Do you feel stifled by your current contract? Wouldn’t you like to get out of it and be free as a cellular bird? We all would, for sure. No one wants to pledge two years of loyal service to a cell phone company. I can’t make a commitment for longer than two days, never mind two years. Problem is, the big bad cell phone company wants to charge us $175 or more for the ability to leave them. So it is up to us, the cell phone consumers, to concoct various ways to escape the binds of their contracts fee-free.
While there are a few companies offering prorated early termination fees, that doesn’t mean they all the sudden disappear. Even if you cancel in month 23 of your Verizon contract, you’re still on the hook for $65. And while the government is working to reduce or eliminate ETFs, I’m not holding my breath.
Plus, the trade-off — to eliminate the consumer’s right to sue — is a bit steep for my liking. So how does one go about relieving themselves of a contract? Well, first let’s give a refresher on why you sign a contract in the first place.
Why you sign a cell phone contract
Clearly, a contract favors the company. They want your service, and they want a commitment so that they are guaranteed a certain level of revenue from you. But why in the world would a consumer agree to such restrictions? There are prepaid cell phone options, which might charge a bit more, but don’t require such stifling terms. The trade-off is a subsidy on your phone purchase. No one wants to pay full retail price for a phone. Have you seen how much they run? It’s sometimes ridiculous.
To ease the burden on the consumer, the cell phone company offers to eat a portion of the cost, usually around $150, though it varies depending on phone and carrier. So now that they have given you something you want, it’s time for you to give them something they want. That is, commitment. You sign on the dotted line, and for the next two years you are bound to your cell phone company. If you would like to terminate the deal before the term is up, you’ve got to pay them a kill fee. This, the companies say, allows them to recoup the subsidy they so generously laid out for your phone.
Method 1: Find a change in the terms and conditions
This one isn’t so much in your power, but you should keep an eye out for it. Every once in a while, companies will make material changes to the terms and conditions of their service.
For example, many of the major cell carriers upped the fee for text messaging within the past year. If you did not have a bundle of text messages, this amounted to a material change. You could then call the company and badger them to let you out of your contract. The carriers are required to notify all subscribers of any material changes to the terms and conditions. So be on the lookout for letters from your carrier, and always be sure to leaf through your entire bill. If anything changes, you could be set to unburden yourself from a contract.
Be warned, though, that not all changes are considered material, and only material changes can lead to you getting out of the contract. Also, customer service is definitely going to give you a hard time either way, so be persistent.
Method 2: Abuse carrier roaming privileges
Once again, you might not have a ton of control over this. For example, I live in an area that is completely surrounded by towers of my particular carrier. I’d have to do a good deal of traveling to uncovered areas in order to roam my way out of my contract. But this can work for some people. See, there’s no one network that covers every market in the country.
Rather, cell carriers have roaming agreements with other carriers. This is so their customers can enjoy calling from nearly anywhere in the U.S., at a lower overall cost to the carriers. For the most part, major postpaid carriers do not charge you for roaming — though there are certainly exceptions. Check your carrier’s coverage map. See if there are any areas near you that aren’t covered by the primary network. And then roam away.
The idea is to get the company so fed up with your roaming habits that they drop you. Of course, the downside is that you can’t continue service with that company. Believe it or not, some people just want out of their contracts so that they can enjoy service on a month-by-month basis, and have no particular quibble with their cell carrier.
Method 3: Find someone to take your contract off your hands
Ever hear of Cellswapper or Celltrade USA? If you’re looking to get out of your contract, it could be the boon you’ve been seeking. It’s an ingenious service which allows you to post what amounts to a classified ad for your cell contract. Other users, looking for a term shorter than two years, browse around, and if they like your contract, they contact you and you work out the swap.
Conversely, if you’re looking for cell phone service, but don’t want to commit to two years, you can browse ads on Cellswapper. That way, once the contract runs out, you can go month to month. So you can avoid renewing the service, but still enjoy the postpaid benefits of that carrier. There are a few potential downsides to services like this.
First, number porting is not guaranteed. You can set up a port, but because each carrier has different policies on the matter, you might not be able to time everything right. That isn’t to say that you can’t port your number. But it is to say that you might find difficulty doing so. Second, it is recommended that along with your service, you offer your phone as well. Why? Because someone isn’t likely to want a service without a phone. And chances are, the buyer doesn’t have a random phone from your carrier locked away in a drawer for just such an occasion.
Method 4: Move
Okay, so this one is a bit impractical. But it is a possible solution. Just pack up the truck and move to an area that isn’t covered by your current provider. They’re not obligated to let you out of your contract, but many of them will. Alternately, you could take a lesson from Method 2 and move to an area where the carrier has a roaming agreement. After a month there they’ll drop you pretty easily. The problem here, beyond practicality, is that you’re going to get flak from the company.
They’re not going to want to let you out of your contract, no matter how poor your service is at the new location. A letter to the FCC might be in order.
Method 5: Call customer service excessively
This is more in jest than anything else. There was an incident last year where Sprint dropped a number of customers for making frequent calls to customer service — sometimes twice a day, according to the company. The idea is to be such a thorn in the company’s side that they feel a benefit by dropping you. It will take persistence, for sure. And in the end, it might not work. But if you’re really frustrated, you can give it a whirl.
Method 6: Fake your death
Once again, it’s more of a joke than anything. A Chicago man tried this last year, and it didn’t work. Well, it did work at first, but the company soon realized that the man was in fact alive. And they did what any good corporation would do: they made sure to collect his fees. It really speaks to the strong desire to get out of a cell phone contract.
But as long as we continue to accept the companies’ subsidies on new phone purchases, we’re going to be locked down into these contracts. Hopefully, you find one of these useful in getting out of your own contract.