Simplicity is, and always has been, one of the most frequently cited reasons for choosing prepaid cell phone service. One of the hallmarks of the services is that there s no contract, with all its fine print, to deal with. Still, for those who have never used a prepaid cell phone service, there are some important things to know in order to take best advantage of the providers  offerings.

Not long ago, prepaid cellular service was simply a matter of purchasing a phone and some airtime and you re done until you need to replenish that airtime. The prepaid cell phone industry has made tremendous strides since those days. While that easy option still exists, there s a whole world of additional options now available to consumers. Here, we ll provide some insight into how to deal with those options. For more details about the myriad improvements that have been made to prepaid cell phone service, we suggest taking a look at our accompanying article, Prepaid Cell Phone Service Comes of Age.

The Most Basic Option

For many people, prepaid cell phones call to mind those phones hanging on the racks of any number of retailers from phone stores to giant discount chains to the corner convenience store and gas station. The image is accurate. That is the original way of getting prepaid cellular service and remains popular. You simply choose a phone, which typically comes packaged with a small amount of airtime, pick up an additional airtime card if you like, and pay the clerk. In the package, there are instructions for activating the phone which you can generally do by making a call from a landline or, these days, by logging onto the cell phone provider s web site. That s all there is to it. Because you can pay with any payment method the store accepts, including cash, there isn t even any requirement for the cellular service provider to know your name.

When you need more airtime, you can go to any retailer that deals with that provider and buy additional airtime in the form of an airtime card. You register that card to your phone in essentially the same way as you initially registered the phone. There s one caveat to this method of obtaining prepaid cell phone service. Airtime minutes eventually expire, generally within from thirty to ninety days, and so have to be recharged periodically to remain valid. Otherwise, folks who d like to have a cell phone purely for the security it provides could simply make a onetime minimal purchase and never spend another cent for some pretty substantial peace of mind.

Introducing the Internet

All of the above options, including buying a new phone and adding airtime can now be easily done on the internet. All of the prepaid cell providers offer the same options listed above except the purely anonymous option of paying with cash. If you buy a phone online, it will be shipped to you within a few days and adding airtime is a snap. Of course, making purchases online requires entering some payment method. Credit and debit cards are the easiest and most widely accepted but most providers also allow you to enter checking or savings account information to accommodate electronic withdrawals and many accommodate online payment methods such as PayPal.

Fill Your Bucket With Services

Prepaid cell phone service now offers much more than just voice telephone service. Like the postpaid, contract based cell phone services, most prepaid providers now offer text and multimedia messaging, email, web browsing as well as a host of calling features like voice mail. Those don t translate directly into minutes so they had to come up with a way to essentially deposit funds against which these additional services, as well as voice calling, can be debited. While there are different ways to refer to this deposit account, referring to it as a bucket has become common. Simply put, you deposit money to your bucket by whatever payment method the carrier accepts and future services draw down the balance in the bucket. As long as there s money in your bucket, you can take advantage of any of the provider s services.

Most prepaid wireless providers offer the option to fill your bucket when you choose or you can set up an automatic transaction to occur whenever the balance gets down to a pre-agreed level. If you choose to fill it manually, they ll send notification when the balance reaches or is approaching the low limit.

Automatic Renewal

The most advanced, and generally most advantageous, prepaid cell phone plans renew automatically each month. While this may seem to be similar to the contracts required by postpaid services, the major difference is that you can cancel the arrangement anytime you like without being subjected to an Early Termination Fee (ETF). On the automatic renewal plans, your credit card or bank account is charged monthly and service continues based on the plan you ve selected. This arrangement is necessary to take advantage any of the monthly service plans. In general, it is these monthly service plans, especially the unlimited ones, which have made some of the best prepaid cell phone providers completely competitive with the prepaid services. Automatic renewal is also required when taking advantage of the daily plans which can be a money saving alternative, notably for customers who don t use their phones on a daily basis.

Prepaid cell phone providers offer many alternatives to the stereotypic image of the past. No two providers handle their offerings in precisely the same manner but this article should prove helpful in generally understanding how the services operate. We suggest perusing the reviews contained within our Prepaid Cell Providers site when getting started. Once you ve narrowed your choices, take a look at their respective sites for specific details.

More Top Stories