How Does a Prepaid Cell Phone Card Work?

By Tara Dooley

What's Involved

A typical prepaid phone card will feature both local as well as long distance calling ability. Other features may also include voicemail, caller identification (ID) and call waiting. Many carriers such as Verizon and Net-10 will also have the feature of text messaging at a rate less than that of a typical minute of usage. Virgin Mobile goes one step further and does not charge for incoming text messages. This is a feature which bears research by the consumer prior to purchasing. Prepaid phone cards are available at a wide variety of outlets including drug stores, big box and electronic stores, as well as many convenience stores.

How the Prepaid Cards Work

When you purchase a prepaid cell phone card, you will get a certain number of minutes of talk time. The number of minutes is determined by the amount you spend. This will also be determined by the rate charged by the carrier. For example, Net-10 and Virgin Mobile have some very good rates such as ten cents a minute with lower rates available with higher dollar amounts. It is very important to shop around and compare not only rates but service and coverage. Typically, at the time of purchase, the card is activated. At this point, the minutes must be applied to the particular pay as you go phone you are using. A number will be provided which must be called. This is usually an automated process which takes only a few minutes which are not charged against you. Once the phone is loaded with the new minutes, you are ready to talk and even send messages.

Things to Consider

Prepaid cell phone cards will expire after a certain number of days. Most plans will specify the number of days for which the minutes are good. After this, the minutes will be lost. Also, as with any other cell phone, take time to determine which is best for you in regards to service and signal. Finally, keep in mind that most prepaid phones are not feature packed or fancy. They are typically very basic models with limited features. If you are seeking the newest G3 technology, then prepaid is most likely not for you.