It’s Your Money Column – Prepaid Phone Cards are Simple and Convenient

Question: I’m thinking about dropping my long-distance phone service altogether and purchasing a prepaid phone card. I know I’m in the dark ages, but how do they work?

Answer: Prepaid phone cards are amazingly simple to use and can be quite inexpensive. You can use these cards to make long-distance calls from home and work. Some cards work in pay phones.

Each phone card has a short series of steps to follow before your call goes through. The one I use starts with a toll-free number. Then I push 1 for English or 2 for Spanish, then I enter my 12-digit card number. Now I select either 1 for calling within the U.S. or Canada or 2 for calling other countries, and I’m ready to dial my number. Since the directions are written on the card, I don’t have to worry about remembering the sequence of steps.

When you buy your card, you will purchase a set amount of minutes for a fixed price. When you make a call, the number of minutes that you use will be deducted from your balance. If you make calls to foreign countries, you will be charged more for each minute you talk.

Some cards have a Personal Identification Number, or PIN, that you can scratch off to keep others from using your card. Other cards have the entire number on the card and could be used by anyone if you lose the card. After you enter your PIN or card number, you will hear a recording telling you how many minutes you have left on your card.

Cards can be purchased at grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, pharmacy chains and lots of other places including the Internet and discount shopping clubs. The price per minute on prepaid cards varies widely, so it pays to compare prices.

When you’re shopping, ask about in-state, state-to-state and international rates. You’ll also want to know about fees such as service and maintenance fees and connection charges. Ask if the card has an expiration date. Look for a card with a toll-free number that you can use if you have problems with calls.

Some cards are disposable and can be thrown away after the minutes are used. Other cards allow you to add new minutes by recharging.