prepaid cell phones

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catdude
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prepaid cell phones

Post by catdude » Thu May 12, 2011 6:12 pm

Hi Bogleheads -

I'm in the market for a low-cost prepaid cell phone. Consumer Cellular and TracPhone both look like good options. Have any of you had any experience with these companies? Are there any other providers that you can recommend. Any info you can provide would be much appreciated.

Thanks!
catdude | | The only thing between North Dakota and the North Pole is a barbed-wire fence.

tj218
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Post by tj218 » Thu May 12, 2011 6:21 pm

If you use cell phones sparingly then pre-paid is the way to go. A few years ago my wife was paying $45 /mo for her plan then we switched to Tracfone as she only used about 30 minutes each month. Her cell phone bill went from $540 a year to about $70 per year.

If you use the cell a lot, don't go pre-paid as your per-minute costs are higher than with a traditional plan. Also, from what I hear their customer support is terrible, but in 5 years we have only had to use it once, and had no issues.

DSInvestor
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Post by DSInvestor » Thu May 12, 2011 6:24 pm

I use T-Mobile and like their gold rewards status. I bought my phone for less than $30 and I bought a $100 card which gave me gold status. The minutes on the $100 card last for 1 yr but unused minutes will be renewed if I buy another refill card at any dollar value. If I have 900 minutes after 11 months, I can buy a $10 card and the 900 minutes will be good for another year.

http://www.t-mobile.com/promotions/gene ... oldRewards

Here's is a thread called "Which pre-paid cell phone is the cheapest for a low volume user?"
http://www.bogleheads.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=318556

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Sheepdog
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Post by Sheepdog » Thu May 12, 2011 6:48 pm

I seldom have the need to call someone when not at home. I do have a Tracfone for emergencies. I is low cost.
It's not what you gather, but what you scatter which tells what kind of life you have lived---Helen Walton

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ElJay
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Post by ElJay » Thu May 12, 2011 7:26 pm

I've been a customer of Tracfone for over a decade now, and currently they're my primary telephone provider. Everything works quite smoothly until you have a problem and have to deal with their tech support. All of my issues with them involve swapping phones. The first time I was forced to upgrade my phone when analog service was being retired. I lost my phone number in the process.

A few years after that I replaced my phone, and unknowingly ended up moving networks from AT&T to T-Mobile. (Tracfone doesn't operate their own cellular network.) While my number was ported fine and I could send and receive calls, voicemail was never set up for me on the T-Mobile network. To make a long story short, I recall spending an hour and a half on hold in a phone queue. After a few other aborted attempts at reaching their off-shore call center, I wrote a letter to Tracfone explicitly explaining my problem. Their response to my letter wasn't helpful since it pointed me at the same useless call center. Ultimately I ended up finding a number on the Fatwallet forums to a domestic call center for Tracfone. There I was finally able to reach a person who was actually able to identify and solve the problem.

If I were starting over fresh, I think I would go with T-Mobile's prepaid plans. In the year 2000 when I bought my phone, Tracfone was about the only player in prepaid cellular plans. I stay with them primarily because I doubt I'd be able to move my "rented" phone number to another provider.

rfburns
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Post by rfburns » Thu May 12, 2011 8:06 pm

+1 Tracfone. Service has never been a problem in the parts of the US I've traveled. $100 per year and I'm done. :)

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1210sda
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Post by 1210sda » Thu May 12, 2011 8:06 pm

El Jay,
Can you please provide us with the phone number you found for
Tracfone's domestic call center ?

Johnny
Early this year, I switched from Sprint to Tracfone. We are low users and were overpaying at Sprint.

At Tracfone, we signed up for the family value plan. The cost was $9.99 for me for 50 minutes per month, but with my phone, I get double minutes, so 100 minutes per month. My wife gets 40 minutes (doubled to 80 minutes) for $6.99 per month. After taxes and/or fees, we pay $17.60 per month for both of us. It gets billed to my charge account automatically each month. Also, unused minutes are rolled over. Porting my phone was not difficult, but it did take overnight.

I agree with El Jay, their call center area is not their best feature.

1210

crefwatch
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AT&T option

Post by crefwatch » Thu May 12, 2011 9:32 pm

AT&T does not have good ratings everywhere. But I have a similar prepaid plan with them that costs me about $100 a year-but it's $1.00 each day talk time is used and $0.10 per minute. It all depends on your use.

