Teach me! Pay-as-you-go Phones

I need to get a pay-as-you-go phone quick (long story). I am soooo unmainstream. Can someone tell me how this all works? Maybe a link to step-by-step instructions? I mean, ok, so I buy a phone at Wal-Mart, but then what? How do I get a phone number assigned to that phone? How do I add minutes? And, what to be careful about? Hidden fees? Out of netwrok fees? What else to know?

…and how can they deduct cash? One phone charges $1/day used + $0.10 per minute. But, don’t they deduct minutes, not money???

Please start at the beginning…

Dunno if it’s the same wherever you are, but here (Uk) it’s:

  1. Buy phone
  2. Unpack phone and insert SIM card. Your phone number is on the box.
  3. Phone the company to activate.
  4. You’ll usually have a small amount of credit on it. You can top that up in half a dozen different ways - at ATMs, over the phone by card, often via the phone itself, with top-up vouchers and cards in almost any store.
  5. When you use credit it just comes off your total. So if it’s 25p per minute at peak time, and you make a 3 minute phone call at peak time, your credit is reduced by 75p.
  6. Many have various offers - like top up by £10 a month and get X free, etc.

Candyman74 has it pretty well nailed with one exception: depending on the provider (in the US anyway), they assign a phone number when you call to activate it. We had to specify the desired area code and they told us a number in that area code.

We have prepaid phones for the kids - didn’t want to add them to our family plan contract and be stuck with 2 years of service on a phone that had been lost or destroyed. This turns out to have been a very good thing, as each kid has lost his/her phone once.

Check out the various plans. We’re on Verizon for our contract phones but they’re really NOT good for prepaid - the minutes expire FAR too quickly (e.g. you load up with 10 bucks, and 10 days later any unused time has gone poof).

We got the kids T-Mobile phones. Virgin Mobile and TracFone are competitors that come to mind quickly. I liked the fact that once we’ve topped up a certain amount, the kids’ minutes don’t expire for a whole year. Since neither of them uses their phones much, this is good - means we don’t have to add money every month to keep their old minutes from evaporating. Periodically they’ll have a promo where if you order the phone from their website, it comes with a 25.00 refill card, which makes the phone essentially free. Of course then you have to wait for it to arrive in the mail (and they require signature for delivery), so you may prefer to go to Wal-Mart or whatever.

Once you’ve gotten - and activated - the phone, the calls and texts you send / receive start nibbling at the balance.

For T-Mobile, there are different options such as “pay a dollar for the day and get unlimited calls”, “pay 99 cents a day and calls are 20 cents a minute but texts are free”, “pay no daily fee, and get billed for calls and texts at 20 cents a minute . 20 cents per text”. I believe you can switch among these plans as desired. Choose one based on how you think you’ll use your phone, and see how it works for you. For the kids, we opted for the “no daily fee, pay per call/text” since they use it so sporadically.

I got mine from T-Mobile and they set it up in the store, but basically there’s a SIM card you’ll get with the phone, along with an activation number. The phone usually comes with a very small number of initial minutes (10 or so), and you can buy more either by the plan you’re looking at ($.10/minutes + 1 each day you use the phone) or "bulk" minutes (usually .20-$.30 /minute depending in how many you buy, but not per/day charge). You can get more with a phone call or online. If you buy “bulk minutes”, they usually expire in a few months, buying a few more minutes will usually reset the clock (T-Mobile’s plan, anyway). After you’ve used enough minutes, they stop expiring them on you (again, T-Mobile, and they actually just bump the expiration time to a year).

You’re buying “minutes”, but they’re idealized US domestic minutes: what’s actually credited to your account is a dollar amount, and things like international calls will use more of that money per minute than the idealized ones. So if you’re planning to do that, make sure you check the rates.

I’d skip the WalMart phone and go to one of the cellular vendors; they can get you started. When I got mine a couple of months ago, T-Mobile had the cheapest deals (I make a cell call maybe twice a month), but it probably changes weekly.

Ok, so to add minute by buying a phone card, naturally I assume the card has instructions with some toll-free number to call to add minutes? And, I wager by dialing on the phone to which I want to add minutes, the minutes get assigned to THAT phone?

