What Is a TracFone?

by Aurelio Locsin

A TracFone is a colloquial term for a cell phone that uses the TracFone service. TracFone avoids the expensive long-term contracts of traditional cellular providers by offering a prepaid service. You only buy a set number of minutes when you need them. As you talk, the minutes are deducted from your account. You can then let the service run out with no penalty, or buy more minutes to continue service. Note all the terms and prices are accurate as of May, 2009.

Signing up

The most convenient way to sign up for TracFone service is through its website with your credit card. It's more economical to buy the packaged phone and airtime card, than buying each individually. For example, a reconditioned Motorola V170 phone plus a 60-minute card costs $19.99, which is the cost of just the card alone. Simply enter your ZIP code for a list of available packages.


Typical offerings include a $9.99 Motorola W175 with a color screen, hands-free speaker and 35 ringtones. At the high end is a $49.99 Samsung T301G, with all the features of the cheaper phone, plus Bluetooth technology, VGA camera and downloadable media. You can also buy TracFones at many retailers such as Target.


TracFone's prepaid service avoids expensive commitments to long-term contracts. Instead, you add airtime for a specified amount of airtime as needed. You can buy airtime cards at many retailers and add service by entering the card code into your phone. More conveniently, you can buy for prepaid airtime on the TracFone website by entering your phone's serial number and using a credit or debit card. After you've selected a block of minutes, the website automatically adds them to your phone. The number of minutes you have left appear on your screen. Note that as long as you renew service before the time expires, your unused minutes roll over to the next service period.


The lowest airtime card offers 60 minutes for 90 days of service. At $19.99, it costs the most per minute, at 34 cents. The most expensive "One Year, Double Minutes" card cost $124.99 but boasts 800 minutes for 365 days, or 16 cents a minute. Additionally, it doubles all minutes on any future card purchases. You can also buy a separate "Double Minutes For Life" card at $24.99, which doubles minutes on all future card purchases.


TracFone calls does not charge extra for international calls. In other words, long-distance calls to such countries as France, Mexico and Australia costs the same as calling your neighbor. For a complete list of the 60 free countries, see the TracFone website. In addition, its "International Neighbors" plan enables you to create three Mexican or Canadian local phone numbers. Residents of those countries can then call you for the price of a local call. You are also charged your regular rate. All these options are included for free in your service. TracFone does not offer international roaming; the phones only work within the United States.


About the Author

Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.

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Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Courtesy of Tracfone