Sunday, September 18, 2005

Tracfone: Stay in Touch for Less

No commitments, no contracts, no penalties, no high prices, no unlimited calling or texting...

Need a cell phone for the occasional call or text message? Only for emergencies? Want your child to be able to contact you from school at anytime? How about your non-techie parent who doesn't need a phone until their car breaks down?

Don't have a need for mega unlimited minutes or don't want to spend a fortune on a monthly phone plan? How about a plan for less than $8 a month that includes free long distance?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you need to look into a company called Tracfone.

How it works.

Tracfone is a "pre-paid" cell phone company. That means that you get a cellphone, and instead of paying some ridiculous monthly charge, you buy pre-paid phone cards (like those long distance phone cards) and pay only for the minutes that you use.

Most regular cellphone providers charge you over $30 per month, or $360 per year (plus all those bogus nickel and dime charges that they tack on), lock you in for a year or two, and penalize you $150-200 if you decide to cancel their service. To me, that's a scam.

Tracfone doesn't own their own cellphone network, but they buy and resell either Verizon or Cingular services (you don't get a choice, it depends on your area).

Less Money. More flexibility. No Commitments.

The great thing about prepaid cellphone plans is that you don't get "locked-in" for one or two years at some ridiculous high monthly rate plan. You only buy the minutes that you need. There's no unlimited free minutes but that's not what these phones are used for. If you need to yak with your friends, do it at home on your landline.

There are other prepaid plans offered by other companies, but they all require that you buy a new card every 60 days. If you forget to buy and activate a card, you lose all your existing minutes and your phone number. To me, that's a dealbreaker. Tracfone allows you to purchase a one year card which allows you to buy once a year and forget about having to renew your term and minutes every 60 days.

Not For Everyone

This is not a cellphone plan for anyone looking to yak for hours a day on the phone. These minutes cost anywhere from 10 cents to 25 cents per minute. There are limited free minutes, but you only pay for those minutes that you use. And when you buy a new prepaid minutes card, any unused minutes roll-over and you don't lose them.

Right now, if you buy a 1-year prepaid phone card for $100, you get a refurbished phone for free and you get 400 minutes. I have always used their refurbished phones and never had a problem with them. Many of the phones come with "Double Minutes" which basically automatically doubles any minutes you add to the phone. So if you purchase 60 minutes, you get 60 more minutes for free.

If you're frugal with your talking time on the phone, you can get by with the free minutes that you will get each year. Even if you talk more than usual, you could buy many more minutes and still spend less than the $400 that you would have to spend if you signed up under a standard cell phone plan.

Voicemail, call-waiting and Texting is also included, and uses standard Tracfone rates. Texting costs one-half a unit per message, which is comparable to most other standard cellphone plans.

Always a Coupon or Special Deal

There are always coupon codes and specials offered by Tracfone that give you double minutes, free minutes, free phones, etc., so you should never pay full price for anything Tracfone. Just do a search on some deal forum like FatWallet before you buy. You can search for the Official Thread for Tracfone Bonus codes.

Tracfone sells "units" rather than "minutes". They also sell two types of phones. One type of phone is on their "local" or national coverage plan, and the other is their "single-rate" plan. Depending on which phone you buy, they charge you either: one unit per minute and two units per minute if you are "roaming" out of your home area, or, one unit per minute for all calls no matter where you are.

If you travel out of state a lot, I'd get their "single-rate" phone (it's a GSM phone). You can get one for about $35. If not, just get the free refurbished phone with the one-year card.

Tracfone purchases their service from the major cellphone vendors such as AT&T or Verizon, so the coverage you receive is as good as what they offer.

One thing to keep in mind. Tracfone is cheap because they keep their overhead costs low. That means that customer service stinks. You can eventually get help, but it's not the greatest. But you shouldn't have to use their customer service much, if at all.

Need to get in touch with me?

Call me. On my land line. Those who know me know that I spend very little time on my cell phone. Unless it's an emergency or just a short question, I don't yak on a cellphone - especially if I'm driving. Don't get me started on the bozos who think they're paying attention when they (are trying to) drive while they're spewing on the cellphone.

Additionally, since a cellphone is a miniature microwave emitting device, I'm not too keen on frying my brain cells by exposing them to microwaves. Even someone with a little knowledge picked up from high school biology could tell you that living cells and genetic material don't like to get stimulated by microwave radiation.

So for those of you who only need a cell phone for emergencies and/or to occasionally keep in touch with your kids, spouse, or friends, a Tracfone prepaid phone fits the bill to a T.