Best Ways to Ditch Your Cell Phone Plan

Last Updated Jul 19, 2010 3:44 PM EDT

I had it all mapped out in my head: I would confidently walk into the Verizon store, show that my BlackBerry had completely melted down (twice now in the last seven months) and coolly let the sales rep know that I wished to discontinue my service, even though I had a year left on the contract. And no, I will not pay the $200 cancellation fee!

But on the way there, my plan to cancel (and, OK, transition to Apple's iPhone 4) failed. A block away from the wireless store my smartphone literally awoke from the dead, as if the Verizon gods knew I was determined to bail on my two-year contract. No longer having the evidence for a "poor service" argument, I headed back home ... defeated.

Mobile phone contracts seem menacing to me. Every time something goes wrong with my phone or I lose it (which is often), I find myself upgrading to a newer model, which always costs more money. The store explains it no longer has my same phone in stock (conveniently) and since I need to replace it ASAP, I should just pick a different phone. And guess what? Getting a new and different phone usually requires renewing your existing two-year contract. The cycle continues and I lose.

You can usually get out of the contract if you prove you are moving away to a place where reception is poor. Joining the army and death are other permissible excuses ... but those scenarios won't work for everyone. Which brings me to today's blog post:a few more practical strategies for breaking up with your cell phone provider.

Voice Your Concern

If you are experiencing major technical problems, like dropped calls or service disruptions, let it be known in a calm, cool and collected manner. (Yelling and screaming never helps.) To support your case, track the outages and any related phone calls or emails you made to the carrier. Come into the store with those records and explain that you would like to terminate your contract due to ongoing poor service. It may take some persuasion, but the bottom line is: The carrier failed to deliver on its promise and you shouldn't have to stick with the agreement.

Transfer Your Plan

Regardless of the reason, it's within your right to transfer the ownership of your cell plan to someone else. There are a growing number of third-party Web sites that play matchmaker between unhappy cell phone customers and those seeking a less-expensive, short-term cell plan. Cellswapper.com and CelltradeUSA.com provide listings and facilitate exchanges online. These services charge a fee to offload your plan, but it's usually about $20.

To save even that fee, you can reach out to your own network or make an announcement on Facebook. (Try asking, "Anyone looking for a short-term cell phone contract?") Once you track someone down, call up your cell carrier and say you want to toss your contract over to this person.

Note: The danger of doing this switcheroo, whether independently or through a Web site, is that the carrier may not let you keep your cell phone number and apply it to another phone plan. Legally you are entitled to keep your cell phone number when you jump plans, but the law only protects you when you entirely fulfill your original plan and wait until the contract expires. Definitely ask the carrier to "port" your cell phone number.

Watch for Plan Changes

Open any and all notices from your cell phone provider. If the company changes any contract terms that would adversely affect your monthly bill - such as increased text message fees - you may be able to ditch the contract without paying a penalty.

Photo Courtesy of Rob Lawton's photostream on flickr

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    Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter at @farnoosh.

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