Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we get a small commission if you make a purchase through our links, at no cost to you. For more information, please visit our Disclaimer Page.
Prepaid phone numbers can be an excellent alternative to the standard contracts that come with designated phone plans. There is a great deal of flexibility in having a phone number without the usual terms and conditions of a contract, and you can add as many minutes or data as you desire, canceling services at your leisure when things run out. You can get many of the same features that you would expect to find with your more typical plans, too.
All that said, there is some concern among users that prepaid phone numbers might expire. We will address this issue, and we can go over whether the numbers themselves expire when minutes run out as well.
Additionally, we’ll cover some of the details of both prepaid phone cards, and the SIM cards you might use as a way to access your own personal prepaid number.
Table of Contents
Yes and no. As long as you continue to make payments, your prepaid number should not expire. Even if you miss a payment, most major carriers should offer a grace period.
During this time, you still have the option to make the full payment due for your prepaid plan while keeping your phone number active. As long as you are able to do this, your number stays locked to you and your device.
If there is any failure to keep your payments or plans current while using the prepaid service of your choice, you’ll enter the aforementioned grace period.
Should you pass that window without making a payment or filling up your plan with a package of minutes, then the number can expire. Once it does, you’ll no longer have access to that phone number. In short, you won’t have phone service until you are able to contact the company and get the situation resolved somehow.
If you are able to get in touch with the carrier of your choice in time, it is possible that they could give you the same number back. You would need to set things up again and pay any required fees, but you might end up with the same number.
This would save you the hassle of telling all of your contacts that your number has changed. However, there is also a chance that you won’t be able to get your old number back.
The nature of a plan like this means that companies recycle phone numbers that are no longer in use after a grace period ends. The numbers go back into a sort of open pool, and carriers or their retailers are then able to sell those numbers to another consumer.
Once that happens, you’re prevented from getting that number again for as long as the new customer is using it. To make sure this doesn’t happen, it is a good idea to be mindful of the particular grace periods each carrier offers.
Be aware that, in some cases, this grace period can change depending on which plan you have. Here are the general guidelines for many of the major carriers:
- AT&T has a grace period of 60 days.
- T-Mobile and Sprint both have grace periods of 30 days.
- Verizon has a grace period of 60 days.
- US Cellular offers a grace period of three days.
It is common for most prepaid minutes to expire after a given period of time. Usually, you’ll find plans for minutes that last either 60 or 90 days without use, but you might find carriers that offer deals for longer durations.
One reason for implementing an expiration date is to allow the company to keep payments coming in for that line. Most carriers or plans will also encourage users to add minutes periodically to extend the activation periods for their numbers or minutes.
You may come across prepaid plans that are listed as ‘Unlimited’ or ‘Unlimited Carryover’ services. This means that any minutes, data, or other things that you put on your plan and pay for upfront should roll over to the next month.
They should continue that trend for as long as you are using the service. This may be one of the closest ways a prepaid phone user can come to having minutes that do not expire. However, it is important to note that these are not usually truly permanent minutes or plans.
If you read over the terms or conditions for your plan, you’ll find that the unlimited nature of the carryover is still dependent on your maintaining active service on the phone number you get with the plan. In most cases, this should not be hard to do.
It would simply require you to use at least a minute of your time once every few months to maintain activity. This would reset the counter for your minutes, and you wouldn’t need to do anything again until the next cycle.
For many carriers, such a plan can allow you to have up to six months of no activity on the phone before things start to expire.
You just need to make a quick call or use some data sometime in these few months, and you’re good to go. This can be a great prepaid plan for people who always need to have some minutes on hand but don’t need to make any calls regularly.
Once you start using a prepaid phone card, it will activate a timer that will start to count down. Different carriers may have different rates at which the minutes on their phone cards expire.
Usually, they give generous time limits that can last months, but they do expect consumers to make use of the minutes on the card within a certain window.
In order to get the best use out of your prepaid card, it is important to check the terms of the one you would like to get before making a purchase. Get one that has a selection of minutes that you’ll think you’ll use over the next few months, and you should be fine.
However, fresh, totally unused prepaid cards tend to last much longer, and it is possible that most of them do not start to expire until you activate the card.
It is possible that this is because carriers know that some of their cards may be available for purchase for months on end without use, and they want to make sure any consumers who take advantage of these cards later can activate them without worry.
If you have prepaid cards you haven’t activated yet, they should still be usable when you are ready. However, you can also check the card itself.
Many such cards put information right on the back that can tell you how long the minutes will last upon activation, and they may offer insights into whether unused cards have a specific shelf life.
In most cases, SIM cards should not expire if they are not used.
This is because some people may purchase several prepaid SIMs that they do not use for years, and they want some expectation that they will be able to make use of them when the time is right. If there is an expiration date, it should be listed when you purchase the card of your choice.
Some people have been able to use SIM cards that they purchased many years prior, and they’ve worked instantly when loaded into their phones. However, there is a small caveat to this.
T-Mobile SIM cards do have an expiration date, and this is true even for unused SIM cards. If you are using them as a carrier, it is best to check all dates listed on their products to see when they are set to expire. You may find it helpful to keep track of the dates on different cards. This way, you can update them with new cards as needed.
We mentioned the grace period that occurs if you don’t keep your prepaid account current. Additionally, we touched on the fact that the number itself may go back into an open pool of prepaid numbers if you’re not quick enough to secure it with another payment.
Once this happens, you would lose the number, although there could be a chance of getting it back. On a more technical level, though, you would lose access to any communications services provided by the phone number and its plan.
The results of losing the number can be different for everyone, and it can depend on what perks or services come with each plan. You can expect to lose the ability to make or receive calls, and dedicated texting will go out as well.
Since you’d no longer have access to the carrier’s network via the plan, you would probably have no way to get on the internet using just the phone’s LTE service itself. Furthermore, you may forfeit any money you had paid for minutes and data you did not use.
There’s nothing quite like the nice flexibility of a good prepaid plan. You can get exactly the services you need or minutes you want without paying more than you’d like for things you won’t use.
This freedom does come with some things you should keep in mind, and it is a good idea to keep your account current to avoid losing service. Additionally, although any expiration dates tend to be generous, keep an eye on them to ensure that you are not without your phone when you need it.