Is my understanding correct? If not, feel free to enlighten me.

When I helped my neighbor with adding minutes to her phone. The card had a long number on it which we texted to a different number on the card. We could have also used a web site to enter the number on the card.

Yep, I did the same with my T-Mobile prepaid. My parents have a Tracfone and they do the same. Most prepaid phones usually have some sort of custom software, and there’s generally a “Get more minutes” option either using the number off a prepaid card or straight from a credit card.

Can you elaborate as to what this means? You mean, literally there is software installed on the phone? Regardless, what is the purpose of this software? Perhaps you mean a website where to buy minutes? Sorry, if it the meaning eludes me…

With a Tracfone, you can buy a card then add the minutes to your phone via the Tracfone web site. You can also add the minutes via your phone through its “Pre-Paid” menu – i.e., you don’t have to make a call and use minutes in order to add minutes.

You can call the toll-free number to add minutes, but you don’t have to call from the phone you’re adding minutes to. You just need to have the phone’s serial number handy.

With a Tracfone, you can also sign up for a service via the web site that allows you to purchase minutes through your phone’s Pre-Paid menu.

Thanks for the info. I was thinking of a T-Mobile. And, to confirm, is there an instruction book inside to help the neophyte (me) get started?

I meant a custom OS that’s specifically for their prepaid phones.

Not sure about T-Mobile, but Tracfone could not be easier to get going. (I am a tech. simpleton, and even I was able to figure it out in just a few min.)

Tracfone is ideal for someone who just needs to make the occasional call, and is not concerned with all the bells and whistles that cell phones all seem to have these days…

I use a AT&T Go Phone.

Well, actually it started as a Cingular pay as you go. They sold out to AT&T.

I’m happy. I buy a $100 of minutes at a time and they don’t expire for a year. You can buy only $10 of minutes but they expire pretty quick.

Anybody use prepaid phones in Korea? I’m going there in a few months for my job, and I’m considering getting one mainly to keep in touch in-country (I have the internet for overseas stuff, but I suppose the cell could be used for that too in more urgent situations)

For the most part it means there is an easy to access button to let you type in the code for the card that you bought.

It also means that the user interface for the pre paid phones is different from the user interface of the subscription phones. There is only the ability to text and make phone calls. The thinking being that pre paid users don’t care to spend their money on the upgraded features, such as web browsing, games or navigation programs, found with subscription plans.

Also, some Tracfone models come with double minutes for life.

NET10 is the way to go.

Ten cents a minute, period. No per day junk, like some other places.

Must renew every X, but the minutes roll over.

So, how to do it.

Buy phone.
Call number listed in package. Enter numbers as instructed (on your phone). Answer questions, based on numbers on your cell phone.
Phone screen window tells when to renew.
Buy card with X minutes on it, repeat above.

Believe me, Net10 is the way to go. Plenty of instructions in package, or on net10.com.

Best wishes,

I’m very keen onPagePlus, partly because they use the Verizon network. If you already have a Verizon phone from somewhere, you can use it instead of buying a phone from them. You can port any existing phone number to the service. No daily fees; just add some minutes every few months. A 100-minute card is $10 and extends your service 120 days.

This is what I use. I go into the AT&T store every year, ask for a $100 of minutes that are good for a year, and they do everything else. I don’t nearly use my phone enough to use those minutes, but it’s still the best deal in terms of money per calendar time and money per minutes. Only if I lost the phone or decided to use another phone would it matter that I shelled out for the one year supply.

I second NET10. The phones at Walmart are $30 and they come with 300 minutes which are good for 60 days. Every time you add time it extends it an additional 60 days. The airtime cards come in $20(200 minutes), $30(300 minutes, etc.) and higher, although as of late I haven’t seen any $20 cards available. You can set it up online or call NET10. Then when you buy more time you enter the code from the card you purchase in the add air time menu on the phone. You can also purchase air time online or by calling NET10.

The phones aren’t fancy that they sell at wally world but they make calls, text and get online. And if you do happen to spot a phone later down the road you’d rather have just buy it (again comes with 300 mins) and transfer the number to the new NET10 phone.

btw-net10 is owned by tracfone.