August 05, 2005

Curious George: Getting out of a Cell Phone contract. I suspect I may be up that famous creek with this, but I thought I'd ask the monkeys and see if I can get some help.

I've had a cell phone for 5 years, since my wife was drawing near her due date with our first child. It was for emergencies, baby hotline, etc. etc. We kept it thinking it would be good in case of roadside breakdowns, what have you. In the last several months we've noted that despite paying more than $400 a year, we barely ever use the thing. Most of the time it's not even charged, b/c we don't think of it unless we're going on a trip or something. The wife and I want to live more frugally, cancelling satellite service and also losing the cell phone. However, when I called my service representative today, I discovered that I'd be slapped with a $200 early termination penalty if i cancelled before the next 7 months are up. On the against-me side, they do have that contract thing. On the for-me side, I've been a good customer for 5 years, not missing a payment, paying for minutes I didn't use, and in fact never even tying up their phone lines with service calls--today was my first experience. Also on the for-me side, my cell phone number is a different area code than the one in which I currently reside. (We never changed the number, since we figured if we were on a trip, we were heading back to the original area code anyway. I was wondering...if I complain enough or know some tricks, can I get out of this contract and keep my $200? If I had that kind of money to waste, I wouldn't be trying to get rid of the cell phone. Anybody out there who can help me stick it to the Man?

  • Ha! I fought with Rogers for a year and a half, because they gave me not 1, not 2, but 3 dud cellphone. Each one went through months of being sent away for repairs for weeks at a time before they would replace it. Two of the phones (Motorolas) had Known Manufacturer Defects and one was DOA. Didn't even turn on. Anyways, long story short, I couldn't get out of the contract, despite hours of arguing to various levels of Rogers drones on the phone and in person, even though I reasoned that they didn't hold up their end of the bargain, as they did not provide me with a functioning phone. Good luck. (not bitter at all, really . . . only 4 months and 21 days until the contract is finally over . . . not that I'm counting or anything)
  • Be tenacious!! Keep moving upwards, i.e. - ask to speak with the supervisor, and on and on... Don't back down, and make sure you point out your long and good record with them. It worked for me a couple years back. I kept speaking with someone higher up until I eventually spoke with a manager that was sympathetic to my case. They let it go without any penalty...
  • Yeah, the most that got me was a $20 discount off of my cell phone bill, and they finally sent me a new phone, instead of a remanufacturered piece of @$#% when I told 'em I was going to cancel my cable and my internet, both of which I had through Rogers. Then I cancelled them anyways. Bastards.
  • After reading fimbulvetr's post, I suppose YMMV...
  • Cell phone contracts suck. A FOAF likes Tracfone, you pay as you go, no termination fee, and the minutes you buy roll over (lots of other prepaid deals, the minutes just expire after a while). It's not perfect, but when I looked into it, it seemed like a decent deal if you hardly ever use your phone. I think I read that some people were able to get out of their contracts and avoid the fee, but it's like pulling teeth. Sorry, I don't have the links anymore, maybe googling around will turn something up. Reread your contract carefully. If you've been on the same contract for over 5 years, maybe the fee is no longer applicable. Anyway, good luck.
  • I thought that too about the 5 years, but when I (foolishly!) upgraded my phone in preparation for the birth of my SECOND child, I had to sign a new contract. This one expires in March. It'd cost more to keep the phone till then, but not all at once.
  • What kind of insane plan are you on? every one I've ever had run 1 or 2 years, and you are month-to-month after that... thats partially why they always have those free phone offers- to get customers to come back and sign a new contract in exchange for a free new phone...
  • new contract They get ya coming and going. Damn blood sucking cell phone companies!
  • Oh, drjimmy11, where were you a year ago March? If it wasn't for these dang kids, I wouldn't even HAVE a cell phone... :)
  • See, I was debating about getting a Tracfone, but wondered if I shouldn't just swallow the pill and go for a contract. This is making me reconsider. Thanks for fucking up in my place, dude.
  • I used Tracfone this spring while moving house. Worked wonders, and it was extremely economical since we use cell phones minimally. They take absolutely no personal or billing info, other than a phone number for their records that can be easily made up, so it's nearly impossible to get the corporate shaft.
  • You might try having someone buy out the remainder of your contract. You pay the remaining balance of the contract, and lock down the phone through your provider so it can't incur additional charges beyond what is included in your plan. Then you can hand it over to someone else for a flat fee. I see used to see this happen pretty frequently in NYC on Craigslist, with people moving here from other countries, or for short amount of times. Also lots of people have crummy credit or just don't want to be traceable.
