Tracfone is considered a “pay as you go” cell phone service. The prepaid provider operates in the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. It operates under multiple brands that also include NET10 Wireless and Straight Talk.
Tracfone is considered an MVNO which stands for mobile virtual network operator. It’s rates are cheaper because Tracfone is technically not its own network. Instead, Tracfone holds agreements with the major wireless networks including Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Sprint Corporation. Tracfone connects with these networks when in service, and has over 25 million subscribers as of 2015.
Tracfone is a terrific prepaid option for those that don’t use their cellphone frequently. The purpose of the service is to provide a wireless phone and text option for those that would like something in the event of an emergency or otherwise limited talking, and don’t want to spend $60 or more from one of the major carriers.
The setup is actually quite straightforward. You shop for a phone (either online through Tracfone.com) or at retailers that have a contract with Tracfone which include super stores like Walmart.
In the past, Tracfone was considered kind of not hip because most of their phone options were dated flip phones or lackluster, cheap smartphones. However, Tracfone has vastly improved in this area as you can now purchase iPhones and other premier smartphones.
The biggest knock with Tracfone is you pay for the entire price of the phone outright. There is no monthly payment or lease option with their phones. So, for example, with a Samsung Galaxy you are paying the $250 outright for the phone.
However, most people that use Tracfone don’t need one of the hottest new phones, and can save a ton of money as many Tracfones are $100 or less.
After you purchase a phone you buy a prepaid card. The one time purchase ranges from $15 to $118 (more on rates, below) with a specified number of minutes. There is no subscription, as you simply purchase more minutes when you run out or the prepaid card expires.
As previously mentioned, Tracphone has no subscription which makes it another popular reason people that rarely or infrequently use a cellphone enroll with the service.
After you buy a phone you add minutes. The cheapest option, priced at $15 provides 200 minutes. When you make or receive a call, minutes are deducted after the call is completed. A fraction of a minute is deducted every time you send or receive a text. Minutes can also be used on data, such as to check an email but using data will eat up minutes quickly.
Higher priced prepaid cards that range from $20 to $50 will get you anywhere from 300 to 750 minutes. It all depends on how many minutes you need, there is no requirement. However, it should be noted that your minutes have an expiration date, usually 90 days. After 90 days, you need to buy another prepaid card or the number will go out of service.
As a result, a good suggestion is to buy a prepaid card with fewer minutes. If you need more minutes before the expiration date, you can always buy another card. Just know that you will need to buy prepaid minutes every 90 days or the number will go out of service. So, in a way Tracfone is a subscription service though no cancellation fees apply for leaving a contract early.
Tracfone is probably the best option on the market if you do not use a cellphone all that frequently, especially if having data is not a priority. Unlike MetroPCS which is obligated to T-Mobile’s network and Cricket Wireless, which uses AT&T — Tracfone is not contracted to any single provider. It will connect to AT&T and T-Mobile, as well as Verizon, U.S. Cellular and Sprint. The result is better coverage and performance.
If you like your data than Tracfone is not the plan for you. Using data will blow through your minutes in no time flat, so you are better off going with a no-contract yet monthly subscription service like MetroPCS or Straight Talk.
Even though Tracfone wants you to believe that they are a no-holds cellular provider, the truth is they still require you to purchase additional minutes every 90 days even if you don’t need them in order to keep your number in service.
Tracfone is appropriate for some, and a poor option for others. It all depends on how frequently you talk or text, and if you like having data to surf the web or check email. If you really only need something for emergencies and still use a landline as your primary form of communication.