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Things to look for, gotcha's, shortcuts and resources for Prepaid Wireless.

Auto Refill
Making Prepaid Palatable with Auto-Refill
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 on 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. It also makes it easy to change features or add-ons to your account. Some carriers don't make it easy to make changes by making you go through a menu of choices.  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 Auto-Refill consumer-friendly. There are carriers that offer a discount when you sign up for Auto-Refill. In some cases you can enter a backup 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 be less trouble to grin and bear it than pressing the issue to get back a few dollars.

The Different Types of Prepaid "Carriers"
  • Prepaid Provided by the Major Carriers (The Big 3)
    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 budget carriers 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, and some offer more. We review the Prepaid services of the non-major carriers on our Budget Prepaids Page.  

  • All Prepaid Carriers Listed Here Have Nationwide Coverage
    Our definition of "nationwide" coverage is service available in every state in the US. 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 that network.

Prepaid Pro's & Con's

  • Save money by paying only for what you need.
  • Carriers are not adding pesky "access fees" or other annoying, extra charges to Prepaid.
  • Taxes and fees are normally not added, including "activation" fees, although some do add those charges.
  • You only pay for your phone once.
  • No monthly bill, you can set up some plans to "Auto-Refill".
  • No deposit, 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.
  • 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.
  • Plans are often priced lower by providing a more limited customer service process.
  • 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 more difficult to access.
  • Notifications are only made by text or email, not by US Mail.

5G Prepaid
5G Prepaid Wireless
Almost every Prepaid carrier offers 5G coverage based on the availablity of 5G on the underlying network. If you want 5G service, you must have a 5G-compatible phone. 5G may be available when you Bring Your Own 5G Phone.

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