What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

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catchinup
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What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by catchinup »

I'm researching about prepaid phone plans to try to save some money. Prepaid used to mean you paid money up front to put minutes on the phone and when the minutes ran out your phone died. It doesn't seem to have the same meaning nowadays because when I look at prepaid phone plans I see terminology like "unlimited talk and text." I'm confused. I'm on the Verizon network which costs me over $100/month for one phone to explain my motivation for researching different business models. I did see other threads in this forum about recommendations for prepaid plans, but I didn't see an explanation for the aspect that is confusing me outlined above.
sailaway
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by sailaway »

For some MVNOs, it means you buy in bulk. For example, Mint is cheapest if you buy a year at a time.
02nz
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by 02nz »

If you want to stay on Verizon, look into either Visible (Verizon subsidiary) or US Mobile. I highly recommend US Mobile for its excellent customer service, flexible plans, and priority data (if you have a 5G device; on Visible, the cheaper, non-priority plan can be painfully slow in highly populated areas). Their "Warp 5G" network is Verizon; "GSM 5G" is T-Mobile.
catchinup wrote: Wed Jul 03, 2024 9:23 pm Prepaid used to mean you paid money up front to put minutes on the phone and when the minutes ran out your phone died. It doesn't seem to have the same meaning nowadays because when I look at prepaid phone plans I see terminology like "unlimited talk and text." I'm confused.
There are still traditional prepaid plans where you have to buy credit $10 or whatever at a time, but most "prepaid" carriers or MVNOs operate on a model where you pay for a month, 3 months or even a year in advance. They are still "prepaid" since you pay for the service ahead of time, unlike "postpaid" plans with the carriers themselves.
PersonalFinanceJam
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by PersonalFinanceJam »

catchinup wrote: Wed Jul 03, 2024 9:23 pm I'm researching about prepaid phone plans to try to save some money. Prepaid used to mean you paid money up front to put minutes on the phone and when the minutes ran out your phone died. It doesn't seem to have the same meaning nowadays because when I look at prepaid phone plans I see terminology like "unlimited talk and text." I'm confused. I'm on the Verizon network which costs me over $100/month for one phone to explain my motivation for researching different business models. I did see other threads in this forum about recommendations for prepaid plans, but I didn't see an explanation for the aspect that is confusing me outlined above.
Essentially data (typically measured in gigabytes) has become the new minutes. Voice and traditional SMS is dirt cheap to operate on a modern mobile network. Voice is essentially just another class of data. On many mobile virtual operators (what people typically think of prepaid) once you run out of data for things like email and web browsing on your phone then your data is cut off until your next monthly cycle or you top up with more data so you can continue to do those things. There are plans with “unlimited” data but the speeds may be slower after a certain point or you may be put in a lower priority data lane if there is congestion on the network.

If you don’t need data on your phone then it should be ridiculously cheap, probably 100 dollars or less for the whole year, even with unlimited talk and text. Many of us, myself included, need the data far more than the minutes or texts these days.
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warner25
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by warner25 »

PersonalFinanceJam wrote: Wed Jul 03, 2024 9:47 pm If you don’t need data on your phone then it should be ridiculously cheap, probably 100 dollars or less for the whole year...
You can even get data now for well under $100 per year. I have a $60 annual plan from Red Pocket with 500 MB of data per month: https://www.redpocket.com/plans/annual

I find that to be easily sufficient for email, messaging apps, driving directions, and occasionally looking things up on the web when I'm on-the-go, in between Wi-Fi networks.
WhyNotUs
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by WhyNotUs »

Visible Plus is probably most like your current unlimited plan. It is $45 per month
https://www.visible.com/plans/plus
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catchinup
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by catchinup »

