This is America, land of the two-year mobile contract, and home of the carrier-subsidized smartphone. Sure, this arrangement saves you a few hundred bucks on those new iPhones or Galaxies, but it also locks you into what can often end up being a very bad relationship.
Unfortunately, wireless carriers don’t provide you much recourse. If you want to end your contract at AT&T, you’ll be forking over $325 minus $10 per month that you’ve completed on your contract. Pretty much all the major carriers subtract a given amount for each month you’ve completed on your contract, but that number tends to change. It also doesn’t make the financial blow much easier unless you’re near the end. Sprint and Verizon will charge you up to $350, unless you cancel within the first two weeks (a policy that was extended to 30 days beginning June 27 for Sprint customers). T-Mobile customers pay up to $200 depending on how many days are left on their contracts.
While it won’t be easy, you can still break free without shelling out tons of dough. Here’s how.
Sell your plan
Chances are, there’s someone out there looking to get out of his plan and into a new one, and he may be interested in buying yours. You can choose to swap with him, or just sell your plan to him. Do this on sites like CellBreaker, Cellswapper, or TradeMyCellular. This doesn’t violate your terms of service because the other party is fulfilling the terms of your original contract.
This doubles as a great way to test out another carrier’s service — you can essentially trade contracts with someone for three to six months, for example, and know for sure if you want to jump to that carrier or not, without breaking your original contract agreement.
Track changes of terms, then jump ship
Keep abreast of the news, and pay attention to those update emails your carrier occasionally sends you, as well as your monthly statements. Any of them could offer a way out. When cellular carriers make what’s called a “material change” to a contract, you’ve got 30 days to bail, scot-free. A material change can be anything from additional service or maintenance fees, adjustments in the rates you’re charged, or changes in discounts applied to your account. If you’ve spotted a material change, you should be able to contact customer service and end your contract.
Find a carrier that’ll pay your ETF
If you want to switch to a smaller carrier or mobile virtual network operator (Virgin Mobile, Credo Mobile, and Boost mobile are examples of these) that will let you prepay or pay by the month, some will actually pay your cancellation fee for you. And depending on which MVNO you switch to, you may be able to keep your phone, as well.
T-Mobile also promises to pay up to $650 to cover the costs of your ETF if you switch to one of its plans. That’s not exactly ditching a carrier contract, but if you only want to switch, it’s still a good option.
Yell, scream, or charm your way out
Well, maybe don’t yell and scream. But if you don’t mind putting in a lot of work, it’s possible you could wiggle your way out of your contract. While risky, in terms of results, if successful you will have transcended into another dominion of cellular connectivity and badassedness.
Just know you won’t get your contract ripped up just by batting your eyelashes. Lifehacker has a whole bunch of tips on how to successfully sweet-talk your way out of your contract. Basically, it helps if you have a proven record of terrible service: dropped calls, zero bars and the like. Keep tabs of all the times your cellular network failed you for a week or more, then call and complain to your provider, as well as logging a complaint with the FCC and the Better Business Bureau. Call and complain again a week or two later. And again. You’ll need to escalate the situation until you’ve got a manager on the line, and you’re going to have to prove that it’s not just a femtocell that will solve your difficulties. You’ll also need to let them know you filed formal complaints, all while being charming, persuasive, desperate (for adequate cellular service), and persistent.
And if all else fails, you can just try swapping contracts with someone else, like we mentioned above.
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