaid phones provide the basic services of regular cell phones. However, there's no long-term contract requirements or overage charges for minutes that exceed the monthly plan. And, signing up is easy. You can find a cheap, prepaid cell phone at retail outlets, electronics or discount stores -- or even through major carriers like AT&T (formerly Cingular), T-Mobile and Verizon, who've added prepaid options to their plans.

Who Uses Prepaid Cell Phones?
10 percent of U.S. cell phone users have prepaid plans.
55 percent of users have annual incomes below $44,000.

You'll find that a prepaid cell phone works just like any other, although without a long-term commitment and some of the bells and whistles. You buy a cell phone with a set service (number of minutes usable over a certain number of months). You can make calls or even text and picture message, depending on the phone's features, until you run out of minutes. When that happens, you can buy more minutes immediately or within a time limit. Or you can just stop using the phone.

What are the advantages of prepaid cell phones? How do the calling plans work? Who are the carriers?

Advantages of Prepaid Cell Phones

The main advantage of prepaid cell phones is the combination of freedom and control that they offer. With a prepaid cell phone, you're not locked into a multi-year plan with a set number of minutes per month during specific calling times, additional charges if you exceed the limit and a costly fee if you break the contract. You're free to talk whenever you want, as long as you want, until you run out of minutes. And you don't have to pay a monthly bill.

Cheap, anonymous prepaid cell phones.

There is a certain amount of anonymity because the prepaid phones potentially cannot be traced to their users. Talking more one month and less the next makes no difference, and leftover minutes can roll over from one month to the next. Plus, if you want to change to a different type of plan, a prepaid phone gives you the freedom to switch. Some prepaid cell phone plans allow users to send and receive text messages.

These advantages make a prepaid phone work particularly well for:

Parents of teenagers. If you don't have any minutes left, you can't make calls or send text messages, although you can still call for emergencies and, with some phones, receive messages stored until you have the minutes to view them. Parents can buy a cheap cell phone for a teen and a card per month for a set number of minutes, leaving the teen to budget use and pay for additional minutes.

Occasional cell phone users. If you only use a cell phone for emergencies and perhaps a few calls a week, you don't need a fancy phone or a complicated billing plan. A prepaid phone may work well, but make sure you know about any time limit on unused minutes.

Short-term users. Buy it, use it on vacation or while your regular cell phone is missing or broken -- and then throw it away.

Trial users. Before committing to a long-term cell phone plan, use a prepaid phone for a month or two to gauge what your (or your teenager's) actual usage will be. Then you can find a plan with the minutes and calling times to match.

Young adults and others with no credit history or credit card debt. Buying a prepaid cell phone doesn't require a long-term contract and credit check, so students with part-time jobs or older adults with no use of credit or a less-than-perfect credit record can get a phone easily.

Because they don't require a contract, prepaid phones are fast and easy to buy. They also are available at many locations, ready to use and even disposable.

Problems with Prepaid Cell Phones

While a prepaid cell phone offers many advantages, it also can present problems for its users. One of the biggest potential problems is the cost per minute, a serious disadvantage for anyone who talks a lot on a cell phone. There are ways of getting costs down however, even below standard plan rates.

Prepaid cell phone plans require users to monitor usage so they don't run out of minutes.
With increased interest in the prepaid market, prepaid phone rates have dropped and plans improved. Prepaid provider Boost Mobile, for example, offers a flat-rate, monthly unlimited talk plan for $45 in some states. T-mobile offers a 10 cents per min. rate on some plans.

Putting Names to Prepaid Phone Users
Prepaid cell phones offer anonymity, and that's not something everyone likes, particularly law enforcement agencies.

Here are some other disadvantages with prepaid cell phones:
Expiring minutes and service -- The minutes you buy for your prepaid cell phone may come with an expiration date of 60 or 90 days. If so, you'll lose them if you don't use them by then, although some carriers allow you to roll over mins. if you refill mins. again before your expiration date. You also may need to buy minutes regularly to extend the activation period. Buying 60 minutes for $20, for example, might extend your service for another two months.

Unexpected fees -- With a prepaid cell phone, you won't pay monthly taxes or termination fees as with traditional plans, but you may find other unexpected fees -- or higher fees than you'd expect for extra services. You may be charged a daily access fee of $1 to $2 for days you use the service or for every day. You also may be charged for roaming, sending text messages or photos, downloading ring tones or games and accessing the Web.

