How can I put the extra money on my prepaid phone plan to work?
July 8, 2010 3:28 PM   Subscribe

How can I put the extra money on my prepaid phone plan to work?

As a very frugal person, I have a prepaid phone plan that costs $100 a year. For the past two years, I've spent roughly $50 of that each year. As long as I renew the plan with another $100 every year, I can carry over the unused balance.

But there's a hitch; if I only used half of the balance one year, I'm not likely to vary that dramatically. I was talking with a friend of mine who had a Virgin prepaid plan and lamented that he had accrued quite a balance this way over a few years and decided it was a ripoff. I understand the sunk costs fallacy, though maybe not why he decided it was enough to change providers.

I'm comfortable with writing off 50 dollars a year, but I'm wondering if there's any good way to cash my balance out, or at least put it to a better cause than T-Mobile's bottom line. I hear about some places using minutes as currency and I'm wondering: is there anything now or on the horizon in the US that might help a scrooge out?
posted by pwnguin to Work & Money (8 answers total)
 
I'm assuming you are on T-Mobile. You don't need to put in $100 a year to maintain the status, all you need to do is add a minimal amount of minutes to extend your current minutes another year (as long as you have gold status). I believe the mininum you can add is $10 and even though you won't get $0.10 a minute (or $0.85 for gold status), it's better than wasting $50 a year.

http://www.t-mobile.com/templates/faq.aspx?PAsset=Pre_Pop_FAQ

If you applied a $100 refill to your account or have already reached Gold Reward status, all unused minutes won't expire for one year from the date you last applied airtime to your account.

So just add another $10 to your account before your minutes are set to expire and all your minutes won't expire for another year.
posted by wongcorgi at 3:47 PM on July 8, 2010


Yeah, with T-Mo, ALL purchases extend your expiration another year once you've bought at least $100. So, last year you didn't need to buy $100.
posted by kindall at 4:12 PM on July 8, 2010


Well that's handy to remember. The marginal rate is best at $100 though =/
posted by pwnguin at 4:34 PM on July 8, 2010


pwnguin: The marginal rate is best at $100 though
Is the marginal rate still best at $100 when you adjust the total cost per minute to account for the fact that you only use half of the minutes you buy?
posted by Doofus Magoo at 7:14 PM on July 8, 2010


I don't like to argue with advice givers, but it your question neglects any cents on the dollar return for the unused half. I admit though, that I was basically comparing the top end with the minimum payment. The 50 dollar rate is 12 cents, versus the 20 cents a dollar I've been paying after waste. I honestly forgot that was there.

I'd still be interested in ways to cash out a mobile phone balance though, just for the educational benefit. About the best I can think of is to set up some kind of SMS payment gateway and hope the fees don't eat you alive.
posted by pwnguin at 8:43 PM on July 8, 2010


This is just a question - what happens on prepaid phones if you text to one of those numbers that donates $10 to Haiti or to Public Radio?
posted by CathyG at 9:02 PM on July 8, 2010


The only way to win is to stop playing the game.

This is not answering your question, but there are other, cheaper, providers if you are just looking for an emergency phone. Page Plus offers 120 day expiration with a $10 minimum refill ($30/year) at the same $0.10/minute rate as T-Mobile. If you go up to the $80 refill the price drops to $0.04/minute. The disadvantage is you'll need a new phone, Page Plus uses Verizon's CDMA network.

That said I would be curious to see what happens when you try to donate via text message, I've always assumed since I'm on prepaid those things don't work.
posted by ChrisHartley at 7:18 AM on July 9, 2010


I was talking with a friend of mine who had a Virgin prepaid plan and lamented that he had accrued quite a balance this way over a few years and decided it was a ripoff.

Well, on Virgin at least, you can use the balance to buy a new phone. So you could have a spare, or re-sell it.
posted by smackfu at 7:08 AM on July 12, 2010


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