Cancel Your Cell Phone Contract Without Paying Fees

Cell phone companies charge outrageous Early Termination Fees (ETF). Learn how to cancel a cell phone contract without paying the ETF.
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The early termination fees that cell phone companies charge are outrageous! Most companies charge anywhere from $150-200 to cancel your contract before you fulfill the terms. In the past I got out of a cell phone contract with Verizon by transferring my phone number and contract to a friend. I avoided paying the $175 Early Termination Fee (ETF). There are several other ways to get out of a cell phone without paying a penny, and with the current competition, some cell phone providers will even pay the termination fee for you if you sign up with them! (see below for some offers).

Here are some ways to get out of your cell phone contract without paying the Early Termination Fee.

1. Transfer to a Cell Carrier That Will Pay Your ETF

Competition is stiff in the cell phone business. Right now it’s all about market share. And carriers are doing everything they can to entice people to switch to their network. In some cases, they are even going as far as paying your Early Termination Fees (ETFs) for you! (usually in the form of a pre-paid debit card).

The best current transfer offer is with T-Mobile, which offers an unlimited plan with no contract. We’ll cover that, then show some links to the other major carriers:

T-Mobile will pay your Early Termination Fees (up to 10 Lines). Trade-in your current phone, and T-Mobile will pay your Early Termination Fee (ETF) with a Visa® Prepaid card. And they won’t even make you sign an annual service contract. You can do this for up to $650 per line, for up to 10 lines on one contract.

Here’s the T-Mobile offer works:

  • Visit this offer link.
  • Transfer your current phone number to T-Mobile
  • Process your trade-in within 14 days of your new phone purchase (T-Mobile will offer you credit based on the market value for your eligible device).
  • After entering your order number and T-Mobile phone number, print the postage paid shipping label and send in your device.
  • Submit your final bill. When you receive your current carrier’s final bill with your Early Termination Fees (ETFs), submit the bill to T-Mobile electronically within 2 calendar months of your number transfer to T-Mobile for reimbursement (up to 12 lines).
  • Get up to $650 per line based on the Early Termination Fees (ETFs) on your carrier’s final bill.
  • Eligible device trade-in, device purchase, qualifying plan and port-in required.
  • Trade-in credit applied to T-Mobile bill.
  • Allow 8 weeks for processing.
  • One offer per line up to 12 lines.

Check with other Cell Phone Providers. Here are some other major cell phone carriers. Their transfer plans vary, so it’s a good idea to check with their website to see their current offers.

  • AT&T is one of the largest carriers in the US, and features a robust network, fast data, and plenty of choices for your next phone, including the iPhone and premium Android devices. They run frequent web-only special offers.
  • T-Mobile – T-Mobile has an excellent offer for unlimited talk, text, and data. This Unlimited Plan is probably the best deal among the 4 major national carriers.
  • Straight Talk is one of the more popular pay-as-you-go plans. They just rent network space from the major carriers. So you are getting more or less the same service, just in a different package. These pay-as-you-go companies usually offer lower monthly rates, but don’t often offer to pay your ETF.

2. The Cell Provider Changes the Terms of the Contract

If your cell carrier changes the terms of the contract you signed, you can cancel your contract without paying any early termination fees. Many states require cell phone companies to give customers advance notice of contract changes which could increase the cost or extend the length of the contract. These cell phone companies must get consent from their customers before increasing the cost or extending the length of contract. This is only fair; why should you have to uphold the new terms of a contract you did not originally agree to?

Note: Cell providers are required to notify you of these changes to their contract terms, but they are often buried in small print within your bill.

3. Transfer Your Contract to Someone Else

There are 2 ways you can do this. The first is if you transfer your cell phone contract to someone you know. I called Verizon the other day to determine how to do this. The process is free, easy to accomplish, and can be done over the phone in 20 minutes if both people are there together.

Here is what to do: Ask to do an Assumption of Liability; this legally transfers the remaining terms on the contract to another person. The cell provider’s customer service representative (CSR) will send a copy of the contract terms and the other person has to read over these and verify they have read them. From there the CSR asks the person assuming the contract a few questions, verifies their SSN and some other information, and completes the deal. The minutes and bill are prorated between the two individuals. Remember that your bill must be current and the other person must be at least 18 years of age or older. A credit check for the person assuming the contract will also be done.

The second way to transfer your service is to use a third party to find someone willing to assume the contract for you. This is essentially the same process as above, but you are using someone else to help you find a match.

