List of Prepaid Cell Phone Companies
By Chris Blank
Updated September 15, 2017
In the 21st century, prepaid cell phone options have multiplied. The leading prepaid cell phone plans with nationwide coverage include an array of phone models, payment plans and extras that were once limited to postpaid cell phone customers. However, nearly all prepaid plans have higher per-minute rates than postpaid plans, and most prepaid phones have limited or no international roaming available.
AT&T Go Phone
The AT&T GoPhone offers two plans: a pay-per-minute plan and a monthly billed plan. The pay-per-minute plan can be replenished by purchasing refill cards online or by phone with an access fee on days when the phone is used. The monthly plan is replenished by automatic withdrawals from the user's credit or debit card or checking account and allows users to make international calls from the United States. Both plans have nationwide long distance, text messaging, data plan options and downloads. Unused minutes roll over to the following month with both GoPhone plans. Subscribers are also able to roam internationally in Mexico with both plans. Many GoPhone models are available at discounted prices, although many of the phones are older or refurbished models.
T-Mobile Prepaid Plans
T-Mobile offers two prepaid options: Pay By the Day and Pay As You Go. The FlexPay option allows users to access monthly plans on a prepaid basis. Users may replenish their accounts or someone else's account with a prepaid card online with a credit or debit card, a checking account or through a special FlexPay account. Users on the Pay As You Go option automatically reach Gold status with a 15 percent discount on future minute replenishments whenever they spend $100 total on their accounts. The Sidekick package includes unlimited domestic email, browsing, texting and instant messaging (IMs) for for a low daily access fee, with voice calls billed at a flat rate per minute, and is aimed at teens. Users for all plans may make domestic long distance calls at no charge, with international calls from the United States also available. Users on the Pay as You Go, Pay by the Day and FlexPay plans can also use their phones in Canada or Mexico. T-Mobile offers discounts on the phones it makes available to prepay customers, which is a rarity. The exception is the Sidekick, which is only available at full retail price.
Tracfone offers annual plans, monthly plans and pay as you go plans, all with no contracts, deposits or credit checks. Tracfone uses the networks of a number of wireless carriers to provide nationwide service and bills its customers in minutes, not dollars. Replenishment is by cash, check or credit and debit cards at retail outlets and by credit or debit card online or by phone. Users may make unlimited domestic long distance calls and send and receive text messages. However, international calls must be made through the Tracfone International Long Distance (ILD) plan that necessitates dialing an 800 number to gain access to the international network. Domestic roaming is allowed at no extra charge, but there is no international roaming outside the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Available phones vary by location. Selection is limited, but the site features a link to the Net10 website with more phones available.
Verizon Wireless offers its prepay customers four levels of service. Basic service has no daily access fee and a flat fee per call; the other plans have varying access fees which apply on the days the phone is used. Users have several replenishment options: prepaid cards, paying cash at an authorized outlet, by phone or online with a debit or credit card or by auto-pay on a specified day each month or whenever the prepaid balance reaches a certain amount. Verizon prepay customers have access to a wide variety of multimedia services, including VCast Music with Rhapsody, video messaging and online web browsing. Domestic and long distance outgoing calls are available nationwide. Domestic roaming is also allowed with a surcharge, as well as international roaming to Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and Bermuda. Verizon offers a wide variety of phones, most of which have an initial airtime bonus included.
Chris Blank is an independent writer and research consultant with more than 20 years' experience. Blank specializes in social policy analysis, current events, popular culture and travel. His work has appeared both online and in print publications. He holds a Master of Arts in sociology and a Juris Doctor.