  • Call the company and challenge the validity of the contract. You put in your initial time, but they must have some sleazy auto-renew. Did they notify you correctly when the auto-renew period came up? Make sure you talk to someone who has the power to set you free. Get a copy of the contract and read it carefully. I just got out of my ATTWirelessIsNowCingular 6 months before my 2 years because I never actually returned the contract sent to me for signature. Wheeeee!!!! They were vile, and I now have no-contract service with a local provider. Service is not bulletproof, but it's better than Cingular was providing to the people who chose to finish out their ATT contract instead of resigning with Cingular.
  • OK, let me preface with the statement that I do Cusotmer Service for an ISP all day, answering emails from people just such as yourself. I'm basing pretty much all of my information on that, and experiances I've had in the past weezeling out of similar situations. The Pro-You side: You've been with them for 5 years, so they have made profit off you. The reason cell phone companies tie you into these god-awful contracts is because they don't make a profit until after the first year. The free phone, special deal, whatever they enticed you in with means they won't break even until month 13 of your contract. Therefore, they are slightly more likely to let you out now. Slightly. On the other hand, since they've made thier money, they are much less concerned with keeping you happy. The attitude of the individuals working for the Company will be, "Hey, he was dumb enough to sign a new contract. We've got him by the balls, so what do we care?" If you're lucky, you'll get a manager who has a soft spot and is having a good day. When I started, I was always out to help the customer as much as possible. Now, especially on a bad day, there is a small and spiteful part of myself that loves seeing someone is still in contract. Especially if they're being pissy about it. "You wanna cancel? That's cool. $80, please." It's not nice, but it's true. On that note, when you are bitching, whining, and generally causing far more trouble than your little contract is worth to them (hint hint), try to remember that the people you are dealing with are not the ones responsible for your problem. Be totally firmly irate, but also treat the poor bastards on the other end with respect and consideration. They deal with angry people all day, and being verbally assalted does not make them want to help you. Every conversation you have with them goes into the notes on your file, so don't say anything you will regret later. Get all your ducks in a row before you call. Know what you want, and how you are going to get it. Remember what you've said and done before. Any inconsistancies in your arguments will fire up all kinds of alarm bells. "This guy is just trying to screw us, so fuck him." Final analysis: they've got you by the short hairs, but you're also a good customer. Work your way to the top of the command chain as quickly as possible. The people at the bottom are trained to keep you there, so be insistant. Know that you are right, even when you are wrong.
  • It's not nice, but it's true. I'm ashamed to say I've been guilty of this, too. When you're pissed or hungover or got called in on your day off, I'm practically begging the Fates to bring upset people to my door so I can give them a patented shit-eating grin and say, I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do. Unfortunately, years of customer service can and will do this to even the most kindhearted and optimistic soul.
  • It's not that I want to hurt them, or that I have some kind of crazy loyalty to grubbing money for the company (although it is a good, kind company that treats it's customers very well). It's just this feeling of power, of control. I feel like I'm teaching them a well-deserved lesson. Buyer beware, once burned twice shy, all that shit. I still do my best to help out, and I love it when I can give someone a good, positive answer that will leave them happy and content. It's also gratifying knowing I actually am working for one of the best ISPs in the UK, so when they leave us they are generally shooting themselves in the foot. Gods, somedays I hate the public. Good thing I like them, too. /derail
  • Hmmm ... Many variables. It depends on the jurisdiction where you live, the service provider,the specific terms of the contract and (most importantly) your future intentions. No one wants to lose a good customer, so your negotiation posture is stronger than you realize. Sugarmilktea's analysis is quite correct, we can likely get you out of this situation, but need more information. I've looked at your profile, and tried loading your home page ( it hangs up endlessly, just now) to see where you live. I am a Electronics retail manager in Canada, and deal with the Western Canadian service providers at the management level. In 15 years, I've never heard of a 5 year year contract. I think you likely renewed yours, at least once. With more information, I can likely help you, if you live in Canada. Email me, if you'd like. I have no idea about this stuff in the States, but the economics of maintaining established install levels in both markets are the same.
