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5 Ways You Can Avoid Cell Phone Termination Fees

Your wireless carrier loves you deeply and they want you to know. That's why, if you try to break your contract with them, they'll charge you a fee of up to $350.  It's just one of the many ways they show they care.

Cell Phone Early Termination Fees

That Smartphone you got for free could end up costing you a bundle.

The rationale from the cell phone companies is they subsidize a part of the cost of your mobile device with the understanding that you will be paying for service each month for 2 years. Skeptics might point out that the major carriers don't give monthly rate discounts to those buyers who purchase and use unlocked phones, but that's another discussion. It used to be that each carrier could charge a flat rate early termination fee (ETF) if you left your contract at any time. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) eventually stepped in (after a few carriers hiked their fees up even higher) with a cell phone early termination fee law forcing carriers to prorate their termination fees so that you pay less the closer you are to the end of your contract.

Depending on the length remaining on your contract, the carrier, and the type of device (smartphones cost more), you may be looking at a $50-350 early cancellation fee. Also, those who purchased their phones from a third party, like Wirefly may be even worse off than those who purchased from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon. In order to get that phone at a discounted price, you agree to an additional fee of up to $400 if you cancel within the first 181 days of your contract. Buyer beware!

But before you start forking over your hard-earned money, check out these ways you may be able to skip the fee and push through your wireless carrier divorce.

Get Out While the Gettin's Good

This option won't apply to everyone, but it's worth mentioning that you can usually cancel a new contract within 2-4 weeks without having to pay an early termination fee. You may be responsible for a restocking fee, but it will be much smaller than the ETF at the beginning of a contract.

Find Out if the Devil Changed the Deal

Cell phone companies don't exactly run around advertising this, but you two are in the contract together. That means if they have changed the terms of the contract, you have a right to end the agreement. By law, your carrier has to notify you of these changes, but they may try to hide the info in your multi-page bill, so be sure to review it carefully.  Generally, you have 14 days from receiving notice of the change to challenge it. When you call customer service, make sure to actually use the words "materially adverse" to describe the change to which you object. Be polite. If you're lucky, the rep you talk to will realize you are more educated than the average caller and let you out of your contract without torturing through 20 call transfers.

Move to the Middle of Nowhere

If you let the customer service rep at your phone company know that you are moving to an area with no mobile coverage, you may be able to wiggle out of your contract without paying the fee. It isn't a sure thing, but it may be worth a try!

Become Really Annoying

Customer service is expensive. Every time you are on the phone with a customer service rep, you are costing your cell company money. If you have encountered terrible service and spent tons of time on the phone with your carrier, take it up a notch and you might be able to get them to end the contract for you. There's no need to be rude, patience and persistence are the key to convincing your carrier that you are just going to keep costing them money. Note: remember to weigh the value of your time against the ETF.

Foist It Off on Someone Else

One woman's crummy, detestable cell phone carrier can be another woman's gold. If other methods have failed, you may be able to trade your contract away to someone else. Why would anyone else want your contract? Because along with the contract, they'll be getting your phone free, plus a credit to their first month's bill (the bill credit is less than most ETFs). Not to mention the fact that they won't be stuck in a contract for as long. Interested? Check out TradeMyCellular, CellSwapper, and CellTradeUSA to learn more.

Have you ever managed to get out of a cell phone contract without paying an ETF? Share your tips or horror stories in the comments below!

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About the Author: Casey Runyan

Casey is part of the deal-finding team at BradsDeals. A bargain hunter to the core, she's sometimes haunted by nightmares about deals that expire before she can write them. She's also pretty sure she got her job by telling Brad about the time she got a free golf club.

14 Responses to “5 Ways You Can Avoid Cell Phone Termination Fees”

  1. Kim says:

    I would like to know more about option #2 (change of terms) can you please give us some examples of changes that might allow you to end your contract.

    • Casey from Brad's Deals says:

      An example of a material adverse change would be a change in fees. For instance if your carrier changes their text message rate, that is a change in the terms of your contract. Other examples would be if they increase an administrative fee or change the language of their terms in a way that can negatively impact you. For instance, last year Sprint changed their arbitration clause to specify that arbitration must occur through a specific company.