PersonalFinanceJam wrote: Wed Jul 03, 2024 9:47 pm
On many mobile virtual operators (what people typically think of prepaid) once you run out of data for things like email and web browsing on your phone then your data is cut off until your next monthly cycle or you top up with more data so you can continue to do those things.
So assuming I don't sign up for an unlimited plan, if I were to run out of data I'd be cut off vs charged some premium rate? (I'm thinking of how it used to work if I were roaming and making calls).
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catchinup
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by catchinup »

warner25 wrote: Wed Jul 03, 2024 10:18 pm
PersonalFinanceJam wrote: Wed Jul 03, 2024 9:47 pm If you don’t need data on your phone then it should be ridiculously cheap, probably 100 dollars or less for the whole year...
You can even get data now for well under $100 per year. I have a $60 annual plan from Red Pocket with 500 MB of data per month: https://www.redpocket.com/plans/annual

I find that to be easily sufficient for email, messaging apps, driving directions, and occasionally looking things up on the web when I'm on-the-go, in between Wi-Fi networks.
To figure out how much data I need, I should figure out my average usage from my Verizon bills, right?
bluebolt
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by bluebolt »

If I were you, I would switch to a prepaid unlimited plan for $25-$45/mo. Mint, Visible, USMobile and others have plans like this. Then you don't have to worry about how much data you use.
SchruteB&B
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by SchruteB&B »

Verizon itself offers a prepaid unlimited plan, starts at $60 per month and with auto pay and loyalty discount comes down to $40 per month.
https://www.verizon.com/plans/prepaid/
PersonalFinanceJam
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by PersonalFinanceJam »

catchinup wrote: Thu Jul 04, 2024 1:22 am
warner25 wrote: Wed Jul 03, 2024 10:18 pm
PersonalFinanceJam wrote: Wed Jul 03, 2024 9:47 pm If you don’t need data on your phone then it should be ridiculously cheap, probably 100 dollars or less for the whole year...
You can even get data now for well under $100 per year. I have a $60 annual plan from Red Pocket with 500 MB of data per month: https://www.redpocket.com/plans/annual

I find that to be easily sufficient for email, messaging apps, driving directions, and occasionally looking things up on the web when I'm on-the-go, in between Wi-Fi networks.
To figure out how much data I need, I should figure out my average usage from my Verizon bills, right?
Yes, you could do that assuming Verizon tells you that information. I came from ATT to U.S. Mobile on their warp (Verizon) network. When I left ATT was not very good at reporting this info. U.S. Mobile is very good about displaying that info. Your phone could also tell you but depending on the type of phone it may have to have its statistics reset in order for you to get a more accurate picture. Personally, if I were you and wanted to stay on the Verizon network then I'd port in to U.S. Mobile on their 30 day free trial. You get unlimited talk and text in the U.S. and 30GB of data to use in those 30 days. That's quite a bit unless you are watching a lot of video or social media away from wifi. You will also be able to make some determinations by watching your usage through their portal. Personally, even though I rarely use over 5GB of data a month, I still subscribe to their unlimited starter plan for $25/month all in. That's of course what they want me to do but I'm not one to try to optimize to the nth degree. I'm saving 70% over what I was paying ATT.

There are some subtleties here and lots of variations in plans based on features you desire such as priority data/hot spot/international calling & texting/international roaming. However, I find the MVNO carriers to be more straight forward in these things than even the direct pre-paid offerings from the carriers. The pre-paid offerings from the carriers always seem to be a slightly cheaper version from the same scummy company coming with activation fees and increasing taxes and other fees. YMMV of course.

To answer your other question, yes on the pay per gig plans once you run out of data then your data is cut off until you pay for more or you start a new monthly term. Like I said the MVNOs are pretty straight forward in these regards.
jm1495
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by jm1495 »

From a practical standpoint there isn’t any noticeable difference between prepaid and post paid. My single line AT&T unlimited plan is $55/month. It’s auto paid via credit card. The hardest issue was transferring my number from postpaid to prepaid. It took a couple of hours on the phone.
bugleheadd
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by bugleheadd »

I've been on mint mobile for about 7 years now. I pay for the $15 a month plan (about $18 after taxes and fees) for 5gb 5G data and unlimited calls texts. I prepay for the year
biscuit5
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by biscuit5 »

catchinup wrote: Thu Jul 04, 2024 1:20 am So assuming I don't sign up for an unlimited plan, if I were to run out of data I'd be cut off vs charged some premium rate? (I'm thinking of how it used to work if I were roaming and making calls).
on Verizon they throttle your speed down when you run out of your 'data' (my experience). The throttle down is like 2G, think - going to dialup. Slow.

