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Key questions to ask about prepaid cell plans

Here are some key questions to ask when reviewing prepaid phone deals:

When do the minutes expire?
Many plans let you hang on to your minutes for 45 to 90 days. With others, your airtime minutes can expire in just 15 days.

What's the per-minute rate on your calls? Per-minute rates vary widely. Be sure to study the details of each prepaid plan carefully.

Virgin Mobile USA charges 25 cents per minute for the first 10 minutes of calls you make each day. Once you pass the 10-minute mark, you're charged 10 cents per minute on calls for the rest of the day.

At Verizon Wireless, you pay 15 cents per minute whenever you talk to another Verizon customer. Otherwise, you pay 15 cents per minute on nights and weekends and 30 cents per minute on weekdays.

AT&T's Free2Go comes with a local or national calling plan. With the local plan, you'll pay anywhere from 12 cents to 50 cents per minute for calls. With the national plan, you'll pay anywhere from 22 cents to 85 cents per minute.

The more minutes you load on the phone the cheaper your calling rate will be. Let's say you're on the local calling plan. If you add $100 to the phone, your calling rate is 12 cents per minute. But if you add just $10 to the phone you'll pay 50 cents per minute for your calls.

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How much are text messages?
Text messages are super-popular with teens. Some plans charge 5 to 10 cents for each message that you send or receive. Other plans only charge for text messages that you send. At Virgin Mobile USA, all text messages you receive are free but you pay 10 cents for each message that you send. Verizon Wireless charges 5 cents for each text message you send or receive.

What other fees and charges will you pay on the phone?
Check to see if there is an account set-up fee on the phone. Some plans charge set-up fees as high as $35. Are there extra fees for roaming? Roaming means making and receiving calls outside your home calling area.

Also ask about the costs of the extras on the phone, including call waiting, call forwarding and caller ID. Are they free, or are you charged a fee each time you use one of those services?

For more tips on buying a prepaid cell phone, check out this article from

-- Posted: Sept. 29, 2003
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See Also
Prepaid cellular: Is it for you?
Getting a deal on a cell phone overseas
Best deals on prepaid phone cards
Glossary of personal finance terms
More Frugal U. stories

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