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I’m Stuck With My Cell Phone Carrier, What Can I Do?

Everything was lovely at first. Your carrier wooed you with beguiling promises of blazing data speeds, then sealed the deal by putting a shiny new phone in your hand. But then your calls started getting dropped. Customer service isn’t listening to you, and your data needs are not being met. Lately, you’ve even been checking out the cute plans on another carrier’s website but you’re legally bound and your current cell plan isn’t ready to call it quits. What can you do?

Buy Your Way Out


Image via Flickr by Anders Adermark

Sometimes, you just walk away. But that means paying early termination fees (ETFs) that could range from $150-$250, plus you may still owe on your phone. The ETF goes down over time, so if you’re near the end of your contract, it may be less than you think. Call your carrier and ask for an estimate. If the costs aren’t very much, or money is no object for you, then pay the fees and walk away.

Let Your New Carrier Handle the Breakup

The simplest solution is to find a new carrier who will welcome you into their tribe by covering your ETFs and phone payments. Look for a carrier who won’t tie you into another long-term contract. One such carrier that comes to mind is T-Mobile. Not only will they pay your fees, but they will also pay off your phone and guarantee your rates without requiring a two-year service contract. You could then start fresh with some of the latest smartphones such as the new Samsung Galaxy S6.

Swap Plans

Another option is to sell your remaining contract. Sell off what’s left of your contract and start fresh, or try out a new carrier by purchasing just a few remaining months of someone else’s contract. Once you find a buyer, you can handle the transfer through your provider’s customer service line or by visiting their storefront.

Moving Works…Sometimes


Image via Flickr by MattJP

A change of address doesn’t always get you out of a cell phone contract, but in a few situations it will do the trick. If you are moving to an area where your plan doesn’t offer any coverage, they will typically release you without any trouble (you’ll have to prove that your move to Bolivia is real, though). That works best if you’re moving overseas or if your contract is with a carrier who offers limited coverage. You can use your military status to get out of a contract when you PCS or deploy. 

Catch A Change

When your carrier makes changes to your plan, it has to notify you and offer a grace period to cancel the contract if the new terms have a “material adverse effect” on you. Your carrier will alert you to changes and the grace period in the sneakiest way possible, so be alert. Watch the small print on your statement, check for e-mails that slip straight into your junk mail filter, and skim the boring newsletters and announcements your company sends all the time. If you catch a change, call immediately, ask for a supervisor, and tell them the change isn’t acceptable. Use the words “material adverse effect” and ask them to waive the ETF.

Document and Complain

Are you cancelling because of poor coverage and dropped calls? Lodge a few formal complaints by phone or in writing and document each one. Make sure your complaints are legitimate; your carrier can check on things like dropped calls. When you’ve made several complaints, set aside a block of time to cancel your service. Calmly state that the carrier isn’t consistently delivering the service you’ve contracted for and that you’d like your contract terminated without a penalty. Don’t alienate the person who can help you by getting angry. Let the employee you’re speaking know that you don’t hold them personally responsible for the problems, but that you expect they will act as an advocate for you within the company. If they don’t have the authority to waive the fees, ask for someone who does and start over.

Leaving a cell phone contract early is hard, but it can be done. Stay strong and stand up for yourself. Someday you and your new data plan will look back on all this and laugh.

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