One reason I chose AT&T is that I then bought a used, heavy, "obsolete" HTC smartphone on ebay - after reading that that model could be made to work with AT&T prepaid. That's unusual. But the point is that I can buy DATA pay-as-you go. So I can see all the Subject lines of my email account for about $0.03 - no $1.00 day charge.

It takes restraint not to do much else, but it works for me. I have an Ipad to do the responding when I have time to hit a Starbucks.

As you can guess, I have an antenna on the roof, no cable at our house!

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JupiterJones
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Post by JupiterJones » Thu May 12, 2011 10:16 pm

I use Virgin Mobile, along with a smartphone. Works great. Unlimited texts, internet, etc., and 300 minutes of voice (which I never use up) for $25 a month.

I think they do have an unlimited voice plan that is still very competitive if you're a heavy voice user.

The main drawback is no roaming off their network.

JJ
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FrugalInvestor
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Post by FrugalInvestor » Thu May 12, 2011 10:18 pm

I moved to Page Plus through Kitty Wireless (an online dealer) a few months ago based on a recommendation here. It took a little bit to figure out the system, mostly because I wanted to do it at absolute minimum cost, but it has turned out to be a very good move for us.

We now buy an $80 PIN good for 2000 minutes (less a 50 cent per month service charge) and one year on my wife's phone. I use my phone only occasionally so pay $10 every 120 days. So $110 pays for a year's service for both of us. I purchased phones on eBay for about $30 each. The Verizon service is the best we've had (previously we've had AT&T and Sprint through Virgin Mobile).

Page Plus is pretty notorious for poor customer service but Kitty Wireless is outstanding so using them provides the best of both worlds, very low cost service and excellent customer service.
IGNORE the noise! | Our life is frittered away by detail... simplify, simplify. - Henry David Thoreau

ieee488
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Post by ieee488 » Fri May 13, 2011 8:29 am

DSInvestor wrote:I use T-Mobile and like their gold rewards status. I bought my phone for less than $30 and I bought a $100 card which gave me gold status. The minutes on the $100 card last for 1 yr but unused minutes will be renewed if I buy another refill card at any dollar value. If I have 900 minutes after 11 months, I can buy a $10 card and the 900 minutes will be good for another year.

http://www.t-mobile.com/promotions/gene ... oldRewards

Here's is a thread called "Which pre-paid cell phone is the cheapest for a low volume user?"
http://www.bogleheads.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=318556
+1

I also have T-mobile. The best pricing for low-volume prepaid.

I hope that the AT&T buyout doesn't go through. They'll screw up this great deal.

WorkToLive
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Post by WorkToLive » Fri May 13, 2011 8:44 am

I moved my husband to Page Plus. We have been very happy. It is rock-bottom in terms of cost. Thanks to above poster for referring me to Kitty Wireless!

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thriftynick
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Post by thriftynick » Fri May 13, 2011 8:51 am

+1 for Page Plus. The phone selection isn't great, but the prices and service are unbeatable. I used them until my work started providing me with a free cell phone. I recommended them to my Father-In-Law, who has happily used Page Plus for about a year and a half now.

Angst
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Post by Angst » Fri May 13, 2011 9:01 am

thriftynick wrote:+1 for Page Plus. The phone selection isn't great, but the prices and service are unbeatable. I used them until my work started providing me with a free cell phone. I recommended them to my Father-In-Law, who has happily used Page Plus for about a year and a half now.
Me too, +1.
And I don't have a 50cent monthly service charge which FrugalInvestor mentioned, but perhaps they are getting something extra that I'm not. I'm just straight minutes off the card. Very cost-effective.

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Abe
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Re: AT&T option

Post by Abe » Fri May 13, 2011 9:53 am

crefwatch wrote:AT&T does not have good ratings everywhere. But I have a similar prepaid plan with them that costs me about $100 a year-but it's $1.00 each day talk time is used and $0.10 per minute. It all depends on your use.

One reason I chose AT&T is that I then bought a used, heavy, "obsolete" HTC smartphone on ebay - after reading that that model could be made to work with AT&T prepaid. That's unusual. But the point is that I can buy DATA pay-as-you go. So I can see all the Subject lines of my email account for about $0.03 - no $1.00 day charge.

It takes restraint not to do much else, but it works for me. I have an Ipad to do the responding when I have time to hit a Starbucks.

