What is 'prepaid phone card' - 'prepaid calling card'?
Pre-paid phone cards represent telephone time you buy in advance. Prepaid
phone cards prices/face values range from $5 to $50 or more up-front for
local/international/domestic or long-distance phone time; the amount of
time you buy depends on the rate-per-minute you're charged. For many people,
pre-paid phone calls offer the ultimate in convenience. The phone time
is paid for in advance; the card can be used from any phone, even from
payphones (usually with 50 cents FCC mandeted fee); and there's no need
to think about carrying coins or notes around.
Prepaid phone cards are now sold at all over the places; including convenience
stores, newsstands, travel agencies, motels, post offices, ethnic supermarkets,
major supermarkets, retail and grocery stores. Prepaid calling card/phone
cards are used mostly by students, travelers, people who regularly call
overseas - international calling destinations, and those who may not have
long-distance telephone service either international or domestic. Some
prepaid phone cards can be recharged, usually by additional cost and providing
with additional credit card charge to your account. And some prepaid phone
cards have advanced features like speed dialing for frequently called
numbers and an call detail records of called numbers, which may be handy
for business purposes and claiming tax exempts.
How Prepaid Calling Cards Work
Almost all prepaid phone cards comes with a toll-free access telephone
number and a personal identification number (PIN). Prepaid phone card
companies have computers that use your calling card PIN to keep track
of your usage - how much phone time you have on your phone card in minutes
or units. To make a phone call, you dial the access number, enter your
PIN, and computer on the phone card company will usually tell you how
much prepaid money amount that you have on your card. After that, you
enter the phone number of the party you're trying to reach. A computer
tells you how much time - or how many units - you have left on your card
for the international or domestic calling number that you just called.
Typically, each unit equals one domestic/international minute. If your
prepaid phone card is not rechargeable - that is, if you can't buy additional
minutes for the phone card - you'll need to buy another phone card when
you have completedly used up the time or minutes.
Several key players are involved in making sure your phone card works:
Carriers are responsible for the telephone lines that carry your calls.
Resellers buy telephone minutes from carriers.
Issuers set the rates and provide toll-free customer service and access numbers.
Distributors get the cards to retailers.
Retailers sell the cards.
Carriers and resellers can issue their own pre-paid phone cards; but if they
don't issue the cards, they're not likely to be responsible for any problems
you may have.
When you buy a prepaid phone card from a store, it's important to remember
that you've bought a telephone service, not a product. The store doesn't
control the quality of the service. To make sure you're getting what you've
paid for, you may want to buy a small denomination first to test out the
service, and check with friends or relatives to find out their experience
with the card.
Concerns on phone cards
As the pre-paid phone card industry mushrooms, and as more people buy and use
the cards, some problems are coming to light. The most common consumer complaints
access numbers or PINs that don't work;
issuers who go out of business, leaving card-holders with a useless card;
customer service numbers that are busy or simply don't work;
toll-free access numbers that are constantly busy, preventing use of the card;
rates that are higher than advertised;
hidden connection charges, taxes and surcharges;
cards that debit minutes or units even when you don't connect with the party
you're calling; and
poor quality connections.
Buying Phone Time and Value
Consumers can avoid many of these problems - and buy considerable peace
of mind - by planning ahead. Although many pre-paid phone cards are impulse
purchases, you can preempt disappointment by checking out a few things
in advance (These are true even if you buy online or in a retail store):
Ask if the retailer will stand behind the card if the telephone service is
Look for the rate for domestic and international calls on the card's package
or on the vending machine. These rates may vary depending on where you call.
If you can't find the rate, call the card's customer service number.
The prepaid phone card industry is highly competitive. Beware of very
low rates, particularly for international calls. They may indicate poor
Look for disclosures about surcharges, monthly fees, per-call access, and the
like, in addition to the rate-per-minute or unit. Some cards add a surcharge
to the first minute of use. Others charge an activation fee for recharging cards.
Check on expiration dates. Most cards expire one year after first use. If there
is no expiration date, a card usually is considered "live" until all
phone time is used.
Look for a toll-free customer service number. If the customer service number
isn't toll-free or displayed, it may be difficult to contact the company if
you have a problem with the card. A busy signal on the customer service line
may be a tip off to a rip-off.
Be sure the card comes with instructions that you understand.
Make sure the card comes in a sealed envelope or has a sticker covering the
PIN. Otherwise, anyone who copies the PIN can use the phone time you've already
Ask friends and relatives for references on the card you're thinking of buying.
Consider these questions:
Were they charged for a call when there was no answer or when the line was
Note: some paragraphs were taken from http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/prepaidcards.html
Was there a minimum charge for each call? For example, were charges based
on a minimum of three minutes even though the call lasted 30 seconds?
Was the access number inaccessible because of a constant busy signal?