Planning a trip or making a move and need to call long distance? Wondering if a prepaid phone card is a good choice for you?

We asked the Federal Trade Commission to help us understand how prepaid phone cards work.

We Know: 8 Tips for Buying a Prepaid Phone Card

What’s a prepaid phone card?

When you buy a prepaid phone card, you are buying local or long distance telephone time in advance. These cards can be bought over the internet, at the grocery store, the post office and retail and convenience stores.

What are the advantages of a prepaid phone card?

Convenience. Prepaid cards are great for travelers, students, people who call long distance or overseas regularly, and people who do not have long distance service.

How do prepaid phone cards work?

Generally, when you buy a prepaid phone card, you’re given a card with a toll-free telephone number and a personal identification number (PIN). You call the toll free number, where you are prompted to enter your PIN number. After you enter the PIN number, you are prompted to enter the number you want to reach.

Each time you call, the computer which handles your call tells you how many minutes you have remaining on your card, so you know how long you can talk. Many phone cards can be recharged by calling the toll free number and giving a credit card number that can be billed for the purchase of additional minutes.

How do I get the best deal on a prepaid phone card?

You can shop smart with these simple tips:

  1. Getting a card and phone carrier that works well, is inexpensive and is reliable is important. Ask friends and family for recommendations for cards they use.
  2. Compare per minute rates on the package and look for the lowest rate for the place you call most.
  3. Look for disclosures about any additional charges when you make a call, such as surcharges, access or connect fees. These can add up if you make many short calls.
  4. Find out if there is a minimum charge, such as three minutes, even if you only talk a few seconds. These, too, can eat away at your time and make the card more expensive.
  5. Make sure the card comes in a sealed envelope with a sticker covering the PIN number.
  6. Look for an expiration date. Some cards have one, other do not.
  7. Try to find out about service. Buy an inexpensive card and see if you like the service you get. Look for a toll-free customer service number. If there isn't one, you may not have much recourse if the card doesn't work well.
  8. Ask if the retailer where you're buying the card will stand behind the card if the service is poor.

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