Get Out of Your Cellular Contract
Solutions to the 2-year cellular obligation. Early Termination Fees
(ETF) range from $150 to much more. Here's
how to eliminate your contract with no, or
minimal, charges. We can't guarantee these
will work for you, but they have for others.
- When They Change the Rules:
Pay 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:
Even 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.
- Talk Too Much:
If you have an Unlimited plan, most carriers require you to use a "reasonable"
amount of wireless time. Continuous or excessive
usage usually results in being warned to
stop, or having your service disconnected.
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."
- 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 or Cellswapper.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:
Nicely tell your carrier you can't use the
phone 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 of service, 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.
- 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.
- 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. Find a way to
use your phone more than 51% of the time
off your own carrier's network. You might
be able to make your phone Roam at home.
Some carriers don't mind.
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 convincing evidence.
- 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
- Contact the FCC (Contact information, below):
The FCC will listen and may respond to your
complaint, but that by itself won't get you
out of your contract. Keep track of your
correspondence with them and present it to
the cellular carrier. The carrier may see
you as someone who is serious and might be
more sympathetic, especially after pursuing
- Contact the Media:
Try 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:
Seriously, 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
- Be Proactive, Avoid Contracts:
If you 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 contract.
How to Complain to the FCC:
If you have questions or complaints about
particular wireless phone plans, the handling
of calls by a particular provider, the fees
charged, or similar service matters, contact
the provider directly and keep a record of
the person contacted, the date, and other
details of your inquiry. If you are still
dissatisfied, you can file a complaint with
the FCC in several ways:
You may file electronically using the FCC
Form 475 (complaint form) at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html.
E-mail your complaint to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Send your written complaint to:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554
Toll Free: 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322)
1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY
Consumer Advocacy and Mediation Specialists
are available Monday - Friday, 8 am – 5:30