Best Prepaid Cell Phone Plans: A Buyer’s Guide

Best Prepaid Cell Phone Plans: A Buyer’s Guide

Many of the best pre-paid cell phone plans come with no contracts, and are continuing to gain in popularity, with major cell phone carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T noting their first declines in contract-based plans in early 2012. Pre-paid plans are great for professionals, families and kids as they allow you to pay for the services you use and avoid for paying for extra features you don’t.  But there are hidden fees and technological limitations to many pre-paid plans, so here are several things to consider to know if prepaid is the way to go for you.

Advantages of pre-paid plans:

  • No chance of crazy overages.  You’re only on the hook for what you paid for, and after that you can’t exceed your limits.  If self-discipline is a problem for you or your kids,  pre-paid is a great way to ensure they don’t use more than they can.
  • No contracts on pre-paid plans ,make them a perfect option for short-term usage.  Whether you’re on an extended business trip, a vacation or are potentially between phones, pre-paid is the perfect solution if you only need a phone for a few weeks or months.
  • Prepaid phones also provide a good test of usage habits before locking into long term plan.  If you’re scared of making a commitment to a two-year contract because you just don’t know how much texting or calling you really want to do, prepaid can provide a nice test run as you settle on a more permanent option.

Disadvantage of pre-paid plans:

  • Hidden Fees can surprise you.  While you may think you’re getting a certain number of minutes for what you spent, carriers sometimes charge daily access fees that can quickly add up.
  • You can lose your minutes.  You paid for them, so you better hope you use them.  Without rollover solutions, you may end up paying for more minutes than you actually use.
  • Prepaid plans often only provide the most basic phones.  If you want the latest and coolest smartphones and gadgets, you’re likely out of luck if you are using prepaid plans.  Although there are some nice phones to be had that may seem a bit outdated but still powerful, they are not the top of the line versions.
  • No ability to transfer phone number after your prepaid service.  Prepaid numbers stay with the prepaid service, so if after a couple months you decide to switch to a plan with a two-year contract, you’ll likely need to get a new phone number.

If you’re interested in the different prepaid cell phone plans available, here’s an overview of some of the most popular:

Virgin Mobile – Plans start as low as $35 a month with unlimited data and messaging on all their offerings.  For more money, you can get more voice minutes. 

Cricket – Buy an inexpensive phone and pair it with their plan. Cricket also highlights their Muve Music library and includes downloads and music playback as a key feature of their service.

Metro PCS – Offering unlimited plans along with the ability to keep your number, offers plans by the minute, by the week or by the month, and can cost anywhere from around $40 to $70 per month.

Verizon Wireless – Offering $50 a month plans for basic phones and $80 a month plans for smartphones, Verizon is trying to capture pre-paid customers who are balking at two-year contracts.

US Cellular – US Cellular offers standard and prepaid plans, but is only available in certain parts of the country.  For only $10 per month, you can get a voice only plan, or upgrade to as much as $70 per month to get unlimited data and messaging.

AT&T GoPhone – With a ton of different pricing options, GoPhone lets you pay $50 for an unlimited plan, or a $2 daily rate that allows unlimited calls and texting only on the days you use it. 

When Should You Buy Kids Cell Phones?

When Should You Buy Kids Cell Phones?

Modern Dad

News, reviews & trends for fathers – a contemporary parent’s perspective.

It’s the most common question about kids and technology that we’re asked as high-tech parenting experts: At what age should you buy your kid a cell phone or smartphone? The answer: Unfortunately, as we recently explained to Parenting magazine, there’s no magic number – it’s largely a function of family need, children’s maturity level and both how well-equipped that you feel your children are to make good decisions and the safety tools that you’ve put in place to catch them if they should stumble.

However, in the interest of provide a succinct answer that will be of the most service, let’s see if we can summarize. In short, while it won’t be right for every household, many parents first introduce a cell phone to kids around age 13. While some households lean a little younger, this is a fairly reasonable starting point if you’re looking for an opening guideline. That said, when you really should introduce a mobile device to kids’ lives is when there’s actually a meaningful, pressing need – e.g. when they’ll be outside of easy contact, and you absolutely, positively need to keep in contact with them, or be able to communicate on-demand should an emergency arise.

