Prepaid calling card tips and advice
Prepaid phone cards were first introduced in Italy in 1976 in an effort to reduce pay phone vandalism. It wasn't until 1992 that prepaid phone cards were introduced to the United States. After a slow start, and with little mass marketing, prepaid phone card use has skyrocketed in recent years.By 2002, sales of prepaid calling cards were approaching $4 billion, almost twice the amount sold 5 years earlier, according to the Atlantic-ACM research firm.
What has spurred this rapid growth? Prepaid phone cards offer consumers ultra-convenience and, more and more, extremely low rates.
Prepaid phone cards are particularly popular with students, travelers and people serving in the military.
Students can call home at lower rates than those available by dialing direct while enjoying the added benefit of not having their long distance charges appearing on their roommates' phone bills.
Savvy travelers often use prepaid phone cards in order to avoid high hotel surcharges. Other travelers use prepaid cards for use in "dead zones" where cell phones can't be used.
Prepaid phone cards are usually sold in dollar amounts - $5, $10 and $20 being the most popular denominations.
To use a calling card, you dial a toll free access number then enter a PIN (personal identification number). An automated voice tells you to enter the telephone number that you want to call and informs you how much time is left on your card.
Most phone cards have expiration dates, Click4Prepaid being one notable exception.
Read the small print carefully as you shop for a prepaid phone card. Many people think they've found a really cheap phone card only to get burned by hidden fees.
|Ultra low-rate phone cards typically tack on hefty connection fees of 20¢ or more. And some phone cards charge this fee even if the call is never answered on the other end.
|Minimum call length
|What is the minimum charge for a call? If you leave a 20 second voicemail, will you be charged for one minute, three minutes, five minutes?
|Service or "maintenance" charges
|Monthly (with some cards, it's weekly) service charges can drain your phone card balance. Watch out for these fees.
|Some phone cards expire quickly after purchase or first use, stealing whatever unused money you have left.
|Does the phone card round calls up to the next three or five minute billing increment? This can make short calls very expensive. A 30-second call could be charged as a five-minute call!
|Pay phone fees
|Virtually all phone cards will charge you a fee if you make a call from a pay phone. This fee goes to the owner of the pay phone and is an FCC-regulated charge. Fees much higher than 50¢ mean that the phone card company is making extra money at your expense.
|Surcharges and taxes
|Watch out for other surcharges, taxes and fees.