How much data do you use per month? that is a key question to guide any choice made.

On most phones there's a way to track your data usage per month.
zlandar
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by zlandar »

"Unlimited" usually means:

1. No limit on domestic phone calls
2. No limit on number of texts. If there is data in the text (i.e. you text a picture or video) the amount of data is deducted from your data allotment
3. Monthly data limit. This varies from 23 GB to 50 GB+ per month. You need to read the fine print. Once you exceed that allotment your will data speed will be heavily throttled. If you try to browse the internet while throttled it's going to be a terrible experience. Forget about watching video.

Prepaid just means you pay ahead of time for your monthly service. You don't have to worry about roaming charges or other surprise add-on fees. No contract however several MNVOs are rolling out annual prepaid plans where you get a discount.

Your phone must be unlocked if you bought it from the carrier to transfer to a prepaid service.

Phone carriers have 2-3 different priority levels based on your monthly plan. If you are in a heavily congested area and are lower priority you may have poor/no data service. MNVOs are the same. You will see some advertised "prioritized data" with a specific plan.

$100/month is a lot for one phone unless you bought your phone from VZN and are paying it off over 24-30 months.
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warner25
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by warner25 »

PersonalFinanceJam wrote: Thu Jul 04, 2024 7:32 am
catchinup wrote: Thu Jul 04, 2024 1:22 am To figure out how much data I need, I should figure out my average usage from my Verizon bills, right?
...assuming Verizon tells you that information... ATT was not very good at reporting this info... Your phone could also tell you but depending on the type of phone it may have to have its statistics reset in order for you to get a more accurate picture...
Yeah, I suspect that Verizon and the other big carriers don't want customers to know how much data they're really using, let alone how much they really need. They've succeeded in convincing most middle-class people to just buy the most expensive unlimited plans. (Also see ISPs who officially recommend their most expensive 1 Gbps plans to everyone who watches Netflix, when Netflix itself says that you only need 3-15 Mbps, and you can confirm this by looking at throughput on your router: https://help.netflix.com/en/node/306)

Android will show you the amount of cellular data you've used, per app, in any 30 day period for the past few months. I do mostly rely on that, and then I'll crosscheck it sometimes with the ground truth on my Red Pocket account. The thing that needs to be "reset" is the starting date for the cycle.

The usage per app is really key. Essentials like Gmail, Messenger, Outlook, Teams, Google Voice, and Google Maps use surprisingly little data. Modern web pages in the browser, on the other hand, can use shocking amounts of data, even if they aren't showing video, so browsing the web for entertainment is really incompatible with a lightweight cellular data plan (reading Bogleheads is fine - this page is 340 KB, and only 110 KB with cached content after the first load - but some websites serve tens of MB per page).
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Supergrover
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by Supergrover »

On Android phones, you can see how much data you’ve used Settings/Connections/Data Usage.
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catchinup
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by catchinup »

Supergrover wrote: Thu Jul 04, 2024 11:22 am On Android phones, you can see how much data you’ve used Settings/Connections/Data Usage.
Yes, I checked and the counter seems to be synchronized with my Verizon bill cycle. For example, the current cycle ends on July 11 and so far I've used just under 5GB. I'm not in the habit of checking though so I am not sure if this is typical, although it likely is.

CORRECTION: I found that I can actually look at the historical usage. I wasn't looking in the right place before. So in the past 6 months I have never gone over 5 gigabytes.
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catchinup
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by catchinup »

Thanks for all the helpful responses. I'm seriously considering the US Mobile Mobile company and I would like option to stay on the Verizon network.

My remaining concerns:

1. I'm assuming these prepaid plans don't offer insurance. I pay $10 a month for insurance on my phone. I carry this insurance because my phones have been lost or stolen in the past. I guess I need to take on the risk.