A few other points we share with parents when speaking on this topic:

  • Consider buying a cell phone that dials only your contact number if and when kids need to come home alone. Prepaid cell phones can also let you limit call times and features, restrict Internet usage, prevent access to unwanted features, and monitor overall usage, and usage patterns.
  • If you’re concerned about receiving unexpectedly large bills, or kids’ Internet activity, opt out of texting or endless data plans and choose a basic feature phone that forgoes bells and whistles such as downloadable apps, unlimited Web browsing and GPS tracking to limit children’s online interactions.
  • Always read the manual, research and go hands-on with phones, smartphones, tablet PCs or any high-tech device that provides VoIP or digital calling functionality before you hand them over to children. It’s imperative to know the ins and outs of the cell phone you’re considering for your child before you give it to him or her – a good rule of thumb for any high-tech device for that matter.
  • Consider restricting cell phone usage to only taking place in your presence until kids are mature enough to handle calls, texting and online interactions on their own.
  • Be certain to monitor cell phone activity and usage, and review your bill regularly for suspicious calls, activity or communications made when mobile handsets are supposed to have been shut down, e.g. 3AM on a Tuesday night.

For more information on kids and cell phones, including some of the latest statistics and other digital parenting experts’ input, check out our friends at Parenting magazine, and the in-depth look they provide on the subject.

Save Money on Your Cell Phone Plan

Save Money on Your Cell Phone Plan

Unless you decide to go with a pre-paid phone service, major cell phone carriers typically require a two-year commitment from  you in order to cheaply obtain and use many of today’s most popular and desirable mobile handsets, including both feature phone and smart phone models. Signing up can be daunting, so here are a few things to look for and remember as you’re committing to a cell phone plan, including several tips that can save you money on your cell phone bill. Consider all before making a commitment – after all, early termination fees will apply.

Do the Math

Wireless carriers know what they’re doing when they charge you by the month instead of quoting you a yearly rate.  It’s a lot more palatable to consider spending $100 a month than it is to consider that you’re paying $1200 over the course of the year.  But since we often think of our income on scales of a year, make sure to multiply your projected bill by 12 to make sure it fits into your overall income, and that you’re comfortable making that commitment.

Know Your Limits

Make sure you and everyone on your plan has a clear understanding of their monthly limits for minutes, data usage and text messaging.  Mobile phone providers love charging outrageous overage fees, so your best bet is to sign up for a plan that you know you won’t exceed, and then look at your usage over the first couple of months and adjust as appropriate. A good start: Look at the last six months of your current cell phone bills to get a sense of how many minutes, how much data, and how many text messages you send on average.

Be a Tweaker

Monitor your usage, and make sure you’re using a plan that’s right for you.   Companies make it easier than ever to track your usage, whether it’s from the computer via your account portal or even via easy apps.  Look at your actual usage in terms of time, texts and data limits, and if you’re going way under or way over your limits, investigate other plan options. 

Cancellation Consequences

Know what happens if you cancel on the contract.  Most services will have high cancellation fees in the first year, but they may diminish as you get closer to the end of your contract.  Since life always seems to throw curveballs and changing circumstances at us, it’s good to know what will happen should you need to make an unexpected switch.

Roaming Charges

If you’re traveling abroad, or even think you’ll be close to another country (like in San Diego or Detroit for example), make sure you’re aware of the consequences of roaming.  You can set your plan to not allow these types of charges in order to avoid any fees,  but often you can find that signing up for an international plan for the duration of your trip is more reasonable than you might expect.

Upgrade Options

The old axiom for depreciating value used to be driving a car off a car phone lot, but these days it seems that the moment you commit to a new smartphone, a new and cooler one is announced or released days later, often of the same model.  If you’re one of those who needs to be at the cutting edge as an early adopter, be prepared to pay full price for devices unless you’re within your plan’s window near the end of the contract which allows upgrade.  Ask about this at the time of purchase so you know whether to upgrading is a realistic option for you or not.

Know How To Make Changes

Utilize the management tools your provider gives you.  Know and remember your account password, and download any monitoring apps your provider offers.  Make a habit to check in on these at least once a month, but it’s often useful to look a couple times so you can see how your usage is distributed as the month progresses.  Even though mobile companies are out to make money (and they make a lot of it), they also provide great service and ease for their customers, it’s simply a matter of taking the time to access it.