To "Vicki in Cleveland" (and whomever else it may concern):
It is different from a contract firstly in that there is no ETF ("early termination fee") if you decide to stop using your phone for any reason. Contract carriers typically charge $175 (or more) *PER LINE* for breaking a cell phone contract -- partly because they offer more state-of-the-art equipment which they then offer to their customers for free or a substantially-reduced cost. I have never used contract service because of that, plus the potential for hefty overage fees (if you accidentally go over your minutes) and getting scammed by shady third-party "content" providers (like ringtone services). You don't have those problems (at least for the most part) with prepay services.
Having said that, however, I can identify with your situation:
>"even though many times I have so many left I don't know how I'll ever use them up (I'm a 55 yr old female and don't make that many calls but want a phone for emergencies ..."
as I myself have been with NET10 since *September 2006* and currently have over *3000* rollover minutes accumulated!! Why? I don't get out much, and when I do I only make short calls (of like 2 to 3 minutes), just to see if someone needs anything from the store or whatever.
We have unlimited long distance on our home landline phone, so I rarely use NET10 for that, often thinking "I can wait until I get home" (to make those calls). For example, one out-of-state relative I talk to on a regular basis has a very hard time hanging up within a reasonable time frame, and typically we'll spend a minimum of an hour and a half per phone call, on up to 3 or 4 hours. So calling her on NET10 (at 10¢/min. -- are you *kidding*??) would be quite cost-prohibitive! :) Instead I use Verizon Inpulse (free mobile-to-mobile) for those calls; which if I limit my usage mostly to in-network numbers on their Core plan, I can get the full three-months out of a $30 card (do the math) -- which for those types of calls is actually less expensive (in some cases, a LOT less expensive) than Net10.
The thing about NET10 is, they're sort of in the "middle" when it comes to their calling plan setup. At 5 hours of talk time per two months (or whatever) of service, it's a bit more than one needs for "emergencies, " yet not enough for calling family or friends "just to chat, " or business-related calls (where heaven forbid you are placed *on hold* as often happen more than not!).
Hence one tends to modify their phone usage habits to fit within this particular price-point structure. It always amazes me when people talk about analyzing your ~current~ "calling patterns" in order to evaluate the cost-effectiveness and sufficiency of any mobile phone service they may be considering. Personally I'd LOVE to be able to access the internet (email and Twitter, for example) while I am away from home, and to be able to take & exchange photos, listen to music, etc. on a mobile phone. But the cost of a smartphone is *waaaaay* out of my reach. The 25 MB of "data access" Verizon (now) mandates on their 3G "multimedia" (middle-tier) contract phones, at $10/month is an absolute joke! If I were going to pay a monthly fee for online access, it'd have to be unlimited (or a fair amount) to make it worth my while.
But I digress. My point is that it's not just how one uses their phone, but how they WOULD (prefer to) use the phone, if cell phone service were more affordable. NET10 was my very first foray into the world of mobile phones, because (I *Will* give them this) -- their pricing structure was easy to understand for this (then) newbie. :) Back when cell phones cost 25 - 50¢ (or more!) per minute -- with dropped calls being rounded up to the next minute, overage fees, limited, spotty coverage and all that malarky -- I never even CONSIDERED joining the ranks of mobile phone users -- not even for emergencies. It was just too expensive! And no matter what the price-per-minute, as long as that "meter" is running, one feels restricted and confined whenever using it.
A family crisis during August of 2006 finally forced me into getting one; and I've never regretted making the decision. My ancient Motorola V176 is now dying, with extremely reduced uptime per charge (battery's been replaced twice), outgoing calls failing and etc. While very basic in design and features, I've kind of grown accustomed to this phone especially since it is sturdily built and easy to open, etc. Knowing I can't complain (after almost 4 years of dependable service), I've ordered a Samsung T401G to replace it. I have had to call NET10 customer service a few times in the past; and like most posters on this board I've found their heavily-accented English difficult to understand, resulting in (some) unresolved issues (like trying to get ringtones, for example). From what I've read on these boards and elsewhere online, I am NOT looking forward to the experience of transferring my number to a new handset (with all 3, 330+ minutes (hopefully) intact!), and am wondering if there's anything I can do to substantiate the rollover mins. I presently have in case (likelihood?) that things do not go smoothly. :(
But to address your indirect question re your own "emergency" phone service, Vicki, since the monthly cost and excess rollover minutes seem to be an issue for you (as they've been for me), perhaps NET10 may not be the best carrier for you. I'd like to suggest either Tracfone (at $20 for 60 min. for *3 months* = $7/mo.) for emergency-only calls; or Verizon prepaid on the "Plus" plan ($1.99/day used, with free nights after 9 p.m. and weekends). That way you could use it at least twice per month on weekends to call friends and family long-distance without any additional charges, with enough minutes left over for brief "emergency" calls while away from home. If you have a significant # of friends/family on the mobile Verizon network, the deal is even sweeter (you could opt for the Core plan at 99¢/day). The only other thing I can think of, if you have access to Cricket in your area ($30/mo. for unlimited talk & text), or Straight Talk ($30 and $45 monthly plans), both prepaid, if you need 1000 or more minutes per month. Everything else (prepaid) is at least $50+/mo. for unlimited access; and that's the cheaper companies. While it's more than NET10's $15 - $20/month, you get more minutes, including texting and even some limited web access. So it may be worthwhile to look into.