The early termination fees that cell phone companies charge are outrageous! Most companies charge anywhere from $150-200 to cancel your contract before you fulfill the terms. In the past I got out of a cell phone phone contract with Verizon by transferring my phone number and contract to a friend. I was able to avoid the paying the $175 Early Termination Fee (ETF). There are several other ways to get out of a cell phone without paying a penny, and with the current competition, some cell phone providers will even pay the termination fee for you if you sign up with them! (see below for some offers).
Here are some ways to get out of your cell phone contract without paying the Early Termination Fee.
1. The Cell Provider Changes the Terms of the Contract
If your cell carrier changes the terms of the contract you signed, you can cancel your contract without paying any early termination fees. Many states require cell phone companies to give customers advance notice of contract changes which could increase the cost or extend the length of the contract. These cell phone companies must get consent from their customers before increasing the cost or extending the length of contract. This is only fair; why should you have to uphold the new terms of a contract you did not originally agree to?
On Jan 1, 2008, Sprint changed their terms of service and you can cancel your Sprint contract without any fees. Note: Cell providers are required to notify you of these changes to their contract terms, but they are often buried in small print within your bill.
2. Transfer Your Contract to Someone Else
There are 2 ways you can do this. The first is if you transfer your cell phone contract to someone you know. I called Verizon the other day to determine how to do this. The process is free, easy to accomplish, and can be done over the phone in 20 minutes if both people are there together.
Here is what to do: Ask to do an Assumption of Liability; this legally transfers the remaining terms on the contract to another person. The cell provider’s customer service representative (CSR) will send a copy of the contract terms and the other person has to read over these and verify they have read them. From there the CSR asks the person assuming the contract a few questions, verifies their SSN and some other information, and completes the deal. The minutes and bill are prorated between the two individuals. Keep in mind your bill has to be current and the other person must be at least 18 years of age or older. A credit check for the person assuming the contract will also be done.
The second way to transfer your service is to use a third party to find someone willing to assume the contract for you. This is essentially the same process as above, but you are using someone else to help you find a match. Trade My Cellular provides this service free of charge. Cell Swapper and Cell Trade USA charge $20 to the person giving up their contract. In all cases, it is free for the person assuming the contract. These services can also be a great place to find a deal on a contract because many people are willing to give their phone and accessories as well as pay for the first month’s service to whoever takes over the contract. However, at $20 + paying for a month of service (which many people do), it can run $60 or more to transfer your contract. This is still much cheaper than paying the early termination fee of $150-200!
3. Complain Often, but do it the Right Way
What do you do if you have spotty service, dropped calls, or your calls repeatedly go straight to voice mail? Complain to the company – but do it the right way. When you call the customer service representatives be polite and professional, thoroughly explain the situation to them, and be patient. If this is the first time this has happened you could ask for a discount to recompense you for your troubles. If this is a recurring problem, you should ask to get out of your contract. This works best if you call often and keep records.
The first level of customer service reps don’t always have the authority to do too much, so you may have to elevate your complaint. Again, being polite is the best way to deal with this. If you don’t get anywhere, you may have to lodge a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission. Sometimes just mentioning the BBB or FTC may be enough to get you what you want – out of your contract.
4. Transfer to a Cell Carrier That Will Pay Your ETF
Competition is stiff in the cell phone business. Right now it’s all about market share. And carriers are doing everything in their power to entice people to switch to their network. In some cases, they are even going as far as paying your Early Termination Fees (ETFs) for you! (usually in the form of a pre-paid debit card).
The best current transfer offer is with T-Mobile. We’ll cover that, then show some links to the other major carriers:
T-Mobile will pay your Early Termination Fees (up to 10 Lines). Use this offer link, trade-in your current phone, and T-Mobile will pay your Early Termination Fee (ETF) with a Visa® Prepaid card. And they won’t even make you sign an annual service contract. You can do this for up to $350 per line, for up to 10 lines on one contract.
Here’s the T-Mobile offer works:
- Visit this offer link.
- Transfer your current phone number to T-Mobile
- Process your trade-in within 14 days of your new phone purchase (T-Mobile will offer you credit based on the market value for your eligible device).
- After entering your order number and T-Mobile phone number, print the postage paid shipping label and send in your device.
- Submit your final bill. When you receive your current carrier’s final bill with your Early Termination Fees (ETFs), submit the bill to T-Mobile electronically within 2 calendar months of your number transfer to T-Mobile for reimbursement (up to 10 lines).
- Get up to $350 per line based on the Early Termination Fees (ETFs) on your carrier’s final bill.
- Eligible device trade-in, device purchase, qualifying plan and port-in required.
- AT&T is one of the largest carriers in the US, and features a robust network, fast data, and plenty of choices for your next phone, including the iPhone and premium Android devices. They run frequent web-only special offers.
- Sprint – $60 Unlimited Plan when you Switch to Sprint! Sprint has an excellent offer for unlimited text and data, with generous minutes. I’ve been a Sprint user for over 6 years now and have no complaints. This Unlimited Plan is probably the best deal of its type among the 4 major national carriers.
- Straight Talk is one of the more popular pay as you go plans. They actually just rent network space from the major carriers. So you are getting more or less the same service, just in a different package. These pay as you go companies usually offer lower monthly rates, but don’t often offer to pay your ETF.
5. Move Out of the Cell Provider’s Area (go off the grid)
Most cell providers coverage areas are quite extensive, but there will always be gaps in service. If you move to an area with little or no coverage, you may be able to get out of your contract. Keep in mind that most cellular service providers don’t want to let you go, so they may offer you a mini antenna or tower for your home. This will often boost your signal enough to give you reasonable coverage.
If you are in the military, you can usually cancel your service if you move or deploy for a long period (sometimes the service provider just places your contract on vacation mode). Some people have also had luck calling in the CSR and telling them they have moved to some small desert town without coverage (whether or not they actually moved there). In this case, do what your conscious allows you to do.
6. Sweet Talk Your Way Out
This is probably the most difficult way to get your contract canceled without paying the early termination fees. Cell phone companies don’t like to lose customers, so they will do everything they can to keep your contract with them. You may not be able to get out of your contract, but calling and asking to cancel may be a good way to convince your cell provider to lower your bill a few dollars. Again, this is difficult to do.
7. Overuse Free Roaming
Most cell providers offer free roaming nowadays. The service isn’t really free for them, but they often cover the charges for the customer. It is easier for them not to deal with the customer complaints and the flood of calls to the CSRs. The cell providers don’t like it though, when the majority of the minutes you use each month are roaming minutes because it means less profits for them. Generally you need to place at least 51% of your calls from outside your carrier’s area. This is rare nowadays, but may still apply, depending on your carrier. Read more about how to do this at Roaming Hack.
The good news is that many cell providers are offering, or plan to offer, prorated early termination fees. Unfortunately, my former provider, Verizon didn’t offer this feature until several months after I signed my contract. They only prorate the termination fee by $5 per month, so it would save me money, but it would still be cheaper to use a third party service to transfer my plan to someone else.
Don’t pay the Early Termination Fee unless you absolutely have to. You have options. You can transfer your phone, look for a loophole in your contract, transfer to another company that will pay your ETF, or you may have options if you move out of the service range. Best of luck in getting out of your cell phone contract without paying fees!