For some cell phone fanatics, the iPhone is love at first sight: cool touch screen; slim design; promising simplicity. The only thing standing between you and that dreamy device is your contract with another carrier. Is there a way to break the relationship without paying a penalty of $150 or more? Yes.
First, in a few situations you can dump or suspend a contract without enduring too much hassle: You can end a contract early without paying fees if the carrier makes changes that have a significant negative effect on your service or your subscription rate. For example, if your carrier raises its fees for text messaging, for example, you can use that as your get-out-of-jail card. Still, you'll have to plead your case to the carrier--it won't let you go that easily. You'll need to convince the company that the change applies to you and that it has seriously and negatively affected your service.
Carriers will also suspend your wireless service during active-duty military deployment. That doesn't free you from your obligation entirely, but it's better than paying for something you can't use at all. In the most extreme situation, a contract is terminated if the customer dies--though this circumstance does put a crimp in the deceased's future iPhone enjoyment.
Trade It In
Another way to lose your current contract is to transfer your account to someone else.
How do you find that someone? Either on your own (through a network of friends or by posting an ad at a community site such as Craigslist.com) or via an online trade-in service such as Cellswapper.com and Celltradeusa.com. These sites provide a place for people to buy, sell, or trade their wireless contracts.
"Consumers see the account transfer as a fair resolution," says Eric Wurtenberg, cofounder of CelltradeUSA. "With our service, people can get a provider that works better in their area and the carrier gets someone to fulfill the contract. Our core customer has always been and will continue to be the person who wakes up one morning and finds the service doesn't work in his apartment, or a college student who finds the phone doesn't work on campus."
Good Time for a Deal?
With the upcoming release of the Apple iPhone on AT&T, the number of people buying AT&T contracts on CelltradeUSA has increased by about 33 percent in the past two months, said Wurtenberg.A "We see equipment envy as increasing the demand for our service."
Likewise, Adam Korbl, cofounder and CEO of Cellswapper.com says that "thousands of potential Apple and AT&T customers have recently flocked to Cellswapper to get out of their contracts and be ready to sign with AT&T when the iPhone launches at the end of the month."
If the iPhone is a little too expensive for your tastes but you still want to upgrade your phone, this might be a good time to pick up a used smartphone on the cheap. "We have seen that in order to get the iPhone, people are not only selling their used phones, but even willing to give them away as incentive for someone else to take over their contact," Korbl says. "Many people are offering great phones and big cash incentives just to break free of their contract in time for the iPhone." For example, in a recent search on Cellswapper, I found the Nokia 5300 XpressMusic offered for free (a brand new version costs $150 at T-Mobile's site) for assuming a three-month contract on T-Mobile at $50 a month. Not bad.
In addition to throwing in your old phone or offering a cash incentive to entice people, Wurtenberg advises you to gather up all your contract information and have it with you when you post your service plan on the site.A "You need the original date of the contract," he says. Make sure your account balance is up to date, too. And provide detailed descriptions and pictures of your phone if you're including it in the sale. Finally, try to respond quickly to buyers' questions. "These things go a long way to finding someone to take over your account," Wurtenberg notes.
If there's a match, the seller pays $20 at Celltrade or $15 at Cellswapper. Then the buyer and seller go through the process of formally transferring the account in the carrier's records. With most mobile operators, this can be done by phone or at the carrier's retail store.
Typically, transferring your contract means losing your current phone number. On Verizon, for instance, the phone number carries over to the new customer because the number is tied to the previously existing contract, says Verizon spokesperson Brenda Raney. To port your current phone number to another carrier, you must be have an expired contract or you must pay a penalty to break it, according to Raney. Still, if you're determined to dump your contract, getting a new number is a fair trade-off. Before switching to a new carrier, evaluate your predicament, recommends Wurtenberg. "Do your homework by asking friends and neighbors how they like their wireless service."
If you want to get rid of your old phone completely, recycle it. Sites such as Collective Good accept cell phone donations. Or trade in your old phone for a few bucks or for a gift certificate to a retail store. Web services such as CellforCash, GreenPhone, and ReCellularTradeIn will offer you cash or a gift card in return for your handset. For a cash trade, check a few sites to see whether their offers differ significantly. There are no set prices for used phones, so it's best to determine which site will make the best offer. For more information on donating cell phones, read "Dialed In: Cell Phone Recycling" and "Tips & Tweaks: Recycle PCs, Notebooks, and Components." Before relinquishing your old phone, remember to wipe your data off of it. For tips on how to proceed, read "Privacy Watch: Wipe Your Cell Phone's Memory Before Giving It Away."