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When you sign a two year contract with your wireless carrier to get a new phone at a subsidized price, you probably know there's a termination fee if you want to get out early. You may think that fee would be waived if you could demonstrate a real need to end your contract, but this sad story suggests otherwise. In fact, it's easier to break an apartment lease than it is to get out of a cell phone contract. So if you need to get out of your contract but your pleas fall on deaf ears at your cell phone provider, how do you get out without emptying your wallet? Here's how.
Navigate the Customer Service Maze
Before you do anything drastic, you should always see if you can get your wireless provider to come around to your cause. They won't want to lose you as a customer, but most companies will make some kind of exemption if you talk to the right person and have a good reason. If you're moving because of work or a compelling personal reason (death in the family, etc.) to a location they don't cover, are a soldier who's being deployed, or you've lost your job and are unable to continue paying your contract, they'll usually let you out or work with you on a compromise. Photo by Brad P.
However, don't expect to just call up and have the first person you speak to solve your problem. You may need to call back several times or escalate your issue. Here are some more tips to cut through corporate bureaucracy and get your carrier to listen to you. Don't be afraid to use the company's social media channels to your advantage, or go straight to the top and contact corporate executives.
Trade Your Contract with Someone Else In Your Boat
No one actually likes wireless contracts, and you're not the only person who wants to get out of theirs. Odds are there's someone out there who's trying to get out of their contract with the carrier you want to join, and vice versa. Check out services like Cellswapper, Celltrade, or TradeMyCellular that all play matchmaker between people who want out of their contract with one carrier, and people who want into shorter-term contracts with another. If you have six months left on your T-Mobile contract but you're moving to an area served by Verizon, for example, you can pair up with someone who's willing to trade their 18 months remaining on Verizon for your 6 months on T-Mobile. Even better, the service can find someone who wants only a short-term T-Mobile contract—the service handles the paperwork, and you send out your phone, cover the transfer fee, and walk away contract-free.
Find a Wireless Carrier Willing to Buy Out Your Contract
It's not terribly common, but some wireless providers are so eager for new customers that they're willing to buy you out of your old contract, and pay down whatever early termination fee you may have. The big carriers shy away from offers like this, but smaller ones and MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators, or companies that buy the rights to resell a big carrier's bandwidth under their own name. Boost Mobile, Credo Mobile, and Virgin Mobile are all examples of MVNOs) often bend the rules to bring in new customers.
For example, new Tucows startup Ting is running a month-long contest to get you out of your contract (although that month is almost over, so act quickly!) They're willing to buy one lucky winner out of a contract or your termination fee, whichever is cheaper, every day this month. Considering their approach to the wireless business, you may want to consider it. Keep in mind though, even when Ting's promotion is over, other MVNOs may be willing to work with you when big carriers won't. Here's a full list of MVNOs in the United States and the carriers they resell from—you may even be able to keep your phone.
Hack the System
Finally, if none of the other tricks work, it's time to play a little dirty. We've talked about how contract changes are often a way to escape a long contract, so if your carrier has added new fees or changed the terms of your agreement recently, that may be your ticket out of there. Moneycrashers has some more tips, and while they were written for T-Mobile specifically, most will work with any carrier. Still, your mileage may vary—some of them are technicalities you may have to fight for. When the iPhone launched on Verizon Wireless, we offered up some more tips to get out of your contract without paying an early termination fee. Check them out—many of them work on any carrier, and for any phone. Photo by Jessica Spengler.
If playing dirty doesn't appeal to you, consider changing your contract to the absolute fewest number of minutes and smallest data allowance they offer. Cancel SMS messaging entirely, and trim your account to the bare minimum. Not only does this make you an undesirable customer, but the lower cost per month for the duration of your contract may be less than the termination fee, just spread out. Then sell the phone, remove it from your account, sign up with your preferred carrier, and walk away.
These are just a few ways to get out of your wireless contract without dealing with an early termination fee. Of course, you could always pay the fee to get out, but these options can save you money in exchange for a little effort. Do you have any other suggestions or techniques we didn't cover? Let's hear them in the comments below.