Thursday, January 17, 2008

Phone Card Terminology

Many find phone card jargon confusing so we decided to write a short summary of phone card terms with some easy to understand definitions. We have also added some tips on how to spot phone card tricks and how a consumer can use them to their advantage. The phone card world can be confusing but it can also be navigated if a consumer is armed with the correct tools. The first thing to remember is that the advertised per minute rate for a phone card does not include the added fees and taxes mentioned below. Therefore, a consumer should estimate the impact of these when shopping for a phone card.

Prepaid Phone Card

Most phone cards are prepaid in preset denominations. These can be as low as $1 or $2 or as high as $100 or more. A customer purchases a predetermined denomination and the cost of each call is deducted from this amount until the card is empty. The amount of money or minutes left on a phone card can normally be determined in a customer’s online account if purchased from a website or it is stated when dialing an access number to place a call.

Phone Card Access Numbers

This is a phone number that is dialed in order to place a call when using a phone card. Some phone cards have a wide network of access numbers in multiple countries while others will have only one access number in one country. Phone card access numbers will vary between phone cards. Most phone cards offer both toll free and local access numbers but will charge extra for using toll free access.
Tip: Check the availability of access numbers before making a purchase. Be sure the card has access numbers in the area or country where you plan to use the card. Ideally, the phone card should have local access in the location where you plan use the card.

Phone Card PIN Code

Phone cards will typically have a PIN code that is entered when placing a call. The simply dials an access number, enters a PIN code which identifies the phone card they are using, than dials the number they wish to call. Many phone cards feature what are called permanent PINs and PIN-free dialing. A permanent PIN means a customer can add money or recharge the phone card when it is empty so they can continue to use the same PIN code. PIN-free dialing refers to cards that can be used without dialing a PIN code. A PIN-free phone card allows the user to register their phone number (sometimes several phone numbers) so their account is identified by caller ID technology when they call an access number and they do not need to enter a PIN code when placing a call. A PIN is still provided for PIN-free cards so calls can be placed from unregistered phones like pay phones or hotel phones.

TIP: PIN-free dialing or permanent PIN codes are great for people who plan to use a phone card on a long term basis from their home or cell phone. This is a very convenient method of having nearly seamless low cost long distance phone service.

Phone Card Billing Increment or Interval

This is also referred to as rounding interval. This refers to the time interval used when calculating the cost of a call. Billing increments are typically 1, 3 or 6 minutes but they can be higher so beware. In most cases the shorter the interval the better because the cost of a call is rounded to the next billing increment. For example; A 1 and ½ minute call is rounded to 2 minutes when a phone card has a one minute billing interval but it is rounded to 3 or 6 minutes if a phone card has a 3 or 6 minute billing interval respectively. This is a method used to charge a customer a higher rate or hidden fee for a call by billing them for call time not actually used.
Tip: A short billing interval is more important if a phone card is used for several short calls. If you are planning to use the phone card for one or two long calls than the billing interval can be used in your favor because most phone cards with high billing intervals also have low per minute rates.

Phone Card Connection Fee

This is a fee charged for connecting a call and it is charged each time a call is placed and connected. The caller will pay this fee in addition to the cost of the call based on the call length (billing increment) and any other listed fees. Phone cards with a connection fee should be avoided unless the card is only going to be used for one or two very long duration calls.

Phone Card Maintenance Fee

A phone card maintenance fee is a fee charged by the phone card service provider for keeping the card active. The maintenance fee is charged after a period of time that may vary but is typically one week (weekly), two weeks (bi-weekly) or monthly. A maintenance fee will not be charged if the phone card is fully used before the end of the stated time period. Therefore, phone cards with maintenance fees should be purchased and fully used immediately in order to avoid unnecessary added charges.


Phone Card Surcharge

Many phone cards add a surcharge or charge a tax for each call. This will typically be stated as a per cent like 25%. In this case the cost of the call will be calculated using the billing increment and an additional fee equal to 25% of that amount will be added to this cost in order to determine the total cost. Not all phone cards have surcharges or taxes so these should be taken into account when comparing per minute rates between phone cards.

Many phone cards today are not cards at all, they are simply virtual accounts where customers prepay amounts in order to make long distance domestic or international phone calls. In many ways these virtually phone cards are more convenient and safer than the old paper or plastic cards. A printed phone card can be lost and needs to be purchased at a store or be delivered when funds are added. A virtual account can be accessed from any INTERNET connection and funds can be added at any time. It is also easier to shop and compare phone card rates on-line than at the corner store. There are a variety of websites that sell virtual phone cards and fully disclose all hidden fees and taxes. There are also prepaid calling plans, like the Flex Plan offered by Tel3Advantage, that offer phone card convenience without any hidden fees or taxes.

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