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Things to look for, gotcha's, shortcuts and resources in shopping for Prepaid Wireless.
One of our biggest objections to Prepaid was the cumbersome payment cycle required by prepaid refills. You didn't pay the bill once a month like the electric bill, you paid at or near an exact payment date or you lost your account value, and your service, if you were one day late.  If you paid too soon you could lose some of the time you already paid for, increasing your total cost.  These types of payments still exist but now most Prepaid operators offer some form of "Auto-Refill", or "Auto-Pay", where your monthly payment is automatically deducted from a credit card, debit card or checking account.

The upside with Auto-Refill is that it becomes easier to pay than the electric bill because the payment is made without any hassle.  In most cases you get an Text or email that the charge to your card or checking account is being made, but no action is required on your part. Having an associated account also makes it easy to change features or add-ons to your account.
The downside includes the challenge of stopping Auto-Refill.  Some carriers don't make it easy by making you go through a menu of choices before you find a way to cancel the process.  Additionally, credit cards have expiration dates that can interrupt the Auto-Refill process and you can suddenly find yourself with no wireless service.

Some carriers are better than others in making the Auto-Refill function consumer-friendly.  There are carriers that offer a discount when you sign up for Auto-Refill.   In some cases you can enter a second credit card number or an alternative notification method.  Most carriers offer both online and app access to your account.  Several will notify you long before there is a problem including an upcoming credit card expiration date.  Since Auto-Refill is an automated process, you may want to consider a Prepaid service that includes a convenient way to correct any inevitable problems.  Our advice sometimes includes backing away and allowing for the fact that something will cause your account to be charged a slightly different amount, and it may cause less trouble to grin and bear it than pressing the issue to get back a few dollars.

Keep in mind that if you choose not to use Auto-Refill or need to replenish your account between refills, Mountain Prepaid offers Discount Wireless Refills which can be applied automatically or with a PIN, normally saving you even more than retail refills, and we offer refills in more denominations than the carriers themselves to better match your Prepaid usage.

The Cheapest Prepaids
Bargain-basement Prepaid starts as low as FREE! Here are examples of how low it can go.
    FreedomPop gives you a certain number of Talk minutes, Text and Data for FREE!  The idea is that you'll like their service enough to add some of their low-priced features after you sign up and see how much you like their service. Even after adding features, your monthly price can be super low. Get more info on FreedomPop.

    Unreal Mobile offers plans starting at $10 that include Unlimited Talk & Text and 1Gb of Data. They also offer a 2 week trial period and Data drops to 2G at the end of your allotment. Both CDMA and GSM phones are supported.  Learn more about Unreal Mobile.

    T-Mobile's lowest-priced Prepaid is only $3 a month and there's no penalty for going over your allotment, they just charge you at the same, per-use rate. It's easy to keep the account going without much action from you with Auto-Refill.

    Tello plans start at $5/month.  Get 100 Min. Talk/ 250 Texts/ 200 Mb Data for just $9/month. Add or subtract features as needed for more savings. Get More Information About Tello.

    In the same price range, Twigby offers 300 Min. Talk/ Unlimited International Texts/ 200 Mb High Speed Data + Unlimited 2G Data for just $9/month.  Get More Details about Twigby.

The Different Types of Prepaid "Carriers"
  • Prepaid Provided by the Major Carriers
    You deal with the major carrier's stores and customer service and you are normally limited to their own network. We review the Prepaid services of the major carriers on our Primary Prepaids Page.

  • Prepaid Provided by Companies NOT Affiliated with a Major Carrier
    These companies have no network of their own and re-sell access to one or more of the networks of the major carriers. Customer Service ranges from good telephone support to online-only support. There are few or no stores related to these carriers but there is a large number of retail outlets for their own phones, refills or SIM's.
    These 'resellers' provide access to one major wireless network, all US wireless networks, or one primary network with access to other networks at a per-use charge.  We review the Prepaid services of the non-major carriers on our Secondary Prepaids Page.  

  • All Prepaid Carriers Listed Here Have Nationwide Coverage
    While there isn't a clear definition of "nationwide" coverage, the Prepaid carriers reviewed here provide service across the entire national footprint of their associated wireless networks. There is also a number of Regional Prepaid Carriers, some of which that offer 'nationwide' coverage but, more likely, limit Prepaid users to their own network.  In return, these regional carriers normally permit 'Unlimited' access to their own network.

  • Save money by paying only for what you need.
  • Plans are often priced lower by providing a more limited customer service process.
  • No deposit required.
  • Taxes and fees are normally not added, including "activation" fees. America Movil does add those fees.
  • Pay only for what you use or for the time period you choose.
  • You only pay for your phone once.
  • No monthly bill, you can set up some plans to "Auto-Refill".
  • No contract or required service period, and No Early Termination Fee.
  • You may be able to use your existing wireless device.
  • Previously purchased minutes usually renew when you refill.
  • You may not have detailed call reports.
  • Normally, credits can't be issued for "mistakes".
  • Refill dates are critical unless you use "Auto-Refill".
  • Even with "Auto-Refill", your credit card expiration date may interrupt your wireless service.
  • Coverage may be less than postpaid plans.
  • Off-network use may incur roaming charges, higher data fees, reduced features or just unavailable.
  • Service ends abruptly when money runs out.
  • Limited selection of phones.
  • Rates and expiration depend on refill amount.
  • You may need to pay a higher price for the phone.
  • Customer Service may be lower quality or difficult to access.
  • Notifications are only made by text or email, not by US Mail.

Types of Prepaid Plans:
Get a certain number of minutes usable over a certain length of time. This is referred to as "Pay As You Go."
Plans that normally offer an Unlimited numbers of Calls, Texts, Data or some combination, good from Midnight to Midnight.
You get a generous or Unlimited number of Voice Minutes & Texts, and a fixed or Unlimited amount of Data included, or available as an add-on, for 30 days.
Forgive the pun, but in almost all cases you will pay full price for a Prepaid phone unless you are converting an existing phone to Prepaid. Do the math. In most cases, paying full-price just once for a new phone is less expensive than paying a higher fee each month for a cheap or "free" phone with a contract. And with that contract you keep paying for the phone until you obligate yourself to a new one. Some carriers allow you to pay for your phone with payments over time. They don't call it a "contract", but you can't drop the service unless all the payments are made or the phone is returned.
You can Set It & Forget It.  Most prepaids let you associate a credit card or checking account with your service which pays your monthly fee automatically and is available for any add-ons.
You have the opportunity to pay less for your wireless service by buying refills from discount sources or at retail stores that offer special deals. Mountain Prepaid offers Discount Refills that can be added immediately.
Prepaid Resources:
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