Use Up All The Money On Your Prepaid Phone, Because You’ll Probably Never Get It Back

When you buy a prepaid cellphone and put a bunch of money on the account, you might think that whatever balance remains on the account when you decide to change providers or stop using that device will be returned to you. Except the odds are that whatever money you put on your account will remain with the service provider forever.

A woman in California recently found this out when she tried to close out her prepaid Virgin Mobile account, which had $18.75 remaining on it. She was expecting some sort of refund for the unused money, but that’s just not going to happen.

“Account balances are not transferable, redeemable for cash, or refundable,” reads the Virgin Mobile terms of service.

And an e-mail from the company explained that Virgin had assessed a “termination fee equal to the value of any balance on the account.”

One lawyer tells CBS Sacramento’s Kurtis Ming that companies can do this so long as the fee is reasonable.

“They can argue the account balance reflects the reasonable termination fee,” says the lawyer. “If it was a large sum of money, then the reasonableness of it would be called into question.”

A quick look at the terms of service for other prepaid providers shows similar no-refund policies.

For example, Verizon Wireless states in its terms that, “If you’re a Prepaid customer, you won’t be entitled to a refund of any balance on your account.

While the terms for AT&T’s GoPhone clarify that “Funds deposited into your account via any method will not be refunded.”

Boost Mobile, which like Virgin Mobile, is run by Sprint in the U.S., states that if an account is cancelled, “all remaining funds in account balance & telephone number will be lost.”

And Cricket Wireless writes in bold letters that “You will not be entitled to any refund or credit for the unused portion of your account balance if you decide to cancel Service.”

This is certainly not an exhaustive look at prepaid plans, but none of the above offer any sort of leeway for people with balances on their plans.

So unless you expect to remain with your provider indefinitely, don’t put money on your account that you don’t plan on using because the odds are you won’t be getting it back when it’s time to move on.