Limited features -- You probably won't find the latest, most sophisticated features on the average cheap prepaid cell phone. It probably won't be a picture phone. It also may not have Internet access or the ability to share videos. However, some companies are offering more high-tech phones. Virgin Mobile, for example, offers phones ranging from basic to those with mobile Web, camera with flash, audio and picture messaging, Bluetooth wireless and mobile instant messaging and e-mail.

Untransferrable phone number -- If you switch to another phone carrier, you probably won't be able to transfer your prepaid phone number. Worse yet, if you allow your prepaid cell phone to deactivate by not using it or buying minutes within the prescribed time, you'll probably be assigned a new number when you reactivate it. That means having to notify friends, family etc. about your new phone number.

Prepaid Cell Phone Plans

When you start looking at prepaid cell phone plans, you'll find a lot of variations. You can, for example, buy a phone with basic service and then just add minutes as you need them. You can select a more high-tech phone with added features and services, and you can buy larger bundles of minutes to get them more cheaply. You can also choose a prepaid phone contract that's almost a hybrid of a prepaid plan and a traditional monthly plan.

Virgin Mobile offers a $14.99 LG Aloha phone with mobile Web, text messaging, ring tones and games. You need to spend $20 every 90 days to keep the phone activated. Calls cost 10 cents per minute to or from other Virgin Mobile phone numbers and 20 cents per minute to everyone else. On the high end, you can get get a SliderSonic phone for $79.99 (with $19.99 free airtime) that also offers an MP3 player, camera with flash, video recorder and playback, picture messaging, Internet access and a flash drive memory slot.

T-Mobile's To Go prepaid phone starter kits start at $19.99 for a Nokia phone with headset and speakerphone; AOL, Yahoo, MSN and ICQ instant messaging; text messaging; call waiting, caller ID, voice notes and a calculator. Whenever minutes start at 30 minutes for $10. For the tech conscious, T-Mobile offers the Motorola RAZR V3 phone at $99.99 with quad band world phone, Bluetooth wireless, camera, video, voice recorder, phone book, clock and calculator.

Monthly Plan Options
TracFone's fairly simple 50 Minutes Value Plan automatically adds 50 minutes and 30 days of service to your prepaid phone every month for $9.99. If you need more, you can add minute bundles of 50 (for $10) or 100 (for $20). You have to sign up for the plan with a credit card or checking account number, but you can cancel at any time.

ATT's GoPhone offers monthly plans ranging from $29.99 to $69.99 with a balance rollover on minutes and nationwide long distance. The cheapest plan provides 200 anytime minutes at 15 cents each, while the most expensive plan offers 650 minutes at 11 cents each with unlimited mobile-to-mobile and night and weekend calling. As with TracFone, payment is automatically deducted from a credit card or checking account.

Start with the plan, not the phone, experts advise. Then look at the service quality you can expect to receive from the plan in your area. Finally, whether you choose true pay-as-you-go or a monthly plan, look closely at charges as well as minute rates.
These may include:

o A daily fee applied every day or on each day you use the phone
o A roaming charge outside a certain area
o Fees that vary based on the time you use the phone
o Added charges for services such as text messaging, sending pictures or using the Internet

Once you've picked your plan type, the next decision is which provider to use.

International Prepaid Cell Phones

Let's say you're calling from within the United States, using a Virgin Mobile prepaid phone as an example. All you need to do is dial 011 + the country code + the city code + the phone number. For some countries -- like Canada, Puerto Rico or Jamaica -- you don't even need to dial 011. Virgin Mobile charges the international per-minute rate for the country you're calling plus your standard airtime rate. There's no additional international charge for calls to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

If you're calling from another country, however, you're likely to have a problem with your phone's compatibility with local networks. Cell phone networks in the United States use several different technologies to transmit information. Only one of these, time division multiple access (TDMA) supports Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), the international standard used in Europe, Australia and much of Asia and Africa.

Cell phone users in those countries can buy one phone and simply switch to a different SIM card for phone access in each country. AT & T and T-Mobile use GSM. But even so, the 850MHz/1900-MHz GSM phones used in the United States are not compatible with the 900-MHz/1800-MHz frequencies used by the international system.