As you can guess, I have an antenna on the roof, no cable at our house!
crefwatch:
AT&T now has a plan that is just .10c per minute. You don't have to pay the $1.00 per day anymore. I switched to it a couple of months ago. I think they call it: .10c per minute simple rate plan. All you have to do is call them and switch. Everything else stays the same. Abe

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FrugalInvestor
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Post by FrugalInvestor » Fri May 13, 2011 10:05 am

Angst wrote:
thriftynick wrote:+1 for Page Plus. The phone selection isn't great, but the prices and service are unbeatable. I used them until my work started providing me with a free cell phone. I recommended them to my Father-In-Law, who has happily used Page Plus for about a year and a half now.
Me too, +1.
And I don't have a 50cent monthly service charge which FrugalInvestor mentioned, but perhaps they are getting something extra that I'm not. I'm just straight minutes off the card. Very cost-effective.
thriftynick,

If you're buying minute cards (standard plan) you have the 50 cent per month charge and just don't realize it. The following quote is from the Page Plus website....
Usage Fees
Use typically begins when you place or answer a call, and continues until you end the call or it is otherwise terminated. The rate billed is in accordance with the airtime denomination purchased. There is also a monthly service fee of $0.50 that is deducted from your account on the 25th of every month. Any additional service features used will be billed according to the Services chart above.
Link to Page Plus Standard Plan page: http://www.pagepluscellular.com/Plans/S ... 0Plan.aspx
IGNORE the noise! | Our life is frittered away by detail... simplify, simplify. - Henry David Thoreau

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thriftynick
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Post by thriftynick » Fri May 13, 2011 10:12 am

Yes, I got the 50-cent monthly fee too. It's still a good deal.

Stonebr
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Post by Stonebr » Fri May 13, 2011 10:18 am

The wife and I both have used Tracfone for years -- $99 a year for each of us.

One bit of advice: whoever you go with, don't get the cheapest phone they sell. I did and it's nowhere near as good as my wife's Nokia. Sound quality, range, battery life are all better with the more expensive phones.
"have more than thou showest, | speak less than thou knowest" -- The Fool in King Lear

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fire5soon
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Post by fire5soon » Fri May 13, 2011 10:20 am

I've been using Straight Talk for about 3 weeks and have been very happy so far. Used Verizon for 8 yrs before that.

For $30/mth I get 1,000 minutes, 1,000 texts and 30mb of web usage. It's only been a couple of weeks but so far, so good. They do have a $45/mth plan with unlimited everything if you need more.
A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do. - Bob Dylan

ThinkingRunner
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Post by ThinkingRunner » Fri May 13, 2011 10:25 am

DSInvestor wrote:I use T-Mobile and like their gold rewards status. I bought my phone for less than $30 and I bought a $100 card which gave me gold status. The minutes on the $100 card last for 1 yr but unused minutes will be renewed if I buy another refill card at any dollar value. If I have 900 minutes after 11 months, I can buy a $10 card and the 900 minutes will be good for another year.

http://www.t-mobile.com/promotions/gene ... oldRewards

Here's is a thread called "Which pre-paid cell phone is the cheapest for a low volume user?"
http://www.bogleheads.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=318556
I'm in my first year of the T-Mobile $100/1000 minutes rate. It looks like I'll have about 600 minutes ($60) left at the end of the year of service, so I'll probably add the $10 card to roll my balance to $70 beginning the second year.

My question is: what per-minute rate will apply on the new dollar balance? The old $0.10/minute rate, or the new $0.28/minute rate based on the $10 card. Or is the balance simply measured in minutes, so I'll have 635 (600+35) minutes for the second year?
Last edited by ThinkingRunner on Fri May 13, 2011 10:29 am, edited 1 time in total.

retiredjg
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Re: prepaid cell phones

Post by retiredjg » Fri May 13, 2011 10:26 am

johnny wrote:Consumer Cellular and TracPhone both look like good options. Have any of you had any experience with these companies?
I've used Consumer Cellular for about 4 years. Phone was free. My plan is $20 a month ($25 with taxes) which works for me - I'm a low minute user. Never have any problems and the few times I've contacted customer service, they were excellent.

They have cheap good service, but I don't believe they have a pre-paid option which is what you seem to be looking for. Someday, I may switch to TracPhone, which really is pre-paid, for even lower costs.