2. I currently have a Google pixel pro 6 phone and it is fully paid but I purchased it through Verizon so I guess it would need to be unlocked if I were to change to US Mobile.

3. Is there any risk of losing my phone number either when I transfer from Verizon to US Mobile or if I leave US Mobile and go to a different provider. I really want to make sure I never lose my phone number.

I could also ask these questions of the US Mobile salesperson, but I feel more comfortable getting advice from the Bogleheads!
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by zlandar »

I've been on USM for a year (switched from Visible) and I have no complaints.

1. No insurance.
2. You need to make sure your phone is unlocked. Otherwise it will mess up any attempted transfer.
3. The risk is minimal but not zero. I've done several ports to different providers and it's never happened. The worst thing that's happened is a delayed transfer that lasted 2-3 days. Most of the transfers occurred within 4-6 hours.
4. Get your VZN account number and PIN. Have your phone IMEI. Make sure it's accurate. Providing inaccurate info will delay/mess up any transfer.

Someone on Reddit summarized the current USM plan offers:

https://www.reddit.com/r/USMobile/comme ... are_button

The one recent change that has caused controversy is that streaming video has been defaulted to 480p resolution. The change doesn't bother me but has some users up in arms.
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telemark
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by telemark »

warner25 wrote: Thu Jul 04, 2024 10:33 am The usage per app is really key. Essentials like Gmail, Messenger, Outlook, Teams, Google Voice, and Google Maps use surprisingly little data. Modern web pages in the browser, on the other hand, can use shocking amounts of data, even if they aren't showing video, so browsing the web for entertainment is really incompatible with a lightweight cellular data plan (reading Bogleheads is fine - this page is 340 KB, and only 110 KB with cached content after the first load - but some websites serve tens of MB per page).
Yeah, so much, um, stuff. Probably an updated version of Parkinson's Law. Using a browser with ad blocking can cut down on some of the bloat.
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by backpacker61 »

I'm using Tracfone; for 365 days it is about $125. Only 1.5G, though.
I pretty much exclusively use data through my home's WiFi, or using an airport's WiFi. I manually keep the data connection turned "off", except thru WiFi.
I also don't talk on a telephone very often.

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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by 48ANGUS05 »

catchinup wrote: Wed Jul 03, 2024 9:23 pm I'm researching about prepaid phone plans to try to save some money. Prepaid used to mean you paid money up front to put minutes on the phone and when the minutes ran out your phone died. It doesn't seem to have the same meaning nowadays because when I look at prepaid phone plans I see terminology like "unlimited talk and text." I'm confused. I'm on the Verizon network which costs me over $100/month for one phone to explain my motivation for researching different business models. I did see other threads in this forum about recommendations for prepaid plans, but I didn't see an explanation for the aspect that is confusing me outlined above.
We have 2 Android phones with Tracfone. The newest is a Samsung Galaxy A14 5G which works great. We purchase annual plans, around $100 for a year of airtime (plus tax) and 400 minutes (not much I know!). Additional minutes and data can be purchased whenever and in various amounts. Tracfone is now part of Verizon, so you'd still have that network.
MathWizard
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by MathWizard »

Prepaid included a time limit as well.

My wife's unlimited (talk/text) TracFone plan costs $200 for a year of service which includes
24GB of data. Minutes rollover if you keep service active.

If you don't renew by the time the year is up, the phone stops working. If you go over the amount of data, data (but not talk/text) stops working until you top it up with another prepaid card.
PersonalFinanceJam
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by PersonalFinanceJam »

catchinup wrote: Thu Jul 04, 2024 12:38 pm Thanks for all the helpful responses. I'm seriously considering the US Mobile Mobile company and I would like option to stay on the Verizon network.

My remaining concerns:

1. I'm assuming these prepaid plans don't offer insurance. I pay $10 a month for insurance on my phone. I carry this insurance because my phones have been lost or stolen in the past. I guess I need to take on the risk.

