Get Out of Your
Wireless contracts are no longer required so this
page may soon be irrelevant. But if you do happen to be stuck in a
contract, here's how you might be able to get out of it with no, or
minimal, charges. We can't guarantee these will
work for you, but they have for others.
- SOME CARRIERS WILL PAY YOUR ETF TO LEAVE
THE OLD CARRIER:
of all sizes may offer to pay part of all of your Early Termination Fee
by switching from your old carrier to the new one. Some carriers make
this offer as part on an ongoing deal, a promotion, or only if you ask
for it. There may be some requirements such as trading in your
old phone or switching an existing number to the new carrier.
attention to your carrier's Terms of Service. From time to time they
will change rates and fees that affect every customer. That is
considered a change that "materially affects" your cellular account and
would result in significant changes or charges in your account.
Example, changing Text Messaging fees. You can call and indicate your
disapproval of this change and ask to terminate your account without an
Early Termination Fee (ETF). They may argue with you and force you to
speak to a superior, but it has been a fairly reliable way out.
- ASK TO BE ALLOWED TO CANCEL:
though you may have a serious problem with your cellular service,
customer service agents will do whatever it takes to make you fulfill
your contract, including financial threats. But if you can make your
case, they may be able to help. Failing that, and most likely you will,
ask to have your problem "escalated". Quite often you are just
transferred to another agent, but in some cases you get a supervisor
who can really help. The next step is to take your case to the top. If
you can find them, the executive offices of some companies will help
you just because you've taken the trouble to pursue the matter that far.
- TRADE YOUR CELLULAR ACCOUNT WITH ANOTHER
You can do it yourself by contacting the carrier and asking them to
execute a 'change of responsibility'. You and the tradee need to be
nearby to give your ID or Social Security Number. Or you can use the
services of a cellular trading web site including CelltradeUSA.com
It's also a good way to pick up a plan that fits your usage better with
a shorter contract than you would get signing up new.
- SMILE AND WALK AWAY:
your carrier you can't use their service any longer. You
can choose to tell a story or the truth and they will probably charge
you an Early Termination Fee. Expect to pay all your normal usage
charges up to the last day you use the phone, but go ahead and ignore
the ETF. Yes, they'll threaten you with collections and putting the
action on your credit report, but in these days of legal
confrontations, they do that with some hesitation. I have not read in a
forum that someone has actually had this appear on their credit report,
but if it does, you can add a note in your report that you had a
problem with your phone and had to cancel. If your report is otherwise
clean, it should be ignored. Even credit underwriters have trouble with
their wireless phone at some time. Just in case, drop your plan to the
cheapest level possible. This makes it less profitable fir the carriers
to pursue you, and should you decide you need the pay the charges
anyway, they'll be as cheap as possible.
- GET THEM TO CANCEL YOU:
Check your Terms of
Service to make sure, but many carriers will drop you without an ETF
for excessive roaming or by using an "unreasonable" amount of wireless
time. Continuous or excessive usage usually results in being warned to
stop, or having your service disconnected, even with an "Unlimited"
plan. In most cases, you will be allowed to drop your contract under
those circumstances. As an example, AT&T Terms of Service
state: "If AT&T finds that you are using an unlimited voice
service offering for anything other than live dialogue between two
individuals, AT&T may at its option terminate your service or
change your plan to one with no unlimited usage components.
AT&T will provide notice that it intends to take any of the
above actions, and you may terminate the Agreement." You may also find
yourself using your phone more than 51% of the time off your own
carrier's network. You might be able to force your phone to Roam more
often. Some carriers don't mind.
A FEW MONTHS:
Early Termination Fees are 'pro-rated' which means they are reduced
each month as you approach your contract end date. You could wait a few
months until the fee is more tolerable.
- PAY THE FEE:
If you feel you're walking on thin ice by ignoring the Early
Termination Fee, go ahead and pay it. It could be worth it to get rid
of your old carrier. However, before you blow them off, see if their
ETF is "pro-rated". It is for several carriers, and that means for
every month you stick with them, the ETF is smaller. Waiting another
month may save you several dollars, and knowing that exact date at
least gives you a slight advantage. It may be less than you think.
You can either make a boxed move or a virtual move,
but if you can prove the new location is out of their service area, or
an area with a known lack of coverage, the carrier may let you out of
your contract. That particular point has been the subject of many class
action lawsuits, and carriers are becoming a little more flexible about
it. Be ready to document your move with a utility bill or similar
- TAKE LEGAL ACTION:
If you're serious about not paying the fee, there are many attorneys
who will take on the case for you. It could cost you a lot, or nothing.
You may see diminishing returns as just speaking to
a lawyer about your case may cost more than the ETF. Some attorneys
actually solicit this kind of business and might add your complaint to
a 'class action' suit at no charge.
- CONTACT THE MEDIA:
telling your story to a "consumer reporter" at a local radio or TV
station or newspaper. If your case seems worthy, they might contact the
carrier in your behalf. Cellular companies want to avoid bad publicity,
especially if the problem is something they created. Don't bother if
you just want to leave because you're tired of your old phone.
- JOIN THE MILITARY:
if you get deployed to a location outside of your carrier's
service area, they are usually quite supportive in letting you leave
without penalty. Expect to prove your assignment.
PROACTIVE, AVOID CONTRACTS:
are adverse to contracts you would be smart to avoid them in the first
place. At renewal time you can switch to Prepaid,
often with the same carrier and handset. You can also choose among the
cellular carriers and retailers who either do not require a contract or
who offer the option of buying a phone at a higher price without a