Prepaid phone carriers are an alternative to traditional cell phone providers. These providers let you skip all the hassles of signing up for a new plan and going through a credit check. You usually do not need to hand over your social security number or even show proof of your identity. All you need is the cash to buy a phone and pay for the first month of service as well as the activation fee. Some companies even offer payment plans that let you make low monthly payments on a more expensive phone. Before you change carriers or sign up for a plan, you should ask four basic questions.
1- What Does the Coverage Look Like?
The absolute first question you want to ask is what the coverage or network looks like. As you watch television and surf the web, you’ll come across commercials from the top providers that talk about how their networks cover more areas or how they have more towers than their competitors do. Coverage may not seem important if you live and work in the same area and rarely travel, but you should still look at a coverage map. That map may show dead spots where there is no service available in a major city. When picking a prepaid carrier attached to a major carrier, you should ask if your new network has access to the same towers as those on the major carrier’s network.
2- What Comes with Your Plan?
Though it may seem hard to believe, there are still come prepaid carriers that do not offer coverage for everything for one price. When you sign up for a phone, you should always ask what features come with your plan and what happens if you use something not on your plan or go over your limits. Many carriers let you send an unlimited number of text messages and photo messages each month and let you talk as long as you would like. Some companies though limit you to a certain number of messages or a certain number of minutes. If you go over that amount, you’ll face penalties and fees on your next bill. Most prepaid carriers limit the amount of data that you can use in a month and will throttle your data when you reach this limit, which significantly slows down your web speed.
3- What Happens if You Cannot Pay Your Bill on Time?
When you sign up for a standard cell phone plan, you need to pass a credit check. If you do not have a high credit score, the company may ask for a large deposit before letting you take home a phone. These companies will often let you keep using your phone for a few days after your payment is due because it knows that you will eventually pay. Some companies lock you into a network too that requires you pay the total cost of the months left in your plan if you try to leave. Prepaid carriers have no guarantee that you will pay your bill in the future because many people only use these carriers for a few months at a time. When you skip paying your bill, the company can shut off your phone and prevent you from using the internet, making calls or sending text messages. The company may charge a late fee or require that you pay a new activation fee based on how long it takes for you to pay that bill.
4- What if You Want to Change Your Number or Phone?
Make sure that you ask about what happens if you want to change phones or change your number too. You may want to use an old phone because you broke your new phone and cannot afford a new one, but you may want to upgrade to a new phone that just came out. Prepaid carriers may charge you a new activation fee before you can use your new phone. The company can also charge a service fee for simply changing over your phone number.
Prepaid carriers offer phone plans that are significantly cheaper than those available from traditional carriers. Before signing up though, you’ll want to ask questions about the plan, coverage, bills and future changes you may want to make.