What Is a Toll-Free Number?

A toll-free number is a telephone number that is free to call for the person making the call. The owner of the toll-free number pays for the call. You can identify toll-free numbers by their prefix (e.g., 1-800, 1-888, 1-877, 1-866, etc.).

In this What Is a Toll-Free Number article, we examine how a toll-free call works, break down the advantages and disadvantages of toll-free numbers, and consider whether toll-free phones are the best option for every type of small business.

Want a toll-free number? Check out our free vanity phone number generator

Understanding Toll-Free Numbers

Toll-free numbers are telephone numbers with distinct three-digit area codes — known as prefixes. 

As of 2024, the following prefixes are assigned to toll-free numbers:

  • 800
  • 888
  • 877
  • 866
  • 855
  • 844
  • 833

Toll-free numbers are unique in the sense that they can be dialed at no cost to the person making the call. 

In a business setting, this can be beneficial because it ensures that customers and potential customers are always able to reach out to you without having to worry about paying a fee that they may not be able to afford (e.g., long-distance charges, etc.).

This is particularly the case when it comes to long-distance calls. 

Toll-free numbers are assigned on a “first-come, first-serve” basis through “Responsible Organizations” — also known as RespOrgs —- which are entities that own and manage toll-free numbers in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Many popular carriers (e.g., RingCentral, Grasshopper, etc.) are RespOrgs, but this does not always have to be the case. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Toll-Free Numbers

There are several advantages and disadvantages to getting a toll-free telephone number for your business that you should consider:

Advantages of Toll-Free Numbers

  • Increased Marketing Opportunities 
  • Improved Customer Support
  • Improved Brand Image and Credibility

Marketing Opportunities

If your toll-free numbers are also vanity phone numbers, they can be used as strong marketing tools for your business.

Rather than expecting your users to remember or save a “random” phone number, you can select a number that is written in a way that makes it inherently easy to remember.

For example, it may spell out a word that relates to your business (e.g., 1-800-SHIPPING, etc.), or it may have an inherently memorable sequence (e.g., 800-222-3333, etc.). 

Improved Customer Support

Since all toll-free calls are free for the persons making the calls, you will be more “contactable” to your customers because you will be the one paying all of the calling fees involved.

Moreover, many toll-free phone services offer features that are tailored towards improving your customer experiences, including:

  • Dictionary menus
  • Simultaneous ringing
  • Call forwarding
  • Hold music

This is important, as phone support is actually one of the best ways that small businesses can go about building lasting relationships with their customers. 

Improved Brand Image and Credibility

Getting a toll-free number can go a long way in improving your credibility as a small business. This is because it will make you seem both more trustworthy and legitimate. 

In turn, this can translate into a higher number of toll-free calls, sales, and revenue.

Disadvantages of Toll-Free Numbers

  • Unwanted Calls
  • No Longer Necessary
  • Some Benefits Can Be Irrelevant

Unwanted Calls

Even though the total number of calls your business will receive will likely increase, there is no guarantee that these calls will be from persons that are genuinely interested in your products and or services. 

Since you will be allowing users to reach out to you for free, you will inadvertently increase the chances of more “general” queries. This can be particularly detrimental when you consider that — depending on your provider and plan — you could be charged for the duration of each call. 

No Longer Necessary

Even though toll-free numbers made sense when they were initially introduced, it is not uncommon nowadays for consumers to find access to affordable plans with unlimited calling.

This means that some of the expected benefits of getting a toll-free number (e.g., increased call volume, etc.) could be exaggerated. 

Irrelevant Benefits

Even if your customers cannot remember your phone number, they can always save it in their phone contacts or take a screenshot of your phone number QR code

Alternatively, your customers can always look up your phone number online through Google — presuming you have set up your Google Business Profile — as well as find it on your dedicated business website. 

Once again, some of the benefits of using toll-free numbers may — in practice — be irrelevant for small businesses in 2024.

Should I Use a Toll-Free Number for My Small Business?

Whether you should use a toll-free number for your business or not will ultimately depend on your business’s needs and/or specificities. 

For one, you will want to consider to what extent your customers and prospective customers will be contacting you via the phone. If your industry and/or business model means that you will expect to receive a large number of calls on a regular basis, then it is likely a good idea to invest in getting a toll-free number.

You will also want to consider how much you will benefit from the additional features that most toll-free service providers offer. These can include:

  • Third-party integrations
  • Mobile phone app
  • Deskphones
  • Simultaneous ringing 
  • Overhead paging
  • Call blocking
  • Call recording
  • Vanity number services
  • SMS messages

Generally speaking, if you do choose to use a toll-free or vanity phone number service, you should prioritize the following factors:

  • Pricing: Try to look at “value-for-money” rather than the bare prices of each different toll-free service.
  • Number and quality of features: What basic features are offered on each service's basic package? How useful will these be in your day-to-day operations?
  • Setup speed: How long will it take you to activate your toll-free phone number?
  • Fixed unlimited calling: This isn’t an available option with every provider. If it is offered, ensure this is at an affordable price. Some services offer unlimited calling in their most “basic” packages, while others only offer it on their most premium — and thus expensive — ones.
  • Security: What measures are taken to protect your business’s data? You should ideally pick a toll-free number provider that is both HIPAA and HITECH compliant.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are toll-free number services safe?

How safe each phone service is will depend on the provider in question. 

Generally speaking, you should choose a toll-free number service that is HIPAA and/or HITECH compliant and ideally offers BAA contracts upon request. 

Having said that, you should note that toll-free number providers can be “safe” without being HIPAA compliant, particularly when they have invested in other security measures (e.g., encryption software, etc.).

Are vanity numbers toll-free?

They can be, but not necessarily. 

Vanity phone numbers are telephone numbers that are inherently memorable as a result of a certain spelling or sequencing and can thus be found with both local and toll-free prefixes. 

What prefixes are toll-free?

The following prefixes are assigned to toll-free phone numbers:

800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, 833

Since the phone numbers with 800 prefixes were the first ones to be released, they have become the rarest over the years. This has also made them the most expensive. 

Is a toll-free call free?

A toll-free call is free for the individual making the call, but it is not free for the receiving party.

What are the best toll-free vanity phone number services?

The best vanity phone number service according to our research is Phone.com.

Other great vanity number and toll-free number service providers include:

For more information, see our review of the best vanity phone number service.

What is the Federal Communications Commission?

The Federal Communications Commission, also known as the FCC, is a federal body that governs interstate communications in all 50 states, as well as communications with all other countries.

These communications include but are not limited to those conducted through:

How do toll-free numbers work?

Toll-free numbers work in a way that ensures that the person placing the call is never charged any fees. 

In a business environment, this can translate to more calls, as the receiving party (i.e., the business) is carrying the cost of each call, meaning there is little to no opportunity cost for the customer on the calling side. 

Toll-free numbers can also be vanity numbers. These can be used as a marketing tool because they are inherently memorable as a result of how they are sequenced and/or spelled. 

What is a VoIP service?

A VoIP service is a phone service that is run over the internet rather than over a traditional landline.

This comes with several advantages, including:

  • Low cost
  • Higher number of features
  • Increased contractual flexibility
  • High mobility
  • Unlimited incoming calls
  • Unlimited inbound calls
  • Call lines allowing your employees to use the same number as yourself

Having said that, there are a few disadvantages that you should keep in mind, including the fact that you will not have an alternative phone line if your internet happens to go down.

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