July 29, 2010
For those who don't have cell phones, or those who need a cheap way to make international calls, pre-paid calling cards can be a convenient way to stay in touch. But these cards are not always a good deal.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warn that hidden costs and other problems can leave consumers with less call time than they were promised.

When you're selecting a calling card, the FTC says you should always look first at the fees. Add them up and see what kind of dent they put in the card's value.

For other ways to avoid calling card pitfalls:

• Check whether the advertised minutes only apply if you make one call and not more.

• Find out whether the advertised minutes still apply if you use the "toll-free access" number rather than the "local access" number, and whether the advertised minutes can be used to call cell phones.

• Ask whether there is an expiration date for minutes.

• Make sure that the explanation of fees makes sense to you.

• If possible, select a card that comes with a toll-free customer service number.

• Consider buying a card of a small denomination first, because if something goes wrong, your loss is limited.