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How to ditch your cell phone contract

April 05, 2012|By Megan Crepeau, For RedEye

So you hate your cell phone with a passion so fiery it could evaporate Lake Michigan.

Or maybe you want to step into the 21st century and finally get a smartphone.

Maybe you lost your job and you can't afford your fancy data plan anymore.

Maybe you just can't be tied down, man. Maybe you want to be a rolling stone – a rolling stone with roaming minutes.

Whatever the reason, you want to get out of your cell phone contract without having to sell your car to pay early-termination fees.

Well, you're not alone. And that can work for you or against you.

Turns out, wireless companies are anticipating that everyone might hate them. That's the whole point of locking you into a contract: It will take more than a year before you're the least bit profitable to a service provider. They don't want you to leave before that. They make it really hard, and really expensive, to do so … which just makes everyone want to that much more.

"Everyone seems to think their cell phone company is the worst," said Chris Morran, deputy editor at the advocacy blog Consumerist. "No matter who we write about, everyone hates them."

So there's the caveat before I let you in on deep dark contract-busting secrets: Make sure you're not giving in to a grass-is-always-greener mentality.

"A lot of [people] are going from the frying pan into the fire," Morran said. "Or from the frying pan into another frying pan."

First, Morran says, see if you can't bluff your way into a better deal with your current provider.

"If you get the right person and say 'I don't care, I'll eat the fee,' sometimes you'll get a good retention specialist who will get you a better rate or an earlier upgrade," he said.

But if you've got your heart set on switching, you do have a few options.

You've got to try to be quick. Most contracts give you a window, sometimes as much as 30 days, during which you can dump your plan, no questions asked. You'll only have to pay for the time you've already used.

If you're too far gone for that, try scanning the fine print. Some wireless agreements state that the contract is void if you can prove it has changed in a way that affects you negatively. Texting rates went up a couple cents? Fantastic. There's your out.

Megan Crepeau is a RedEye special contributor. She's a twenty-something college grad navigating this dumpy job market just like the rest of us.

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