Mystery Cell Phone Charges

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Dump Your Cell Phone Company

Illustration: Hal Mayforth
Illustration: Hal Mayforth
Unhappy with your wireless provider? You don't always have to pay hefty fees to break free from your contract. For a nominal one-time charge ranging from $15 to $20, some sites offer you a service that lets you jettison your unwanted contract or swap it with another user for a service you prefer.

Two such sites, and, have been around for about a year; newcomer launched in January. These sites create an online venue through which people who want to buy, sell, or swap a cell phone contract can meet and negotiate. If you want to transfer your account, however, you must call your carrier and make the request to transfer your phone and contract to someone else. Carriers go along because, although they lose one customer, they get another, and the contract is ultimately honored. "We look at it as an opportunity to win over a new customer," says Roni Singleton, the Sprint spokesperson. co-founder Adam Korbl says that there are about 260 wireless contracts for sale on an average day at his site, and that about 100 contracts are purchased each week. Users who want to make their sale quickly tend to sweeten the deal by throwing in the old phone or by offering a cash incentive. If the seller doesn't include the old phone in the exchange, buyers must purchase their own to match the new service, with no carrier subsidy. Still, sellers and swappers tend to come out ahead since their final costs are often far below the termination fees, which can be as high as $250.

If you're looking for another escape route, pay close attention to the fine print in any contract updates your carrier sends you. For example, in January, Verizon offered some of its customers an opportunity to quit their cell plans and pay no termination fees because it raised the rates on its text message service, thereby changing the terms of the contract.

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