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How to Cancel Your Cell Phone Contract
What's the average penalty for breaking your cell phone contract?
- Wireless companies charge anywhere from $150-$350 PER PHONE LINE. View each carrier's termination fee.
- Kiosks, which may appear to be service providers, can charge even more. Kiosks are 3rd party providers, not cell phone carriers. Additional early termination penalties from kiosks can be as high as $400 PER PHONE LINE
- **Be VERY careful about buying cell phone service from a kiosk at a mall; they often add additional terms to the contract that make it even more expensive for you to get out of a contract (not including the sometimes contradictory return policies and trial periods.) We even received a complaint from a blind couple that had been sold a family pack of camera phones by a kiosk vendor. Promises, promises, promises, but as one UCAN consumer advocate likes to say, "If it ain't in writing, it ain't in the contract."
What if your service isn't as good as you expected -- will they let you out?
- Yes, for around $175 PER PHONE LINE. Cell phone companies do not guarantee quality of service. AT&T explicity states in its Terms and Conditions, "AT&T does not guarantee availability of wireless network." Other providers have similar provisions.
How bad does the service have to be before they let you out?
- In many ways, all that you are entitled to with a cell phone plan is a phone, working or not. Cell phone contracts may not be drafted to cheat you, but they ARE drafted to keep you! Cell phone companies spend upwards of $300 in marketing costs and subsidies to win each customer and they are going to make it as difficult as possible for you to switch to a competitor.
- Make use of your trial period to test your phone EVERYWHERE you are going to use it, because it is the only chance you will get. Do not expect the quality of service to improve. If you are told reception will get better once the new tower is put up, find a different provider
Can a change in contract terms be used as grounds for cancellation?
- Contracts vary, but most changes to your contract can provide grounds to get out. Almost any new fee or new charge is your opportunity to break the contract. Why? Because they can't change any part of the contract without your permission. But they do it all of the time because they know that you DON'T know that you can use that change as a basis for canceling your contract. Here are some recent examples:
- Text message price changes (Cingular T-mobile)
- Administrative charge increase (Verizon, from $0.40 to $0.70)
- Increase in unpublished number fee (Might entitle a bundled AT&T customer to quit Cingular/AT&T wireless,or AT&T DSL)
- Make sure the change/increase applies to you. Typically you need to get to a manager. Be sure to use the term "materially adverse" when referring to the change, and have notice of the change in hand as well as the relevant provisions of the contract. See our Sample Script.
- Each carrier takes a different stance on what is materially adverse and who can get out. You usually only have a short time to claim a change as materially adverse. See our guide to "Material Adverse" Clauses in Cell Phone Contracts for more info.
How good are those new websites that allow you to sell the remainder of your cell phone contract to someone else?
- The concept has been around for a number of years. Most of the carriers have a process that allows you to transfer your contract, which can help to avoid activation fees, or perhaps find a deal. The contract "swapping" sites are OK for Plan B, but clearly the better option is to get out of the contract entirely. See a list of carrier activation fees. Available services include Cellswapper, Celltradeusa, and Resellular. Here is a short list of drawbacks:
- There are a lot of outlandish sales to be found like $4/month plans and $5000/month plans.
- Typical internet field of potentially sketchy anonymous buyers.
- Not usually an instant process, can take up to 7 days, and buyer must pass a credit check.
- Cost of plans do not generally differ widely from carriers' rates
- Still a relatively little used process after many years of the concept being around
Are there any other ways I can get out of my contract? I'm desperate.
- We've heard some pretty ridiculous contract cancellation stories and we thought we'd share a few for entertainment purposes. The following tips are not guaranteed to get you out of your contract, nor are they guaranteed to be legal.
- Set your phone to "roam only." Instead of utilizing its own network, the phone will search for the networks of other carriers. Most plans give users free roaming these days, but carriers must still pay for the roaming minutes. The reasonong goes that it costs the carrier more to pay for the roaming than the customer is worth, so the carrier will drop the customer. Some phones, however, can be forced to roam easier than others, depending on the model. Sprint users seem to have the easiest time making this happen, but there is not a large enough sample available to know for sure.
- The Consumerist has a story about Sprint dropping customers for calling customer service too much. Apparently, most of the calls were to correct billing errors, not to complain.
If you are a journalist doing a story on canceling cell phone contracts, UCAN's legal staff deals with these issues every day. Just email email@example.com or contact UCAN at 619-696-6966.
If your a consumer with a cell phone issue file an online complaint with the UCAN Fraud Squad or call 619-696-6966 for assistance.