Pay-as-you-go, or prepaid, wireless plans allow you to buy minutes as you need them instead of signing a long-term contract with the provider. While once predominantly popular with teenagers and individuals who used their phones infrequently, the prepaid wireless market represents the most rapidly growing segment of the US cell phone market, according to a May 6, 2009 article on Cnet.com. By doing a bit of research and comparison shopping, you can end your long-term contract and become one of the thousands of customers switching to a prepaid wireless plan.
Contact your current provider to find out if you remain under contract, and if so, determine any penalties assessed for ending the contract early.
Ask your current provider if they offer a prepaid wireless plan and inquire about charges or new equipment required for switching to this type of plan. If you are happy with your current provider, this might be the easiest way to change from a contract to a prepaid plan.
Research prepaid wireless providers to determine which ones offer the best prices and service (see Resources for some links to providers and plan comparisons). Ask about any discounts or incentives they offer for new customers, as well as activation fees required to start an account.
Purchase a cell phone made to be used with a pay-as-you-go plan (if your current phone will not work with the provider you select), as well as phone cards for the plan you want to use. Merchandisers such as Target, Walmart or Best Buy commonly sell these phones and phone cards.
Call the carrier who administers the plan you want to use to activate service for the plan.
Under the Federal Communications Commission's "local number portability" (LNP) rules, you should be able to use the same telephone number when moving to a new provider or plan. Some providers will allow you to use your existing phone equipment and transfer it to a prepaid contract. Make sure you choose a plan that will give you the best prices for the way you use the phone; some work better for people who use over 60 minutes a month and others benefit people who use under that amount.
The FCC recommends not terminating your service with your current provider until after starting service with the new company. If you want to avoid a credit check and/or do not own a credit card, make sure the prepaid wireless provider does not require these things in order to activate your account.