  2. Tara says:

    I would like to kno more about what to do when my provider has broken our contract because they ARE NOT providing good or even adequate cell service in multiple areas they showed me that I would have excellent-good service. I filled a complaint with the BBB but still they are trying to argue so they don’t have to let need out of my contract. Now what?

    • Casey from Brad's Deals says:

      If you are not getting coverage in your home, try to “prove” it to them by calling from a landline or a different cell phone. That way they can try to troubleshoot your phone at the location and figure out what is wrong. That may be enough to convince them. If that doesn’t work, your best bet may be to claim that you are moving to an area where their map says they do NOT provide coverage. Hope this helps!

  3. Talia_Marie says:

    When I moved to my new home, I had no service here. I was so frustrated. I just wanted to use my phone. I told AT&T if I could not get reception at my home I wanted out of my contract. I really wanted to keep my service, because I like AT&T and I also get a discount through my job.
    Of course I was sent to tech. support to trouble shoot my phone. In the end I was told that it was because I had an older smart phone. They told me I should upgrade my phone so it will work because there was a cell phone tower less than 10 miles away from my home. No way!!!
    I argued with the gal and told her that when the AT&T tech came to my home, he could not get a signal either.
    At that point I was transfered to Customer Relations, they were happy to help me and told me they hate to loose me as a customer, but they would let me break the contract with no fees. There were really nice.
    I gave them the option of keeping me as a customer as long as they were willing to give me a FREE micro cell. I did get the free micro-cell and now I have 5 bars in my home.

  4. Dorolei paschal says:

    Please explain to me about the micr cell I have had poor coverage here in Oregon due to the massive trees sound my house. We have wireless Internet and free wk fi around the town and in most places I have wifi enabled tablets, phones, and computers like the iPad 2 would the micro cell work with all of these like the iPad or other tablet like the Samsung tablet ? We r now moving back to Las Vegas where we had great reception and service. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance! Orolei

  5. [...] 5 Ways You Can Avoid Cell Phone Termination Fees [...]

  6. Randy says:

    I used to work for a call center that dealt with Verizon customers and we were trained to check if a customer had moved to an area with limited coverage since the start of the contract. If they had, we were told not to allow them out of their contract, because it was the customer’s choice to move.

  7. Robert says:

    I’m on a 2 year with Verizon with my soon to be ex wife. Would it be possible for me to get out of my part of the contract due to our divorce. The contract ends October 2014.

  8. [...] or T-Mobile and are out of your contract or can get out of your contract (see our blog on how to avoid early termination fees), you can pay $45 a month for unlimited talk, text, and data by getting a $15 Straight Talk sim [...]

  9. Random says:

    Is it possible to switch your contract around with someone else on your Verizon bill? I.e. I dropped my old basic phone of two years in a lake the past summer (everyone in my family had the same phone and all bought at the same time) and my dad quick bought me a replacement basic phone with a new contract. I’m finally able to afford my own phone now and I wanted to upgrade to an iphone but I’m not eligible for an upgrade. We all know it would cost this broke teenager an arm and a leg to buy a new iphone haha. I was wondering, since my dad has had his phone for 2+ years now if there was a way to switch my contract with his, allowing me to get a discounted upgrade in his place while he continues paying for the rest of my phone since it would be on his bill anyways? I would pay him the difference of the new contract with the addition of a smartphone versus the old contract each month of course…

    • Scott says:

      I have AT&T and did this with my wife and son. He bought a phone and didn’t like it. My wife’s 2 year commitment on her iPhone was up so we used her upgrade and then switched phone numbers on the new iPhone to my son’s number. No problems.

  10. Common Citizen says:

    Verizon is so enormous due to their widespread “quality” reception areas, even though it is exactly the opposite. Anyhow, I’m currently looking into Ting for cheaper rates. Unfortunately the non-network roaming areas is pretty massive throughout the US. But they do reimburse you when ending a contract with another provider. Seriously, ending a contract early may look like a big lump sum of money at the time of termination, but in the long run it will save you 10xs the amount you were once paying with a mega corporation. That’s if you find a good deal.
    And I hear tell Ting doesn’t make you sign a contract.

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