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Thank you for using Justanswer.comTo summarize this from a consumer and user standpoint - Tracphones are pre-paid phones where you buy minutes but also "time" to use those minutes within. Depending on what you buy how much you use, these may not be super cost effective. They use an actual cell phone for the service, its the just a slight difference in the plans you pay for. Tracfone is their brand name, similar to Boost mobile or any of the other pre-paid plans and pay as you go plans.A traditional cellphone carrier usually requires a contract, though the bigger ones are getting away from it now. You basically choose the type of phone you want, the amount of minutes you want to have available each month and then text/data features if you desire those. The contracts are usually 2 year agreements and you pay that each month. There are often early termination fees and then other fees associated with extra text and data.For reference I use a lot of cellphone minutes with a larger carrier for personal and work. My bill is around 200 a month between 2 contract lines. My mother on the other hand only wants a cell phone for emergencies, so she basically just has a Tracfrone brand phone and it costs her next to nothing because of her limited use.I hope you find this helpful on the basics of pre-paid tracphones vs regular cellular phone carriers. Please take a moment to rate my service and be sure to follow that up with any other questions you have.