If you try to cancel your cell phone contract after the initial 30-day trial period (20 days for T-Mobile, except in California, where it's 30 days), early-termination fees typically apply.
These fees have gotten a little less onerous in recent years, said Jeff Blyskal, a senior editor for Consumer Reports. Three of the four major carriers now discount the fee by about $5 a month, so 12 months into a two-year contract the charges are:
$120 for Verizon (down from the initial $170).
$125 for AT&T (down from $175).
$130 for Sprint (down from $200).
T-Mobile is the exception, charging $200 at the start of your contract and not discounting it until month 19, when it drops to $100.
The prorated fees apply only to the companies' newer contracts, Blyskal warned. You'll have to check your contract to see what you'd be charged.
If you're trying to avoid the fee, here are some alternatives to consider:
Step down. If your service is simply costing too much, your first move should be to talk with your carrier to see if you can step down to a more affordable plan for the remainder of your contract. Carriers no longer require you to extend your contract if you opt for a cheaper plan, Blyskal said.
Find someone to take over your contract. You could see if any of your friends, family or followers on Twitter want to take over contract, or you could turn to Celltradeusa.com or Cellswapper. The fee to list your contract is $20 at each site. If you find a match, contact your carrier to find out how to complete the transfer. Ask for written confirmation that the transfer has been completed and you're no longer obligated for future charges. (You typically can keep your current cell number if you ask your new carrier to "port" your number from your old phone before completing the transfer.)
Document your problems. If your calls keep getting dropped or service is particularly poor where you live or work, you may be able to persuade the carrier to let you out of your contract. Call 611 every time you have a problem and follow up in writing, noting what's happening and the details of your customer-service conversations (whom you talked to, when and what was said). Once you have a fat pile of paperwork, initiate the conversation about getting out of your deal.
Cost your carrier a lot of money. This one strikes me as kind of sleazy, but if you have free roaming, you can make your carrier want to dump you by using it -- a lot. Your carrier has to pay when you use another carrier's network, which is why roaming fees are otherwise so high. Parking yourself in an area where you're using another carrier's network and racking up the minutes could make your carrier eager to let you out of your deal.
Or you could just suck it up.
Sometimes, just paying the early-termination fee is the smartest move. Let's say you've got a bells-and-whistles cell contract that's costing you more than $100 a month. Let's say you need to cut back while still making calls. Switching a pay-as-you-go service could save you at least $50 a month, meaning you'd recoup the fee in four months or less. If you've got more time than that on your contract, paying the early-termination fee makes sense.
Original article by Liz Pulliam Weston, MSN Money