Pay-As-You-Go Prepaid Wireless Plans

Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) is the classic prepaid wireless plan.  It's really the plan type that started it all!  Basically, you only pay for what you use, and you're only charged at the time you use it on a per minute basis.  It's simple, straightforward, and uncomplicated, and in the early days, only the per minute rate changed from provider to provider.  The rate used to be extremely high, in the $0.40 per minute range and even higher.  Pay As You Go was essentially only for what we now call "glove box users."  These are people who want a cell phone for emergencies or extremely brief conversations only.  In other words, you wouldn't walk around with your phone in your pocket or bag, but rather keep it in the glove box of your car.

While there are still people with this need, it's a much smaller part of the industry.  The price per minute has come down so much (as low as $0.05-$0.10 per minute) that it's entirely affordable to use a PAYG plan on a semi-regular basis.    Here are some common features of of Pay-As-You-Go plans to look out for:
  • The price per minute can change at different times of the day, usually a daytime and nighttime/weekends rate.  Look for the rate changing between 7-9pm and again at 7-8am.
  • Mobile-to-mobile may or may not be included or have a different rate.  Mobile-to-mobile is when you call a customer that's on the same network as you; ex. you're both on Verizon.  It sometimes includes only prepaid-to-prepaid, however, sometimes it also includes ANY customer on the carrier's network, including postpaid customers.  With virtually everyone having a cell phone now, this feature can mean huge cost savings, so definitely keep your eyes open for it.
  • Voicemail is typically charged as a regular call on pay as you go plans, however, sometimes it can be included.  If you use a lot of voicemail, you may want to pay special attention to this feature.
  • Some services are actually charged on a daily basis (if you opt-in), whether or not you use the particular feature.  This is definitely strange considering that it doesn't sound like pay per use, but it's quite common.  For example, you might be charged per day for wireless Web even if you don't use it.  Be sure to ask about these types of charges, and pay attention to what services you select when you activate your phone to ensure that you're not surprised later by these charges, as they can slowly eat away at your prepaid account balance!
  • One of the most important pieces to many of us is how long before your dollars (or minutes) expire.  Depending on the wireless provider, and the amount of money you add to your account, it may expire between 30-365 days.  Some carriers will give you a longer expiration date if you add more money.  For example, you might see offers for a 365 day expiration if you add $100 or more to your account.  This is extremely important to look out for, because you definitely don't want to lose money before you have a chance to use it, and a lot of companies don't send out reminders to let you know that your funds are about to expire.  Note that so long as you add money to your account before the funds are set to expire, your entire balance will carrier forward (i.e. you won't lose any money).

Overall, pay-as-you-go plans are a lot less common these days, however, they still have a use in the industry, and can come in handy, particularly if your prepaid carrier allows you to easily switch between plans.  For example, if you're on a Monthly Plan  or an Unlimited Wireless plan, but go out of the country for awhile, or get a free phone from a new job and don't need to use your personal phone as frequently, you could switch to a pay-as-you-go plan as needed.

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