What is a Calling Card?

R. Kayne

A calling card is a prepaid “credit card” that can be used to redeem telephone or cellular phone minutes. By purchasing a calling card, you purchase minutes up front. Various phone carriers and third parties manufacture calling cards, and there are two basic kinds: those used with pay as you go cellular plans, and those used for long distance landline phones.

Using a calling card to make international calls can drastically lower a person's cell phone bill.
Using a calling card to make international calls can drastically lower a person's cell phone bill.

A pay as you go plan does not require monthly fees or billing like a standard cell phone plan. Instead, the user purchases a calling card and registers its serial number with the carrier. The carrier adds minute-credits to the phone according to the value of the calling card. Once the credited minutes from the calling card have been exhausted, a new calling card must be purchased and registered to continue to use the phone. This plan is popular with teenagers who don’t yet have credit cards and with those who use their cell phones very little.

Calling cards can be used to make long distance phone calls on a landline.
Calling cards can be used to make long distance phone calls on a landline.

Another type of prepaid calling card is the long distance calling card for landlines. In this case, the purchaser calls an 800 number to register the card, set up an account, and obtain a personal identification number (PIN). Typically, the access number and PIN must be entered prior to dialing a phone number. The carrier electronically tracks how much credit is left on the calling card and puts calls through as long as credit remains. This type of calling card is handy for international travel or business trips. Some cards can be “recharged” by adding more money to the account.

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Business travelers may use a company calling card to complete work related calls on the company's dime.
Business travelers may use a company calling card to complete work related calls on the company's dime.

Parents often purchase prepaid calling cards for college students away from home. Kids at camp can also use a prepaid calling card, and it can be a good way to budget long-distance spending habits.

Calling cards allow users to purchase minutes up front.
Calling cards allow users to purchase minutes up front.

There are also calling cards that are not prepaid, but accrue monthly charges based on calls made. This type of calling card lacks spending controls, but might be preferable for businesses.

Calling cards purchased online may consist only of an access number and PIN, rather than an actual plastic card. Note that online or off, carriers sometimes go out of business, and clients with pre-purchased minutes can lose leftover credit. If buying a calling card, it may be best to stick with a reputable company or look for a service contract that ensures returned credit under these circumstances.

Calling cards come in many denominations, from 5 US Dollars (USD) to 50 USD or more. If someone you know has a pay as you go plan, a calling card from their cellular carrier can be a great gift. Have a relative or friend who lives far away? A standard prepaid calling card is a nice way to say, “I’m here anytime.” Calling cards are available at grocery stores, discount marts, cellular and electronics stores, and many other outlets.

A prepaid calling card can be used to redeem cell phone minutes.
A prepaid calling card can be used to redeem cell phone minutes.

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