Communications and Media

Prepaid Calling Cards

You might be surprised to find that prepaid calling cards still have a place in your wallet. Prepaid phone cards are available from many phone service carriers, and can be a good option when your hard line or cell service plan doesn't quite fit your needs.

Uses for prepaid calling cards vary, and many people like to use them for international calls to friends and family, or to use while traveling. If you've got access to a touch-tone phone, you can use your card. Your card can fill in the gaps in your usual calling plan for either your land line or your cell phone. There's also the advantage of no long-term contract, and you can buy only what you need.

Know the Difference between a Prepaid and Billable Phone Card

Phone cards can be prepaid, where you're buying a block of minutes or a set dollar amount for phone services, and a billable card gives you access, and you're charged for your calls after they're made. Prepaid cards do have the advantage of limiting the amount spent for phone service to the price you paid for the card.

Again, without having a contract, you can buy what you need, and many phone service companies allow you to refill the value on your card. By shopping around, you can also find prepaid rates as good as those found in traditional phone plans.

Be a Smart Shopper before You Dial

Know your needs and the common terms and fees related to prepaid cards before you buy. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a number of resources to use when you're shopping for prepaid phone cards and other phone services. The FTC suggests several key terms to look for:

  • Know all fees to be deducted from your card. Don't stop at the per minute rate when you're shopping. Some fees apply when you hang up the phone - these are called "post-call," "hang-up," or "disconnect" fees. Maintenance fees or special fees for using a card from a pay phone are possible
  • Watch for expiration dates. These can vary, and some cards don't expire. If you're going to recharge or buy more time, know how the expiration date will apply to the entire balance
  • Customer service support. Find out what type and level of customer service is available. Will toll-free customer service be able to help if your call didn't go through and you don't want to lose minutes from your balance?
  • Do the same rates apply to calls made to cell phone use, and will you be able to call all cell phone numbers? Some cards do charge higher fees for such calls, and some cell carriers block calling card calls because the incoming caller isn't identified
  • Does it matter whether you use the local access or toll-free access number to make calls? The rates may be higher when using the toll-free numbers

You can't get past reading the terms and conditions for a prepaid card before you buy. Another option is to try a service provider out first and buy a low-value card or one for a relatively small block of minutes. If you're pleased with the service you receive, buy with confidence the next time around.

Getting Help for Prepaid Problems

The FTC reports the most common complaints about prepaid calling cards are poor call quality or connections, busy access numbers, personal id numbers (PINs) that don't work or unreasonable fees.

Your first step in solving any problem with your prepaid card should be a call to the card's customer service number. If that doesn't work, both the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  have resources to help, including filing an online complaint.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I bought prepaid calling cards online, but they don't work. If the issuer is in my state, can I sue it in small claims court?
  • Are there any current class action lawsuits related to the prepaid cards I bought?
  • Are phone service providers from other countries regulated by any US agencies?
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