April 24, 2014

How to get out of your wireless contract without paying a termination fee

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With the holidays coming up, more and more people are looking at getting new phones, and possibly even switching carriers. The trick with this, of course, is the fact that many people are tied down to a lengthy service contract with their providers. In other words, because they are under contract, their providers can – and do – charge an extraordinary amount of money for an early termination fee, often referred to as an “ETF”.

Gift giving isn’t the only reason to try to go with another carrier; some people want to get a new phone without paying full price, while others are tired of spotty coverage, or even just done dealing with hassles caused by their provider. Whatever the reason, this article hopes to assist those who need out of their wireless contract, without the pain of having to pay a huge fee.

Below is a full layout of a strategy that has gotten me out of not one, but two service contracts over the years when I was tired of dealing with bad service.

Please note that this is not a guaranteed strategy and that your results may vary. You could end up with a better plan or discounted device, or simply be told to fly a kite.

Let your carrier know about service issues

This is the crucial first step. When you make up your mind that you’re ready to change carriers, the first thing you want to do is start having their customer service log each and every issue. Did you drop a call? Is your data really slow, or not working in a particular area? As soon as you can, call into their customer service department and simply let them know you had an issue. You can make this a painless call by simply stating what you tried to do to remedy it (restarting the phone, airplane mode on / off, etc), and that you would simply like it logged in your account notes that you’re having trouble.

Inform your carrier of constant trouble areas

If you’re in a large urban area and you constantly have one spot, no matter how small, of no service, make the phone call to your provider and tell them. Of course, be reasonable – if you’re having trouble making a call from a 500-foot-below-the-earth mine shaft, you shouldn’t make that call. Anything else, however, is fair game. Again, just make the call and have them log it in your account. Bonus points on this if the trouble area is your home, your work, or somewhere you’re moving to.

Inform your provider of bad / unhelpful customer support calls

If you call in and are given a runaround, make sure you call back and talk to a supervisor. Have them log the even into your notes, and tell them why it was a bad call. Got hung up on? Log it. Got an useless answer to your problem? Log it.

Make sure your payments are fully up-to-date

This is pretty obvious – if you’re in bad financial standing with your provider, they don’t have to help you with anything. You have a contract with your provider – they provide you with service, and you pay them for it. If you’re not holding up your end of that contract, they have every right to charge you for cancelling. This will be a critical part of the puzzle later.

Make the cancellation call

Now, it’s time to go in for the kill, so to speak. In case you didn’t notice, everything previous to this phone call was all about making your complaints known to your provider. You want a detailed log on your account before you make the call to get out of your contract, and have it as detailed as possible. This is crucial. Also, you want to make your own note of every time you call in – you need to be sure that they show as many calls as you do, as some people will not even make a note in your account when you call. This is another point against them when the time comes. When you make the call to cancel your service, you want to make sure you do it up to a week before you want to change carriers, as the issues will likely need to be reviewed by managers, lead techs, etc. Don’t expect to make a single call and get an agreement to have your contract voided – the issue almost always has to be escalated. Once you reach someone on this call, you want to make your intentions as clear as possible. Make sure that you let them know the following:

  • You should have a long list of service complaints on your account
  • You have already tried to have the situation remedied
  • You are only interested in cancelling your account

You will likely be escalated right away. Once you’re on the phone with a manager or lead, this is how you should word things (or at least some varying degree of the following):

I have a contract with (Provider name). I pay you to provide cellular service, and you provide me with said service. I have held up my end of this contract by paying my bills; however, (provider name) has not held up their end. This means that the contract is not being held up on (provider name)’s end, and I want this contract cancelled, with no fee.

These are the magic words, and they’re the ones you should keep going back to, no matter how the provider tries to spin things. Remember how the first step is making sure your account is up-to-date? That is so that you can say that you’ve held up your end of the contract with confidence. If you’re not, well – you’re pretty much out of luck. They don’t have to do anything if you’re also not holding up your end of the agreement.

At this point, they will likely need to review the account, which usually takes 24-48 hours, but could take up to a week. If you get calls back asking questions, be sure to focus on your issues, and the fact that you are legally able to get out of the binding contract due to the lack of service being provided to you. This strategy has gotten me personally out of two contract without an ETF, the most recent one being just this last week. You have a legal right to back out of a contract with no financial repercussions, as long as you can prove that the other party is not holding up their end of the deal.

Feedback and questions

Got any questions or comments on this? Be sure to comment below, and let us know your thoughts. Have you successfully left a contract from a wireless provider? What sort of “trick” or method did employ?

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