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A few weeks ago, I ran across a nice video that gave a rundown of ways to get out of your cell phone contract without paying an early termination fee (ETF). We actually just went through this process (more below), and I’m sure that many others are in the same boat, so I thought I’d highlight it here.
Avoiding a cell phone ETF – in theory
What follows are six (possible) ways to break your cell phone contract without a penalty. Some are easier than others, but in any case you’ll probably have to work at it to convince your carrier to let you out.
- Cancel within 30 days. Many carriers have a 30 day trial period during which you can cancel without an ETF.
- If you have free roaming, use more than half your monthly minutes while roaming and your carrier might terminate your agreement to save money. Set your preferences to roaming only and make tons of calls using your free night and weekend minutes.
- Keep an eye out for notices of service changes. You typically have the right to cancel if your provider makes a “materially adverse” change to your agreement.
- If you have recurring problems with your service, call in and document the problems whenever they occur. Takes notes on your conversations and get the name and/or ID of the people you speak to. If you can document a pattern of problems, you might be able to get out of your contract.
- If you have a friend that needs cell service, and is willing to take over your agreement, ask if your carrier if you can transfer your line. If you don’t know anyone who needs a new phone, search the internet for cell phone swap programs.
- Move to an area without coverage (seriously?). If you can’t get reliable service at your home address, your carrier might let you out of your contract.
Avoiding a cell phone ETF – in practice
In our case, we had suffered through terrible coverage at home for a few years. We put up with it for so long because we were getting dirt cheap service through a pair of Sprint SERO plans. In the end, however, we decided to move on to greener pastures.
In looking at the Sprint coverage maps, I noticed that our house was outside of their coverage area, so I called to inquire about canceling. I was told by the phone rep that we could get out of our contract without the ETF. He said he’d notate our account and we could simply port our numbers elsewhere.
Fast forward about six weeks and we got hit with a $441 bill — two $200 ETFs plus a little over 10% in taxes. To make a long story short, I spend the better part of two weeks (and countless hours on the phone) getting this removed from our account.
We even had to go so far as providing proof of residence. Apparently the fact that we’ve been receiving (and paying) our bill at our current address for roughly three years wasn’t sufficient “proof” that we actually live here.
I think the take home message here is that, no matter how strong your case, you need to be prepared to fight with your carrier. Take good notes whenever you call. Record the date and time of your call, the name and ID number of the rep that you speak to, and so on.
As long as you have a legitimate case, you should be alright — eventually. I do have to say that the frustration was totally worth it, though… I’m loving my iPhone, and we’re thrilled to once again be able to use our phones at home.