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What are Pre-Paid Phone Cards?

Deborah Ng
Deborah Ng

Pre-paid phone cards are telephone minutes purchased in advance. Each phone card lists a toll-free number and is imprinted with an access code or PIN number. The dialer will call the toll-free number and enter the access number before making the intended phone call. After the number is dialed, the prepaid countdown begins. Since calls are directed from the toll-free phone number listed on the phone card, the long distance provider of the phone in use is bypassed.

The majority of people who purchase pre-paid phone cards do so because they want to lower their home phone bill or avoid collect calls or high cell phone charges. Most pre-paid phone cards come in increments of five, ten or twenty five dollars. This can buy anywhere from thirty minutes to ten hours depending on the company.

Pre-paid phone cards may be bought at post offices.
Pre-paid phone cards may be bought at post offices.

Pre-paid phone cards can be purchased almost anywhere. Post offices, supermarkets, electronic stores and discount marts are just a few of the places where pre-paid phone cards can be found for sale. Phone cards can also be purchased over the Internet or through mail order catalogs, television commercials and even the local newspaper. Be careful though; just because the minutes on phone cards are pre-paid doesn't mean they're a bargain. Shop around before purchasing to see which phone card gives you the most minutes for your money.

People can pre-purchase phone minutes.
People can pre-purchase phone minutes.

Just because you bought a ten dollar phone card doesn't mean you have ten dollars worth of minutes. Be aware of phone card surcharges and maintenance fees. As soon as your phone card is activated, it might be subjected to service fees, taxes and connection charges. If you use a pay phone, you can expect an additional surcharge. Always check the packaging on your phone card and make note of any fees and surcharges. You'll also want to check to make sure there's no expiration date. If there is, you'll have to use the phone card before that date or lose your money.

Phone cards are convenient for college students and those who do a lot of traveling. Thanks to phone cards, collect calls can now be a thing of the past. A call made with a phone card won't appear on your phone bill, so you can make discreet phone calls from your home or office without the number appearing on the bill. You'll also be able to avoid the high rates that come with making phone calls from a hotel room.

In most cases, you can't go wrong with pre-paid phone cards. Having a couple in case of emergency is never a bad thing.

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Discussion Comments


@golf07 - I was wondering the same thing. My parents bought me pre-paid phone cards when I was in college, so it was cheaper for me to call home.

Now that my kids are in college, they just use their cell phone. There have also been a lot of changes to home phone plans for people who still have a land line phone at home.

My friends still have a land line phone but they have a plan through their cell phone company and have unlimited minutes on their home phone.

I imagine there are still situations where a pre-paid phone card might come in handy, but they probably aren't used nearly as often as they used to be.


Do people still use calling phone cards very often anymore?

I would think with the use of cell phones, there wouldn't be much of a reason to use a pre-paid phone card.

Most cell phone plans have free minutes on nights and weekends, and you can receive service just about anywhere you are.

I used these phone cards years ago when I was traveling so I wouldn't have to make a collect call. Now I just use my cell phone and haven't used a phone card in years.


When I was shopping around for an international phone card, I was surprised at the range of pricing.

It really does pay to shop around when you are looking to buy a pre-paid phone card. I would also look very closely at the fine print, and make sure you understand the conditions.

Most all of them have some type of connection charges, but with some of the plans, you can use up most of your minutes without ever doing much actual talking.

When my daughter was living in another country for awhile, we found that using a pre-paid phone card was the cheapest way to stay in contact with her.


Our family takes a trip to the mountains every year. We are in an area that does not have any cell phone reception so I always make sure I have a long distance phone card with me.

The place where we camp has two pay phones on the grounds where you can make phone calls. It is so rare to see a pay phone anymore, and it feels so strange to be connected to this phone by a cable.

When I need to call someone back home and touch base, I use my pre-paid phone card and go through the process of punching in all the required numbers.

This is the only reason I buy a pre-paid phone card. I always try to buy one that doesn't have an expiration date so I can use it every year until I run out of minutes.

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    • Pre-paid phone cards may be bought at post offices.
      By: chrisdorney
      Pre-paid phone cards may be bought at post offices.
    • People can pre-purchase phone minutes.
      By: auremar
      People can pre-purchase phone minutes.