Getting the best deal on prepaid
prepaid phone time is like playing poker: The right card can make all the difference.
But if you want to make the odds work for you, you'll need to
If you've picked up a phone card recently, you're
in good company. Americans use prepaid phone cards to make more than 8 billion
calls annually, according to estimates from the International Prepaid Communications
Association, an industry trade group.
The cards are especially
popular with students, recent immigrants, military personnel, teens and travelers.
Senior citizens and small businesses use them to control expenses, while roommates
buy them to avoid fighting over phone bills every month.
definitely think they can work for people who want to limit toll calls,"
says Linda Sherry, spokeswoman for Consumer
Action, a national nonprofit organization.
But are these
callers getting the best deal? That all depends on how well they read the fine
print before they buy.
The price of phone card minutes has dropped dramatically,
thanks to increasing competition among providers. But minutes are
only part of the equation. Carriers can levy a host of fees for
everything from connection charges to weekly or monthly fees simply
for maintaining a card.
In a constantly changing marketplace, buyers need to shop around
regularly. A Consumer Action study found that discount clubs --
like Costco and Sam's Club -- tend to offer the best buys in prepaid
phone cards, according to Sherry. Drug stores and discount stores
also offer good deals.
Once you find a good price, start asking questions.
Begin by looking for three things: 1) Who is really providing the
service? 2) What are the terms and conditions and 3) Is there a
toll-free number if you have questions before or after you buy?
"You should not have to buy it and open it up
to discover the issuer or the rules," says Howard Segermark,
executive director of the International Prepaid Communications Association.