How to Avoid Termination Fees When Switching Cell Phone Providers

article by Arya A. author
Early termination fees (ETF) are an extremely unfair provision of cell phone deals that carriers use to squeeze an extra few (hundred) dollars out of you when you want to leave your contract early. Although they are annoying, there are steps you can take to avoid paying them.

Below, we lay out five of the best ways to either minimize or entirely eliminate the impact of these fees on your wallet:

Get a Plan with a Lower Fee to Begin With

When searching for the best cell phone plans, you should always take into consideration what will happen if the relationship with your carrier sours. The best way to avoid paying a large ETF if you want to make a switch before your contract is up is to avoid entering into one in the first place. Always read the fine print before committing.

Remember That You Can Cancel Early If You Aren’t Happy

There is usually a grace period (typically between two to four weeks) at the start of your contract during which you can get out of it without paying an ETF. Cell phone plan deals can often cause consumers to gloss over other issues like network coverage or customer service. But if it quickly becomes apparent that these will be major issues, don’t hesitate to immediately back out.

Cancel After the Carrier Changes the Terms of the Contract

Consumers are very often not aware that cell phone carriers themselves are often the culprits of contract breaches. Generally speaking, these will take the form of unilateral changes to your agreement. Experts estimate this can happen as many as a dozen times a year, and each time it does it opens up a window for the consumer to exit the contract without paying an ETF.

By law, carriers are required to inform consumers of the changes. This is usually done by burying notice within the pages of a monthly statement, so be sure to check every bill for any changes.

Transfer Your Contract Instead of Terminating It

The best cell phone plans will often have fine print that an ETF only applies when you actually terminate the contract early. That leaves a kind of loophole where you can get the contract off your hands by getting someone else to take it on for you. The procedures for doing this will vary from carrier to carrier, but in general both parties will need to complete an “Assumption of Liability” form to make the transaction legally binding.

If You do Have to Pay Fees, Get Your New Carrier to do it for You

Finally, the race to offer consumers the cheapest cell phone plans means carriers will do almost anything to get you to switch over to them. In order to avoid an ETF dissuading someone changing over, many carriers will pay the fee outright for new customers. This is actually a very common practice among even the largest carriers such as AT&T or Verizon Wireless.