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Philip Hsiang and his wife, Mary Ann, acclimated to pay about $1,000 a year for a brace of cellphones beneath a ancestors plan contract.

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But as recession absorbed the abridgement a few years back, the Davis, Calif., brace autonomous for bargain prepaid buzz account and never looked back. They baldheaded $800 off their anniversary buzz bill, alike admitting Hsiang could calmly allow the pricier plan on his bacon as an electrical engineer.

“As a Chinese immigrant to the U.S., it’s a advantage to be frugal,” Hsiang said. “Wasteful spending is a bad thing.”

Like the Hsiangs, millions of American cellphone users fed up with aerial bills are absorption to prepaid plans. Continued a buoy for low-income consumers and bodies with bad credit, these phones accept become one of the hottest performers in the U.S. wireless market.

Total U.S. prepaid subscriptions attempt accomplished 100 actor as of June, growing by 12 percent over the antecedent year, while acceptable wireless blast casework with account bills remained flat. About 1 in 3 U.S. cellphone owners now opt to pay as they go.

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Prepaid account has appear into its own because of a leash of customer-friendly factors: The amount sometimes is beneath than bisected that of a acceptable billed service; there’s no akin arrangement or ample early-cancellation fee; and some high-end providers activity smartphones with absolute Internet, argument and adrift capabilities that weren’t accessible previously.

“It’s not your father’s prepaid service. It doesn’t accept the aforementioned stigma it acclimated to,” said Jeff Blyskal, a arch editor at Consumer Reports magazine. “It’s a accepted advantage for consumers who appetite to save money and accept acceptable account and no contract.”

This prepaid bang has acceptable cellphone companies scrambling for a allotment of the action. The big four civic firms – AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA – accept upgraded their offerings with the accession of options for accelerated abstracts downloading and added appearance accepted with tech-savvy customers.

In addition, a bulk of abate players, including Virgin Mobile, accept entered the affray with pay-as-you go smartphone affairs for as low as $35 a month.

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But the better U.S. prepaid company, with aloof over 21 actor customers, is TracFone Wireless Inc. The aggregation is a accessory of Mexico’s America Movil, endemic by Mexican mega-billionaire Carlos Slim, who is leveraging his continued acquaintance in Latin America arctic of the border.

The move against prepaid cellphone account in the United States is starting to actor the arrangement that has continued been the aphorism in the developing world. Prepaid accounts for 95 percent of cellphone handsets in India, 80 percent in Latin America, 70 percent in China and 65 percent in Europe, according to Chetan Sharma, a Washington accompaniment wireless consultant.

Growth is dispatch a beachcomber of all-embracing mergers. TracFone Wireless Inc. is accepting Simple Mobile of Irvine, Calif., while Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile affairs to absorb with MetroPCS. Japan’s Softbank Corp. is affairs a 70 percent pale in Sprint.

The U.S. about-face to prepaid accelerated during the recession as afraid consumers absitively not to get bogged bottomward with diffuse affairs and buzz accuse they couldn’t predict.

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“They didn’t appetite to cut their cellphones in boxy bread-and-er times,” said Jennifer Fritzsche, an analyst with Wells Fargo Securities.

Since then, abounding companies accept amorphous to activity flush handsets application 4G networks. That’s helped prepaid afford its acceptability for low-cost, hard-to-track phones advantaged by biologic dealers on television abomination shows. “Burner phones” are adamantine to trace because their SIM cards – anamnesis chips that actuate the handset – can be purchased off a abundance shelf for cash, and the new buyer doesn’t allegation to assurance a arrangement or get a acclaim check.

Prepaid has “moved bound into the smarter phones with added adult users and is absolutely arduous the market,” said Sam Simon, who follows telecommunications issues at the New Millennium Research Council in Washington.

Still, the account amount of a prepaid buzz plan can run as low as $20 every three months for bare-bones, 60 account of articulation account with a $10 handset offered by TracFone. Per-minute costs bead with added usage, and bare account can be banked for approaching bounded or long-distance calls.

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“It’s cheap. I can allocution for bisected an hour and don’t accept to worry,” said TracFone chump Barri Clark of Los Angeles. The retired Screen Actors Guild agent said she doesn’t like to absorb too abundant time on the phone. “For me, this is absolute as continued as it’s activity to be reliable,” she said.

TracFone doesn’t accept its own arrangement of corpuscle building and cyberbanking spectrum. Instead, it buys balance accommodation from the big four corpuscle companies. “People can get the aforementioned buzz networks for beneath than bisected the price,” said F.J. Pollak, TracFone’s arch controlling and founder.

On the aerial end of the market, MetroPCS Communications Inc. offers absolute articulation and abstracts for about $55 a month, about 60 percent beneath than the best aggressive arrangement plan.

The downside is that prepaid barter allegation pay the abounding costs of their phones upfront because the accessories aren’t subsidized by a abiding contract. At MetroPCS, a top-of-the-line Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone sells for aing to $500. However, prepaid proponents argue those costs can be recouped in a year or so. And users never get ashore with an abrupt bill for activity over their plan limits.

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MetroPCS chump Toni Bayoneta said hidden accuse on a accepted cellphone plan angry her off for good; she said she got ashore with a $253 bill for a plan that was declared to amount her $60 a month. She’s awash on prepaid.

“These phones are easier to use,” said Bayoneta, advantageous her bill afresh at a Sacramento, Calif., MetroPCS store. “They don’t allegation by the data, texts or minutes. I don’t accept to anguish about the kids accepting on the buzz and downloading things I don’t want.”

But U.S. wireless barter allegation to appraise their alone affairs afore they accomplish a agnate switch, experts suggest. They should analyze the amount for the handset, account service, abandoning fees and accuse to articulation tablets and added devices, advance out over the accepted 24-month arrangement period, appropriate Jayne Wallace, administrator of accumulated communications for Sprint and its added prepaid brands.

“For some consumers, prepaid is a absolute account and savings,” she said. “Be acquainted of what the options are, and aces a plan that makes the best faculty to you.”

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Explore further: Tracfone tests bargain absolute plan on Verizon

(c)2013 Los Angeles Times Distributed by MCT Information Casework

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