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SamGamgee
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Post by SamGamgee » Fri May 13, 2011 10:28 am

My wife and I use Tmobile pay-as-you-go phones. Including taxes it comes out to $0.107 per minute & per text.

I've never had any problems with the service.

Chuck
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Post by Chuck » Fri May 13, 2011 10:30 am

thriftynick wrote:+1 for Page Plus. The phone selection isn't great, ...
Are you kidding? The selection is "any Verizon non-prepaid phone." Each of your friends probably has two or three leftover thanks to "new every 2."

Chuck
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Post by Chuck » Fri May 13, 2011 10:35 am

tj218 wrote:If you use cell phones sparingly then pre-paid is the way to go.
Also if you use them a lot. My wife uses 3000-4000 minutes per month on the Page Plus $45 unlimited plan.

Or if you use cell phones a medium amount, as they also have 1200 minutes per month for $30.

I honestly don't see an advantage to a typical contract plan anymore. Equipment subsidy is the only thing, but now you can even get brand new smart phones for under $100 without contract.

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FrugalInvestor
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Post by FrugalInvestor » Fri May 13, 2011 10:41 am

thriftynick wrote:Yes, I got the 50-cent monthly fee too. It's still a good deal.
No question...the best I could find for us.

By the way, as far as phone selection you aren't limited to PagePlus phones. but can use most CDMA phones. I use Verizon phones I've purchased on eBay because they are less expensive, I have a greater selection and I prefer the Verizon software. Here is a Kitty Wireless page explaining what works and what doesn't...

http://www.kittywireless.com/pageplus/howdoibegin.html
IGNORE the noise! | Our life is frittered away by detail... simplify, simplify. - Henry David Thoreau

BornInCA
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tracfone issues

Post by BornInCA » Fri May 13, 2011 11:42 am

I've been a customer of Tracfone for over a decade now, and currently they're my primary telephone provider. Everything works quite smoothly until you have a problem and have to deal with their tech support. All of my issues with them involve swapping phones. The first time I was forced to upgrade my phone when analog service was being retired. I lost my phone number in the process.

A few years after that I replaced my phone, and unknowingly ended up moving networks from AT&T to T-Mobile. (Tracfone doesn't operate their own cellular network.) While my number was ported fine and I could send and receive calls, voicemail was never set up for me on the T-Mobile network. To make a long story short, I recall spending an hour and a half on hold in a phone queue. After a few other aborted attempts at reaching their off-shore call center, I wrote a letter to Tracfone explicitly explaining my problem. Their response to my letter wasn't helpful since it pointed me at the same useless call center. Ultimately I ended up finding a number on the Fatwallet forums to a domestic call center for Tracfone. There I was finally able to reach a person who was actually able to identify and solve the problem.

If I were starting over fresh, I think I would go with T-Mobile's prepaid plans. In the year 2000 when I bought my phone, Tracfone was about the only player in prepaid cellular plans. I stay with them primarily because I doubt I'd be able to move my "rented" phone number to another provider.
I had the same experience as ElJay. I was on the verge of canning TracFone for nearly misusing/losing my phone number. If they had lost it, I would have canned them.

Tech Support number is 800-867-7183
Customer escalations /corporate office number is 800-876-5753.

Customer escalations was helpful is resolving the issue. Tech Support was NOT. Lesson for TracFone users: Never call tech support. Always call customer escalations during business hours.

Outside of that verge, TracFone is fine for me as long as:
1.) I don't use it as my one and only way to talk to people.
2.) I don't deal with tech support

When I'm home, I use MagicJack and Skype. I only use TracFone when I'm out and about. This way, I save tons of money.

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starboard
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Post by starboard » Fri May 13, 2011 2:13 pm

ThinkingRunner wrote:
DSInvestor wrote:I use T-Mobile and like their gold rewards status. I bought my phone for less than $30 and I bought a $100 card which gave me gold status. The minutes on the $100 card last for 1 yr but unused minutes will be renewed if I buy another refill card at any dollar value. If I have 900 minutes after 11 months, I can buy a $10 card and the 900 minutes will be good for another year.

http://www.t-mobile.com/promotions/gene ... oldRewards

Here's is a thread called "Which pre-paid cell phone is the cheapest for a low volume user?"
http://www.bogleheads.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=318556
I'm in my first year of the T-Mobile $100/1000 minutes rate. It looks like I'll have about 600 minutes ($60) left at the end of the year of service, so I'll probably add the $10 card to roll my balance to $70 beginning the second year.

