How To Switch Cell Phone Carriers Without Paying A Fortune

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Photo: Flickr / Sybren A. Stüvel

For whatever reason, you may want to cancel your cell phone contract early.Maybe you’re unhappy with your service. Maybe another carrier has a hot new phone your current one doesn’t sell.

But depending on your provider, you’ll likely get smacked with an Early Termination Fee (ETF) if you try to cancel your plan before the contract is up.

If you’re anything like us (or any other careful consumer), you’ll want to find a way around that.

Here are 10 pointers to help you sever ties with your carrier as cost-efficiently as possible.

Cut back big time

First, drop all the extra services like picture messaging and custom ringtones that you're probably paying extra for. This will help get your monthly bill down to a much more manageable cost, and depending on how close you are to the end of your contract, could easily be less expensive than paying some astronomical termination fee.

File an official complaint

If your provider's service isn't working out, that's technically a violation of contract. You can file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau to help your case. The more complaints you have on record, the more likely it is you'll be able to argue your way out of your contract at no extra cost.

Roam if you want to

The New York Times offers this tip if your plan includes unlimited roaming:

When your cell phone indicates that you're roaming, you're phone is connected to a network other than the one you subscribe to. The provider pays a fee to other networks to make this possible. So start abusing it. It might take a little while for it to notice, but your provider will lean towards cancelling your contract if you end up costing them money.

So start making roaming calls.

Is the contract holder deceased?

It will take some effort, as indicated in this story by WRAL, but if a contract holder has passed away, your provider can let you out of the contract for free. You'll likely have to prove the death with a certificate, so have that on hand.

Get them on a technicality

Examine your bill closely. Lifehacker indicates that if you see anything that indicates a change to the terms of service, even if it's to your benefit, that voids the contract. Often times there will be a small notice with your bill indicating that you have a designated time frame to cancel your service for free.

Sell your contract to someone else

All the major companies allow for a contract to be signed over to another individual. Check out and, which let you, the exhausted contract holder, track down someone willing to take your contract off of your hands.

CelltradeUSA charges you $20 when someone picks up your contract and CellSwapper charges $15.

Join the army!

If members of the military are sent overseas, providers will cancel their contracts for free.

Another way to make the service terrible

It's extreme, but you can move to a provider's known dead zone. If there's no service to speak of, they'll let you out of the contract.

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