How to Get out of a Cellular Service Contract

In the U.S., it can be easier to end a marriage than to leave a loveless relationship with Verizon or Cingular. No, you don't have to move to SIM card swapping Europe. Try these guerrilla tactics to get out of your service contract.

Steps

  1. Be a squeaky wheel. Say you want out because the service isn't up to par. (And really, is it?) Then back that up by filing official complaints online with the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau.
  2. Get a lemon. Get a known problematic phone, complain 3 times, be let out of a contract due to your local lemon law.
  3. Try a market-based fix. Some companies such as Celltradeusa.com match unhappy mobile customers with people who'd like to sign up - at a discount, of course. You'll pay a $20 fee to sell your contract on the block.
  4. Look for your provider to bury changes to Terms of Service with your bill. Quite often providers modify their service plans, much of the time the modification is a benefit. It doesn't matter, this voids the previous contract. Read the small print on those inserts included with your bill, it will spell out that you have 30 days (may vary on where you live) to cancel your contract with no charge simply because they changed the contract.
  5. Do a radical move. While potentially extreme and ethically dubious, these solutions could free you of the contract:
    • Tell them you're dead. If T-Mobile is your provider, call customer service and tell them the person who's name is on the contract passed away. Their customer service representatives are trained to end the contract no questions asked, with sympathy. The same probably applies to most other carriers.
    • Get off the grid. Study your provider's coverage map and find a town (maybe in Alaska?) with absolutely no service. Then tell the company you're moving there. They're not legally required to cut you loose, but frustrated consumers have reported success.
    • Join the army. If you are a member of the US Armed Services and you receive orders to somewhere the company doesn't provide service (it doesn't have to be Iraq) they are obligated to cancel your contract free of charge. Keep in mind, you'll have to provide a copy of your official orders. (However, if you're moving to Kenosha, WI and still want to get out of your contract, you can just black out the location and tell the provider you're being shipped to a CLASSIFIED location. It works.)
  6. Over use Free Roaming. Most phones come with free roaming now. But it's not actually free. The company pays it for you. So all you do is go to an area that is considered roaming (and when you have free nights or weekends) and place a long (5 hours?) phone call to "Moviefone" or something along those lines. You can also set your phone to only roam and instead of utilizing its own network it will search for others and utilize those. This will start adding up for them in the fees they have to pay to the service provider in that area and they will kick you out of the contract. Too bad.
  7. Force them to produce the signed contract. Tell them you didn't get a copy of the contract (which actually is pretty likely) and ask them to produce a copy and mail it to you. In many cases, copies haven't been scanned into the database, expecially with recent mergers, and if they can't produce a copy, the most they can legally hold you to is a year.
  8. Shrink your plan. As a last resort, cut back to the bare minimum the provider allows and drop any frills, like picture-messaging. Depending on the number of months you have left, this could be cheaper than paying the typically prorated termination fee, which can often run up to $300. However, at some cellular companies changing your plan, even to reduce it, may extend it for at least another year, so do the math first to make certain it will actually save you money.

Tips

  • Please be aware that some of these tactics may require deception on your part. You may wish to weigh the advantages of getting out of your contract against the value of a clear conscience.
  • If you have a contract with "Unlimited Nights and Weekends", then anything that the carrier does, or doesn't do, to limit the number of minutes you could use during that period is a potential contract violation on the carrier's part. This might work if you consistently receive 'all circuits are busy now' messages or poorer reception than advertised on their coverage maps. Plus it has the added value of being the truth.
  • No contract is enforcible on a minor.

Warnings

  • Using the sympathy by means of death ploy may prevent you from opening another account with the same company per say you just want to cancel your contract to open a new one for the latest phone promotion. It may also prevent you from opening one with another company or your overall identity as most accounts are opened/linked to your social security number.
  • Not all contracts provide free roaming. Make sure to check before placing a lengthy roaming call. If it's not free in your contract, it will cost you a fortune.
  • Some carriers will charge you a hefty Early Termination Fee if they kick you off for excessive roaming. For example, Sprint will charge an Early Termination Fee of $200 if they cancel your service with good cause.