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Advice for Shopping for Prepaid Mobile Phones

Depending on the type of use you are getting, or intend, from your mobile phone, there are many plan options available. Of course, not everyone feels the need to commit to a plan with a monthly fee, as one of the stipulations with such a plan is exactly that – you have to commit for the amount of time they require (which could be a year, two years, etc.). But what if you find something better and wish to switch your mobile phone service? You are stuck with the original plan, unless you are willing to pay exorbitant fees to get out of the plan (much like early termination of an automobile lease). So I will show one example of a monthly plan as offered by Verizon, and then look at their prepaid plans, and compare with a few others.

Verizon’s most basic plan for an individual mobile phone is the 450 plan ($39.99/month). You get unlimited night and weekend minutes, local calling to anywhere in the US, voicemail, caller ID, and 3-way calling (and many other features, including Mobile Web 2.0). Of course, it is not without taxes and fees buried in the fineprint. And if you look carefully at the fineprint, you’ll also see that you are required to commit yourself to one or two years, with an early termination fee of $175.

Now what if you did not wish to commit to such a plan for the long term? You may opt for one of Verizon’s prepaid plans. They have three available, with the most basic being the Core option. The activation fee is up to $25, and you get unlimited IN calling (to numbers in your personal network), 10 cents/min nights and weekends, and 10 cents/text message. There is also a 99 cents access fee. However, you must refill your account regularly, or any money you put into your account will be lost. The rates start at $15-29.99, expiring in 30 days. If you do not make calls for more than 60 days, your account will expire and you face a $35 reactivation fee. Finally, you may opt for one of the higher level plans (Plus and Power, with $1.99 and $2.99 daily access fees respectively, but you get more features that are unlimited, or lower per minute usages for some).

For comparison, I will present an option from a competing company – AT&T.; They offer two prepaid plans. The Unlimited Talk plan gives you 10 cents/minute calling, unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes, and a $1.00 daily access fee. Other features are also available. Their 25 cents/minute plan is also an option, which is exactly that – 25 cents/minute on all calls, including mobile-to-mobile. AT&T; also offers a bonus of $20 per $100 spent on calling card refills. You can buy lower denominations, but they have shorter expiration periods. The $100 cards are good for one year before expiring. Similar to Verizon, there is a reactivation fee if you do not use your phone for more than 60 days. Their terms and conditions do not specify the amount, nor do they publish an initial activation fee. I decided to follow the process, finding that the activation fee is waived.

These are just a couple of options available for prepaid phone plans. From time to time, companies may offer specials, such as free or discounted phones for signing up with the plan, as well as bonuses for purchasing the service online. Be sure to also check each phone company’s coverage map (the published maps are only approximations – specific coverages may vary) and compare each company’s coverage, as well as overall quality of service. Just as with any phone service, one should take the time to shop around.

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