Figure out if you need to switch cell plans, and how to do it
Ever wanted to get out of your cell phone plan? Yeah, us too. That’s the inspiration for this post.
The first question to answer before you do anything: What’s the problem?
Is it your plan? Not enough data, for example?
Is it your handset? As in, you still carry a Galaxy S4 Mini from 2013 so it’s time for an upgrade?
Is it your carrier/network? Evidenced by the fact that you can’t get reception at work, but your coworkers don’t have any problem making calls, sending texts, etc?
Or maybe all three?
It’s important to identify your main problem first because the approach to remedy each one is different. If your beef is with your plan or your handset, there’s a good chance you can solve the problem without switching service providers.
If the problem is your plan
Customer problems with cell plans almost always revolve around data usage. Most of us nowadays have unlimited-voice-minutes-unlimited-text plans. Typically the only plan limit is on data consumption.
If you’re exceeding your data limit every month, or in the much less common counter-example – you use vastly less data than you signed up for – you can probably change your plan to one that better meets your needs.
All U.S. carriers give customers an option to increase their monthly data allotment at pretty much any time, for a price of course. If you’re one of those few people who need less monthly data – that is, you want to switch to a less expensive plan – it’s likely your carrier will let you do that, but there may be some restrictions.
For example, if you’re still bound by one of those two-year service contracts that we all used to sign, then your flexibility to change plans could be limited. See the section If you’re still under contract below.
If the problem is your handset
If you need to upgrade your phone, or if you simply crave the latest hardware release, then check around to see what kind of deals are available on new handsets. Be sure to check with your current service provider as well as the competitors. Most of the time the various carriers offer similar deals.
Your carrier may let you simply order a new phone online, with the purchase price or monthly handset payment reflected on your next bill. Or to get the new device you may have to turn in your current phone, and/or pay off what you still owe on it.
Even if you stay with your current carrier you may have to agree to a new (more expensive) monthly plan to qualify for the new phone deal. If you’re switching to a new carrier, you will likely have to sign up for a specific monthly plan to in order to get the deal.
Regardless, make sure you know what you’re signing up for so you won’t be surprised when your next cell phone bill is due.
If the problem is your carrier or network
Of course switching carriers is more difficult than changing plans or getting a new phone. That’s because the relationship with our cell service provider is typically complicated by an existing contract or by the amount of money we owe the carrier.
Very few of us are in a position to simply walk away from our current provider. If we were, no one would write or read blog posts on How to Get Out of Your Cell Phone Plan.
If you still owe a balance on your current phone, you’ll have to pay it off in order to switch carriers. Depending on how long you’ve had your phone, you may still owe a sizable sum. Fortunately there are a few possibilities to offset that cost.
If your handset is in excellent condition, the carrier you are leaving may do a buy-back so your payoff is reduced. Another possibility is selling your current handset to recover some of the payoff amount.
Or you may be able to take your now-paid-off handset to your new carrier so you don’t have to buy a new phone. Of course this is no help if getting a new phone is your motivation for switching.
And as most people are aware, your new carrier may help subsidize some of your costs of switching – up to $650. If you plan to take advantage of this type of deal make sure you understand the new carrier’s terms and conditions to qualify for the subsidy, as well as how and when you will receive it.
It may take several months for the subsidy payment to show up, and it may come as a prepaid credit card or as credit on your account with the new carrier.
If you’re still under contract
All U.S. carriers have now ditched the two-year service contract model for new accounts. But depending on how long you’ve been with your current provider, you may still be under contract.
The good news is all carriers will let you out of a contract. The band news is that it may cost you money in the form of an Early Termination Fee, or ETF. ETFs are a maximum of $350, but they’re prorated based on months of service so they can be significantly less than that.
If you’re under contract, or if you’re not sure, check with your current provider to find out how much an ETF would cost you. If your contract expires soon, it may be worth waiting a few months to be free of it. Also ask about any other fees that may be associated with exiting your contract.
On the other hand if you absolutely need to switch carriers or you just can’t pass up a killer deal offered by a competing provider, it may be worth it to you to pay the ETF and be done with your carrier.
I said this before but it bears repeating – when you change cell plans, buy a new phone, or switch carriers, make sure you know what you’re signing up for. Nobody wants a nasty surprise on their next cell phone bill.
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