One option is to buy a GSM phone to use at home and with SIM cards while traveling. ATT, for example, offers the Samsung A437 as a world phone through its GoPhone prepaid cell phone plans. But unless you have the phone unlocked to work with other cell phone providers, you'll probably have to pay your company's international roaming rates.

Your service probably won't give you the code to unlock the phone, but several Web sites offer unlock codes for free or a small fee. SIM cards for various countries are available from Web sites such as, as are unlocked GSM cell phones. If you're going to be spending an extended time in a country, another option is to buy a prepaid cell phone once you arrive. In almost every country, you get unlimited incoming calls for free.

Prepaid Service

Prepaid service is ideal for people who rarely use their cell phones, prefer to limit their usage, or want a phone strictly for emergencies. A prepaid phone is also a good option for parents who want to budget their kids' cell phone usage. Since the service is prepaid, there's no monthly bill, and unlike standard cellular services, prepay carriers don't require a credit check. Companies offering pay-as-you-go plans include AT & T Wireless, T-Mobile, TracFone, Verizon Wireless, and Virgin Mobile. As with any wireless service, coverage may be limited. Be sure to check the coverage map at each company's site or call the vendor before signing up.

Prepaid services expire. If you don't use your minutes within a specified period, you lose them. The only way to save your minutes and roll them over to the next cycle is by buying additional minutes. Also, per-minute charges on prepaid phones are pricier than fees for other plans. So if you plan on chatting a lot, don't sign up for a prepaid plan unless you get a plan which offers unlimited talk time such as in the evening only.

Prepaid plans typically include local and long-distance calls, roaming, international dialing, voice mail, caller ID, call waiting, and three-way calling. The AT&T Wireless Free2Go service provides a few additional perks such as call forwarding and line blocking. In addition to voice services, some carriers (including AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Virgin Mobile) allow you to send and receive text messages for a fee. For example, the T-Mobile EasySpeak service charges 10 cents for every SMS message that you send, although receiving one is free.

Pay As You Go

Getting a prepaid cell phone is almost as hassle free as buying a prepaid calling card from 7-Eleven. You'll need to buy a handset, pay an activation fee of about $25, and purchase a phone card with a specified number of minutes. The cost for the card depends on the number of minutes you choose, but typically ranges between $10 and $100.

With Virgin Mobile, instead of buying a card with an allotment of minutes, you buy any amount of minutes for 25 cents each; you purchase minutes online or via the handset. But the provider requires that you get at least $20 worth of minutes every 90 days to keep your account active.

AT&T's GoPhone and Virgin Mobile's service offer good deals. Both services provide 40 minutes of usage for $10, 100 minutes for $25, and 300 minutes for $75. This boils down to 25 cents per minute (which is pricey compared to post-pay plans). Virgin Mobile's bonus: After the tenth minute of a conversation, each additional minute is reduced to 10 cents. That's not bad. T-Mobile offers an unlimited after 7PM and before midnight deal for $1 and 10 cents per min. other times with their "pay-by-the-day" plan and if you do not use the phone on a given day, you pay nothing.

Like many phone services, the more prepaid minutes you buy, the lower the per-minute charge. AT&T's GoPhone is a good option if you'll need hundreds of minutes. For a $100 prepaid card, AT&T gives you 665 minutes, deducting 15 cents for each minute you use--compared to 25 cents for its sub-$100 prepaid cards. But if you're in a roaming zone, AT&T (along with T-Mobile and Verizon) subtracts another 69 cents or more from your ration. T-Mobile offers 10 cents per min. with their $100 refill card and it does not expire for 1 year.

With all of these providers, when you run out of minutes, you simply buy more. Most carriers sell refills at their retail shops and/or at nationwide retail chains including Circle K, K-Mart, Target, Wal-Mart and Walgreens.

How will you know when you're running low? Many carriers provide a way for you to check the number of remaining minutes on your phone. TracFone provides a particularly helpful tool: Its handsets display your Airtime Balance, which shows how many minutes you've used and how many minutes are left. AT&T provides a few options such as a text message alert and a pre-call announcement, a message at the beginning of each call notifying you of the number of minutes available. T-Mobile has a #999# option which gives you your balance for free.

Use It or Lose It
So what's the catch? The minutes have an expiration date--usually 60 or 90 days after you buy them. And the cheaper the prepaid plan, the shorter the active period is. For example, AT&T's and T-Mobile's sub-$100 plans expire after 90 days, while both companies' $100 prepaid plan lasts for one year.

