Dear Mrs. Riches:
Prior to getting married, my fiancee and I used two different wireless providers. Now that we're married, we'd like to consolidate the number of bills we have and save money by joining a family plan. The trouble is that we're at different points in our contracts: She is beginning her second year (out of two), and I have had my current plan less than a year (also out of two). The companies in question indicate that we can break our contracts if we first pay a $150 penalty fee. But I have heard that there are ways to break a contract without having to pay anything. What do you know about this?
-- Newly Hitched
Dear Newly Hitched:
Breaking up is hard to do! Cell-phone companies are like the worst kind of ex, prolonging things well after you want to call it quits. Unfortunately, their clingy behavior, while aggravating, is legal. The contract you signed likely offers very few opportunities for you to escape early, even with major life changes like getting married or moving out of the coverage area -- let alone if you just don't like the service they provide.
Just ask Corey Taylor, whose struggles with Verizon Wireless were profiled in The Washington Post earlier this month. Taylor eventually got so desperate, he sent a fake death certificate to the wireless giant in a last-ditch effort to get out of his cell-phone contract -- a creative measure that nevertheless didn't work.
Other less extreme (and slightly less morbid) consumer tactics include:
- Going to a "roaming" area and placing a lengthy phone call that will end up costing your service provider big bucks. (They have to pay other service providers a tidy sum for you to use an outside network.) This tactic assumes that (1) you have free roaming, and (2) that your wireless provider will do the math and decide to let you -- costly customer that you are -- go free.
- Registering with a cell-phone matchmaker like Celltradeusa.com, which helps match up people who are looking to ditch their service with people who want to sign up. Because supply is high, you often have to sweeten the deal to attract any takers (i.e., offer to throw in a cool cell phone). The provider is typically not obligated to allow a transfer of service; you'll want to make sure a transfer is allowed before sealing the deal.
- Complaining about your service and threatening to contact consumer advocates like the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. This tactic relies on your wireless service company to care about one negative report or to get so tired of your complaints that it doesn't mind losing you as a customer.
There are still other tactics -- many of which seem ethically dubious -- but the ones above are sufficient to illustrate my point: Other than really dying (and I don't recommend this), there aren't any surefire ways to get out of a cell-phone contract.
In trying to find an out, you and your beloved may spend a ton of time and still come up empty-handed. Since the two of you are trying to save money, I would recommend that you compare the cost of getting out of one of the contracts ($150 is actually on the low end of the penalty fees, if you can believe it) with how much you think you will save by joining the same plan. If you'll save more than $150 in a year by switching to the same wireless provider as your wife, go for it. If you lose, then wait it out. That first year of wedded bliss is likely to fly by anyway.
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