A big reason why you can walk in to a cell phone store and walk out with a new device that you’ve paid little or zero money for with a contract is because of early termination fees. The mobile phone providers hope the threat of having to pay big money to leave will keep you under contract for one or two years.
But sometimes, for whatever reason, you want or need to make a change to your cell phone carrier. So how do you get out of your cell phone contract without paying big bucks?
In this article we’re going to show you how to switch cell phone carriers without being charged an early termination fee for your phone or service contract.
How to switch cell phone carriers without paying a fee: Table of contents
- How much does it cost to break a cell phone contract?
- The direct approach: Ask to be let out of your wireless contract
- 3 cell providers that will pay your early termination fee
- 5 other ways to get out of a cell phone contract without paying a fee
How much does it cost to break a cell phone contract?
Cell phone companies typically charge upwards of $350 to free you from your contract. That’s the early termination fee (ETF). You agree to it in your terms of service when you sign a service contract.
At AT&T, for example, if you want to get out of your contract for a smartphone and data plan, you’re looking at $325 minus $10 for each full month of completed service.
Here’s what to do if you want to get out of your contract.
The direct approach: Ask to be let out of your wireless contract
First, you should try contacting your cell phone carrier. Ask them if there’s a way you can get out of your contract without being charged.
Remember, all it takes is one yes — you have nothing to lose and lots to gain. Here are the customer service numbers to the major cell phone providers:
- Verizon — 1 (800) 922-0204
- T-Mobile — 1 (877) 453-1304
- Sprint — 1 (888) 211-4727
- AT&T —1 (800) 331-0500
3 cell providers that will pay your early termination fee
Next, you should check with other carriers. Some advertise that they will pay your ETF. Most of them will do so in creative ways and never upfront. Before you go this route, know how much of the ETF they’ll pay before you switch.
One thing to note is that none of these buyout plans will cover taxes or plan charges. Here’s a look at the big providers and the deals they have for paying your ETF if you switch:
T-Mobile says that it will pay off up to $650 of your contract with a rival carrier if you switch. Here are the details:
- Find out your phone’s trade-in value with T-Mobile.
- The fine print: With T-Mobile’s buyout deal, your old contract will be paid via trade-in credit and up to two virtual prepaid Mastercards. The process could take up to eight weeks.
- Find out your phone’s trade-in value with AT&T
- The fine print: AT&T’s terms let you know that “Credits received may not equal all costs of switching.” Any pre-paid credit card they give you will come within four weeks. It will only be valid for five months from the date of purchase. Restrictions apply for select ZIP codes in L.A., New York and Chicago.
- Find out your phone’s trade-in value with Sprint.
- Fine print: Sprint lets you know that the buyout will be in stages — at the time you trade in your old device and the remainder via a virtual reward or prepaid card.
As for Verizon…
5 other ways to get out of your cell phone contract early without paying a fee
1. Sell your cell phone service
2. Transfer your contract
3. Join the military
4. Your wireless provider changes your terms without advance notice
As a technicality, you can get out of your contract for free if the wireless provider changes your contract in significant ways — extending the length of the agreement or price hikes — without telling you first. But there are limits.
For example, Verizon’s terms of service says this: “If you’re a Postpay customer and a change to your Plan or this Agreement has a material adverse effect on you, you can cancel the line of Service that has been affected within 60 days of receiving the notice with no early termination fee if we fail to negate the change after you notify us of your objection to it.”
5. You complain enough
Some wireless providers will terminate your contract if you legitimately can prove that your cell phone service has deteriorated for some time. Again, this will require documentation and several instances of logging complaints.
If you move to an area where there is no cell phone service or it’s spotty, the company may send you a mini tower or antennae for better reception, but they may let you out of your contract just the same.
Here’s the bottom line: Avoiding an early termination fee is possible if you do it right.
Another way cell phone customers lose money is by switching providers at the wrong time. Here’s when to make the switch.