4. Complain Often, but do it the Right Way

What do you do if you have spotty service, dropped calls, or your calls repeatedly go straight to voice mail? Complain to the company – but do it the right way. When you call the customer service representatives be polite and professional, thoroughly explain the situation to them, and be patient. If this is the first time this has happened you could ask for a discount to recompense you for your troubles. You should ask to get out of your contract if this is a recurring problem. This works best if you call often and keep records.

The first level of customer service reps don’t always have the authority to do too much, so you may have to elevate your complaint. Again, being polite is the best way to deal with this. If you don’t get anywhere, you may have to lodge a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission. Sometimes just mentioning the BBB or FTC may be enough to get you what you want – out of your contract.

5. Move Out of the Cell Provider’s Area (go off the grid)

Most cell providers coverage areas are quite extensive, but there will always be gaps in service. If you move to an area with little or no coverage, you may be able to get out of your contract. Keep in mind that most cellular service providers don’t want to let you go, so they may offer you a mini antenna or tower for your home. This will often boost your signal enough to give you reasonable coverage.

If you are in the military, you can usually cancel your service if you move or deploy for a long period (sometimes the service provider just places your contract on vacation mode). Some people have also had luck calling in the CSR and telling them they have moved to some small desert town without coverage (whether or not they actually moved there). In this case, do what your conscience allows you to do.

6. Sweet Talk Your Way Out

This is probably the most difficult way to cancel your contract without paying the early termination fees. Cell phone companies don’t like to lose customers, so they will do everything they can to keep your contract with them. You may not be able to get out of your contract, but calling and asking to cancel may be a good way to convince your cell provider to lower your bill a few dollars. Again, this is difficult to do.

7. Overuse Free Roaming

Most cell providers offer free roaming nowadays. The service isn’t free for them, but they often cover the charges for the customer. It is easier for them not to deal with customer complaints and the flood of calls to the CSRs. The cell providers don’t like it when most of the minutes you use each month are roaming minutes because it means fewer profits for them. Generally, you need to place at least 51% of your calls outside your carrier’s area. This is rare nowadays but may still apply, depending on your carrier. Read more about how to do this at Roaming Hack.

What next?

The good news is that many cell providers offer or plan to offer prorated early termination fees. Unfortunately, my former provider, Verizon, didn’t offer this feature until several months after I signed my contract. They only prorate the termination fee by $5 per month to save money, but it would still be cheaper to use a third-party service to transfer my plan to someone else.

Don’t pay the Early Termination Fee unless you absolutely have to. You have options. You can transfer your phone, look for a loophole in your contract, transfer to another company that will pay your ETF, or you may have options if you move out of the service range. Best of luck in getting out of your cell phone contract without paying fees!

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Reader Interactions


  1. Shaun says

    Hey Ryan,

    Smart phones are addictively good at a lot of things for tech minded people and the apps these days are often quite useful. If you don’t have one, you don’t need it, but if you do you will never look back! If you are on the net, then I would recommend a smart phone of some description, it doesn’t have to be an iPhone there are plenty of other options. I’m all for the iPhone coz I have one, but I think the phones running andriod (Samsung, HTC etc) are just as good and very reasonably priced too.

    • Ryan says

      Shaun, I already have an iPod Touch and a regular cell phone, so I basically have the capability split between two device. Getting a newer and more capable phone will allow me to consolidate my electronics down to one item, and give me flexibility for computing while out and about. I’m not the most tech savvy person in the world, but I am looking forward to having more capabilities than I currently have!

  2. Lucify says

    Its the only thing about having a prepaid cell phone company that really can suck and its the total lack of Smart Phones – at least that’s the case with my company. I have Net10 prepaid and while the coverage is great, the phone selection just keeps stagnant – their newest phone at least is app capable but really doesn’t have any other Smart Phone like functions. Anyone have expeirence with another prepaid company and their phones?

  3. Jeremy says

    It took me a LONG time to get on board with the smart phone revolution (just got my android powered phone last summer) and I’m glad I waited. My friends were regularly dropping hundreds of dollars every year on new technology, fiddling with apps that were still new and didn’t work right, and jumping to AT&T just for the iPhone and then getting stuck with a network that hardly works around here. By the time I switched there were no hassles and things “just worked.”

    But yeah, I’m not a huge phone geek and don’t need a billion apps nor do I need the phone to act as a portable music/media device. Give me a solid Gmail app, a fast web browser, and the ability to play Angry Birds and I’m set. Sure, I can take HD video or shoot decent 8 MP photos or use any of the tens of thousands of time-wasting apps, but I can count the time I’ve used that stuff on both hands.

    Anyway, the HTC Incredible is an awesome phone even if I’m not using it to its fullest. But for 150 bucks and the fact I probably won’t need to upgrade for about two years, it’s a steal.

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