  • The bad news: yes, your contract is 100% valid. You let them sucker you into getting a new phone, in exchange for which you agreed to a contract. You're not going to get out of it. Trust me, they paid a lot of lawyers a lot of money to draft their terms of service. Fighting the contract iself is a non-starter. Options: 1. Try to find someone to take over your contract. Probably more trouble than it's worth, from what I've seen. 2. Most providers offer a plan that's intended for emergency use only, and costs around $15. Some providers have a Secret Squirrel rate plan that's only $5/month, with no included minutes. Ask the phone rep, "What is the absolute cheapest way for me to run out the length of my contract?" They're familiar with your situation, and they probably* know the answer. Downgrade to the cheapest plan, toss the phone in a drawer (or sell it on eBay), make a note to call and cancel the day after your contract runs out. 3. Wait for a day when you feel strong. Call up and tell them you're going to cancel, and you think the cancellation fee is unfair. Keep asking to speak to a supervisor, until you get someone who says "FINE, I'll credit you the $200 to quit wasting our time." When they do this, MAKE A NOTE OF THEIR NAME, as well as the date and time you called. This will come in handy next month, when you get a bill for the $200 early termination fee, as you most likely will. 4. Get more value out of your phone by actually using it. You don't mention why your phone has been sitting in a drawer for the last five years. Cell phones are really useful. Charge it up, give the number out to everyone you know, and carry it with you at all times. You will find it extroardinarily handy. I regularly drive a very accident-prone stretch of highway. I've used my cell phone to call 911 and report major auto accidents three times in the last six months. Whenever I go to a new person's house, I inevitably get lost, and have to call them so that they can walk me through getting there. I text my friends when I'm stuck in traffic. At the store, I can call and ask "I forgot - did you want ruffled chips or plain?" A cellphone can insinuate itself into your life to a startling extent, if you let it. Perhaps that's what you don't want. Perhaps you fear becoming one of us pod people, walking around with our pockets making funny noises all day long. But consider this: we wouldn't have voluntarily become cell phone pod people if we hadn't discovered that it was REALLY helpful to do so. * Not all reps are alike. 75% of them are stupid as a sack of rocks. (I say this with love.) Judge the aptitude of the rep you're talking to. If they sound disinterested, distracted, or incompetent, say "Hm, I'll have to think about it, thanks," and call back a few minutes later. This is known as Call Center Roulette. It can save your ass.
  • But consider this: we wouldn't have voluntarily become cell phone pod people if we hadn't discovered that it was REALLY helpful to do so. I, and others like me, can just as easily claim the opposite: they might be useful once in a while, but the drawbacks far outweigh the benefits.
  • Another possibility is just to use all of your minutes for in your new area code and it's possible they will end your contract. That happened to me-- somewhere in the fine print it said that if more than 75% of my minutes were outside of the area code of the phone they could cut me off and they did after 30 days. (which was at the time a pain in the butt for me.) anyhow, that was with a more regional company-- if you're in a contract with a big company, I'm afraid you may be out of luck for the next 7 months. Good luck!
  • Too true, fimbulvetr. Rogers is the devil incarnate. Excellent suggestion, mechagrue, and will keep it in mind the next time my phone dies while I'm on contract. Right now it's dead and I'm on month-to-month, absolutely refusing to sign another. Thing is, without signing a 2 or 3 year contract, cell phone costs are insane. One multi-provider shop I know suggested signing a 3 year so you get a good phone for free, then paying the $200 cancellation fee if need be (I may be moving out of country in 1 or 2 years) as an alternative. But of course there is always the possibility of that phone dying the day after its one-year warranty runs out during a 3 year contract, and there I am with the same problem as many here. Grrrr. Tracfone, eh? Have to check it out. Never heard of the beast. Now if we want to talk about Rogers cable people screwing you over, I can share some tales... Grrrr...
  • Hmm, cute. Googling Tracfone lead me here. I'm not net-savvy enough to determine if this is an independent site or if it's connected to one of the big boys with an obvious grudge, but it seems that every service has their problems.
  • Thanks for all the advice, monkeys! I'll post here if anything comes of it. Formulating my plan of attack... PareidoliaticBoy: I live in Arkansas, US, not Canada, unfortunately. :) But thanks anyway. Predictably, though I'm sure I have it somewhere, I can't seem to find my cell phone contract. If I went to the local office and asked for a copy, what are the chances I could get one? Seems like they'd have to get me one, doesn't it? Or am I being naive?
  • Oh, and I am dealing with Cingular here. Just FYI.
  • Oh, and I am dealing with Cingular here In that case, you are screwed! I recently endured the most incredible ordeal with Cingular. I have a list approaching 30 different phone numbers (no joke) in my Cingular fiasco. This was the typical scenario: *dials Cingular "customer service" number* *press 1 for English, press 3 for this, press 2 for that, etc* *wait on hold for 20 minutes* Cingular rep: "Hello, can I help you?" Me: "yadda yadda yadda, this is the number I was told to call to resolve this issue... yadda yadda..." Cingular rep: "I'm sorry, this is the wrong number, you have to call THIS number..." *repeat process* This went on for four months. Cingular has got to be the most dis-organized entity I've ever encountered. Good luck!!