If you don't use your minutes within the specified period, you lose them. If your account is inactive beyond the expiration date, you'll likely lose your phone number, too. The only way to save your unused minutes and to roll them over to the following period is by adding minutes before the current ones expire. Also, be realistic about your usage. Even if you use your cell phone frequently, your cost-per-minute charges may still be higher than a standard cell phone.

cell phone, cell phone service plan, prepaid cell phone, AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile, Verizon, Virgin, Nokia, Motorola, mobile phone

Cost to re-activate service if minutes expired and phone number given away by carrier.


Prepaid cell phone cards allow users to purchase a set amount of time, usually measured in minutes, for use with mobile telephones. Customers purchase the cards and either apply the entire balance to an account or enter a PIN with each individual call. In either instance, because the time is prepaid, there are no surprises at the end of the month. Most prepaid cards provide notification when balances run low and when they are due to expire. Prepaid cell phone cards can often be used for services such as date transmission, text messaging and ringback tones as well as for spoken conversations.

Refill Cards

Many major cell phone services, such as Verizon and AT&T provide prepaid cell phone service as well as contract cell phone service. Other companies such as Tracfone and Virgin Mobile only offer prepaid cell phone service. With prepaid cell phone service, customers must purchase prepaid cell phone card in order to refill minutes. There is always a deadline for refilling minutes before the prepaid service is deactivated. If refill minutes are not purchased before the deadline, any unexpired minutes are almost always lost, but the prepaid cell phone service can be reactivated by purchasing more minutes. After service has been deactivated for a specified period of time, the prepaid service is permanently canceled. When that happens the customer must reactivate the phone again, often losing the original cell phone number.

Domestic and International Calls
It is also possible to purchase prepaid cell phone cards which are not associated with a specific cell phone service. They almost always have a PIN which must be entered each time a call is dialed, although some cards allow the PIN to be stored. These cards can be used with any cell phone, and can often be used with regular landlines. In many instances these prepaid cell phone cards are designed to call to or from one or more particular countries at a discounted rate. Other prepaid cell phone cards can be used with to call to and from a wide variety of countries.

Choosing a Card
Many prepaid cell phone cards offer discounts with purchases of larger denominations. Others offer longer periods before the purchased minutes expire. The features available with prepaid cell phone cards often vary according to the plan selected. For instance, some prepay cell phone plans offer a monthly billing option for customers who want similar service to that offered for longer term contracts, without being tied down to a long term obligation. Also, certain prepay cell phone plans offer discounts when calling other customers with the same plan, which might be a major influence in selecting a particular prepay cell phone card.

For prepaid cell phone cards associated with a particular cell phone company, the customer must purchase the right card. Prepaid cell phone cards from another cell phone company will not work. For prepaid cell phone cards which are not associated with a particular company, customers should be sure that the card will work in their country. Also, some cards have large surcharges which are applied when calling to or from certain countries which may eliminate any savings. Finally, check out any unknown company before providing any credit card information. The Better Business Bureau is a good source for reports on a particular business.

Cell phones and E-mail

How to Find Your Cell Phone’s Email Address?
Do you know that every cell phone has an email address associated with it and one can send an email to the mobile phone and it will be delivered as a text message (SMS). This is very helpful to interface the Internet mailing system with the wireless network and usually corporate alert system uses this mode. One can also use this email address to send text message from the computer to cell phone or vice versa.

Note: Incoming messages may be charged based on the service provider.
So how to find the mobile phone’s email address?

The cell phone’s email address is the 10 digit phone number @ the domain from your service provider. For example, for ATT or Cingular it is or . Also now it works with for SMS and for MMS. So you need to know the providers domain address to send emails to the mobile phone.

Reverse way to find your mobile’s email address

Compose a text message from your mobile phone and send it to your email address ( From the email you received you can find your cell phone’s email address.

When you send the SMS from your computer, the first 160 characters will be delivered and the subject of the email is also counted towards this.

Here is a list for popular service providers in USA


T-Mobile – or

Verizon –

Alltel –

Virgin Mobile –

Boost –

Prepaid cell phone Websites:

T-mobile -

AT & T - GoPhone

Tracfone -

Verizon -

Net10 -

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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