2. I currently have a Google pixel pro 6 phone and it is fully paid but I purchased it through Verizon so I guess it would need to be unlocked if I were to change to US Mobile.

3. Is there any risk of losing my phone number either when I transfer from Verizon to US Mobile or if I leave US Mobile and go to a different provider. I really want to make sure I never lose my phone number.

I could also ask these questions of the US Mobile salesperson, but I feel more comfortable getting advice from the Bogleheads!
You can probably get insurance through your existing home owners or renters insurance with a policy add on. If nothing else, a company like progressive will write a stand alone policy for about what you were paying.

As was stated you should get your phone unlocked. If it’s paid off this should not be a problem through Verizon.

You should not lose your number but there is a very small non zero chance something goes terribly wrong and the number gets lost. In general this should not happen. You can do your part for a smooth transition by making sure you have your info needed to port. This includes your Verizon account number and obtaining a transfer pin from Verizon. In general making sure you have these items is the minimum you need and methods for getting the transfer pin vary by carrier. A good idea when signing up for new service is to make sure your name and address match that of the old account as well. Occasionally things get stuck so if you port and haven’t gotten your number over to the new carrier in a couple hours then feel free to reach out to the new providers customer service to see what’s going on.

The nice thing about most of the MVNO providers and US Mobile in particular is there are no stores with sales people trying to upsell you on things you don’t need.
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by bluebolt »

PersonalFinanceJam wrote: Thu Jul 04, 2024 4:31 pm You should not lose your number but there is a very small non zero chance something goes terribly wrong and the number gets lost. In general this should not happen. You can do your part for a smooth transition by making sure you have your info needed to port. This includes your Verizon account number and obtaining a transfer pin from Verizon. In general making sure you have these items is the minimum you need and methods for getting the transfer pin vary by carrier. A good idea when signing up for new service is to make sure your name and address match that of the old account as well. Occasionally things get stuck so if you port and haven’t gotten your number over to the new carrier in a couple hours then feel free to reach out to the new providers customer service to see what’s going on.
And, to be explicit - do NOT cancel your Verizon service. The port out to your new provider will automatically cancel it. If you cancel your Verizon account prior to porting, you may lose your number.
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catchinup
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by catchinup »

bluebolt wrote: Thu Jul 04, 2024 7:16 pm
And, to be explicit - do NOT cancel your Verizon service. The port out to your new provider will automatically cancel it. If you cancel your Verizon account prior to porting, you may lose your number.
Great advice.
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catchinup
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by catchinup »

WhyNotUs wrote: Wed Jul 03, 2024 10:22 pm Visible Plus is probably most like your current unlimited plan. It is $45 per month
https://www.visible.com/plans/plus

Visible Plus says:
*Unlimited premium data on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, our fastest 5G.⁴
*50 GB/mo of premium data on Verizon’s 5G & 4G LTE networks.⁵

Whereas Visible says:
*Unlimited premium data on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, our fastest 5G.⁴

So it sounds like I wouldn't have the data coverage driving around in my car if I'm not on the 5G Network. Does that seem accurate?

I notice when I'm driving around in Los Angeles that I am frequently not on the 5G Network. Maybe things have improved but at least that's what I used to notice quite frequently. So if that's the case, does it mean that unless I get the visible plus plan I would lose data connection unless I'm on the 5G Network?
WhyNotUs
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by WhyNotUs »

catchinup wrote: Fri Jul 05, 2024 3:13 pm So if that's the case, does it mean that unless I get the visible plus plan I would lose data connection unless I'm on the 5G Network?
No, but it will not be 5G, next level available.
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Supergrover
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Re: What's the definition of a "prepaid" phone plan?

Post by Supergrover »

catchinup wrote: Fri Jul 05, 2024 12:52 pm
bluebolt wrote: Thu Jul 04, 2024 7:16 pm
And, to be explicit - do NOT cancel your Verizon service. The port out to your new provider will automatically cancel it. If you cancel your Verizon account prior to porting, you may lose your number.
Great advice.
And it will take 4 hours to straighten out. Never use the word cancel to anyone. Say porting or transferring.
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