My question is: what per-minute rate will apply on the new dollar balance? The old $0.10/minute rate, or the new $0.28/minute rate based on the $10 card. Or is the balance simply measured in minutes, so I'll have 635 (600+35) minutes for the second year?
I have been using T-Mobile prepaid for several years, and with carry over from one year to the next, I usually just buy a $25 "refill" at the end of each year.
It is hard to beat this cell phone deal for $25/year after start up costs.

Your balance is simply measured in minutes, so you start out with a cost basis of around 10 cents per minute, and that creeps up over time as you buy small "refills" at a higher rate per minute.

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linuxuser
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Post by linuxuser » Fri May 13, 2011 3:47 pm

Stonebr wrote:The wife and I both have used Tracfone for years -- $99 a year for each of us.
Tracfone's website confuses me.

The last time my mom was in the market, she looked at the major prepaid carriers. With most of them, you have to "renew" your minutes every 3 months, 4 months, 6 months which is why she went with T-mobile. You pay once every year.

Are you able to pay for the entire year upfront once and then forget it?

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catdude
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Post by catdude » Fri May 13, 2011 4:07 pm

Thank you all... lots of good feedback here and I appreciate it very much. Hopefully I'll have some time this weekend to go over this thread and decide on something. I think I'll just go online and order a phone and sign up for service.

My next project is getting a low-cost landline phone. I've got internet phone service (Ooma) and it's great, but I think I need to supplement it with a landline. But I'll start a separate thread on this topic -- stay tuned.

Thanks again!
catdude | | The only thing between North Dakota and the North Pole is a barbed-wire fence.

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linuxuser
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Post by linuxuser » Fri May 13, 2011 6:47 pm

linuxuser wrote:
Stonebr wrote:The wife and I both have used Tracfone for years -- $99 a year for each of us.
Tracfone's website confuses me.

The last time my mom was in the market, she looked at the major prepaid carriers. With most of them, you have to "renew" your minutes every 3 months, 4 months, 6 months which is why she went with T-mobile. You pay once every year.

Are you able to pay for the entire year upfront once and then forget it?
Answering my own question, I see now that it is $99.99/year but only 400 minutes versus $100/year for 1000 minutes with T-mobile.

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wander
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Post by wander » Fri May 13, 2011 7:26 pm

Page Plus has the best plan I've ever had.

esetter
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Post by esetter » Sat May 14, 2011 6:19 am

linuxuser wrote:
Answering my own question, I see now that it is $99.99/year but only 400 minutes versus $100/year for 1000 minutes with T-mobile.
Most tracfones have "double minutes for life", so you're getting 800 minutes for $100. Moreover, they often have 200 minute promo codes, so you end up with a 1,000 minutes. If you want, you can also extend your service for an additional year, by paying an additional $50, thereby reducing your cost to $75/year.

In fact, if you've accumulated enough unused minutes, you can buy a 30 minute/30 day card for $10 and then extend it for an additional year (i.e., 13 months total) for an additional $50. Now you're at $60 for 13 months of service.

Please note that the option to purchase the additional year comes a bit later in the on-line purchase sequence.

Redbelly
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Post by Redbelly » Sat May 14, 2011 8:49 am

I have a Virgin Mobile phone that runs on the Sprint network. I have $15 automatically put on it every 90 days from my credit card. Calls are 18 cents a minute and all credit carries forward indefinitely. I have had it for 4 years and have a $200 credit. needless to say, I use it rarely.

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jeffyscott
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Post by jeffyscott » Sat May 14, 2011 9:25 am

We are very limited users of our cell phones.

My wife has T-Mobile prepaid, which several have already commented on. She will be down to about $88 from her initial $100 after 1 year and will add $10 to get another year.

I have Boost mobile, I have to add $10 every 3 months so it is a little less convenient. They do offer some additional features, web access can be turned on for 35 cents per day and navigation for $10 for 30 days (or $4 for one day). Have not used those yet, but plan to try them when traveling this summer. I used only $6 of the $30 that I put on in the first 9 months, so since I have surplus funds in the account I'll be able to use these features for a limited time with no extra cost.

We had tracfone for many years, but decided to switch as T-Mobile or boost will end up costing us less.

My kids are in their 20s and two of them use tracfone. Since they do mostly texting this is a better deal for them, as tracfone charges only 0.3 units per text.
press on, regardless - John C. Bogle

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