How to Get Out of Your AT&T Contract Early Without an Early Termination Fee (ETF)

Earlier this month, AT&T quietly introduced a new "Mobility Administrative Fee" which levies a $0.61 monthly charge to all postpaid contracts. While it's a seemingly small amount on an individual basis adding up to $7.32 per year, with its huge customer base, AT&T stands to make around half a billion from the tight-lipped move.

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AT&T has stated that the fee will "help cover certain expenses, such as interconnection and cell site rents and maintenance" that's consistent with other phone carriers' plans, but does little to console consumers who are angered by the charge.

If you happen to be one of those pissed off costumers, there's a bright side—this fee offers a rare chance to fight back against a corporate giant. You can use the administrative fee as a loophole to break your contract, without having to pay any costly early termination fees.

Even if the monthly fee isn't a big deal to you, upgrading your phone early probably is. By canceling your contract, you can get a new Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One with AT&T or another wireless carrier at the cheaper subsidized pricing.

Here's how to take advantage of it.

AT&T Legal Terms

According to AT&T's legal terms (Section 1.3), the company can change rates, fees, and terms and conditions at any time. However, any increase in the cost of your service, aside from government fees, allows you to escape an ETF when terminating your contract. Even 61 cents.

Call to Void ETF

Sound too good to be true? Slickdeals forum member Quevos called AT&T (citing Section 1.3) and was able to terminate two contracts due to the charge. A few tips he gives to anyone trying to get out of their contracts:

  • Don't waste your time trying to resolve it via online chat support—they don't have the authority to waive ETFs.
  • Ask to be transferred to the retentions department to cancel your account.
  • Point out that the fee is not government mandated or regulatory, meaning that AT&T is raising your service costs per the terms laid out in their legal agreement.
  • Don't back down—they're going to try and tell you no, and you'll more than likely have to speak with at least one manager.
  • If you're looking to stay with AT&T after opting out of the contract, your chances are slim, though you could technically get away with it.

When he called, he was sent over to retentions, who, as expected, tried to spin the new fee as regulatory. No matter what they say, the fee is NOT a government mandated charge, and it indisputably changes your service costs. Unfortunately, it's ultimately up to the manager you speak with, so your success will largely be determined by who you get when you call.

Arbitration

If you're unsuccessful with customer service, you can resort to arbitration, meaning you'll submit your case to an impartial party and let them decide who should win. Arbitration is similar to a court proceeding, but not quite as formal.

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If you can stick it out through the arbitration process, you'll probably win. You just have to make sure you stick to the argument that the fee impacts your ability to pay your bill and the contract explicitly states that any increase is grounds for termination.

Once they receive your written pre-arbitration brief (here's an example of one), they'll probably settle with you to avoid wasting time and paying the $125 that it would cost them to carry through with arbitration. You could even get a little cash out of it as well.

UPDATE

Since the publishing of this article, many users have called AT&T to cancel their contract with varying results. Managers have become more strict, citing Section 1.3 as a reference. They claim that the new charge is an administrative fee, which doesn't allow you to cancel without getting an ETF. The fee could be waived, but only for added fees that you're already subscribed to. According to AT&T, this fee is not part of your subscription.

The wording in Section 1.3 is both ambiguous and poorly written—most definitely on purpose.

Only a few people that I've talked to have been able to cancel their contracts, but AT&T has given most others credits and discounts to placate them, since they don't want anybody to leave their service.

The key is to put your foot down and not let them bully you. If you're concise with your words and have enough to backup your claims, you will be awarded.

Did It Work for You?

Let us know how your contract-canceling went in the comments below, and give us some more tips based on your experience, if any.

Images via OEA-OAS, Jovan's Journey

20 Comments

They are making me go through arbitration. They seem to have realized what a big deal this is and no managers are letting people cancel.

Are you going to go through with it?

I called AT&T to cancel one of my lines and they wouldn't do it. I even spoke to a manager. He directed me to Section 1.3 which actually states (other than changes to governmental fees, proportional charges for governmental mandates, roaming rates or administrative charges). He stated this was an Administrative Fee and therefore I could not cancel without paying the ECF.

I'm no lawyer, but I'd say that section 1.3 in their terms is pretty vague overall. Firstly, it says they may "change" any rates, fees, expenses, or charges regarding your service, but does not say they may "add" any. Then, it says they will notify users of any changes, except for "administrative charges", so why did they send everyone a notice if they didn't have to?

Still, even if the "fee" is justified, it's still a part of their overall "service" cost. The price is how much it costs to get the service, and this raises that overall price.

I would try again. I hear most people are settling for a tiny credit to their account, which you should at least try and get, if you really want, of course.

You think AT&T are idiots to lose a customer over $0.61? Really?

Do you really believe they actually thought anyone would figure it out?!

Retention guy and his manager both refused, despite threats of arbitration. Company position is that I agreed to pay anything as long as they call it a fee. Offered $10/mo for a year.

A quick call got me an offer of $10/mo off for as long as I hold a contract with them or $30/month for 6 months. Took less than 5 minutes from start of call to completion. Added the $10/mo discount to my already existing hundreds of bonus minutes a month I was given last time I complained.

I saw an article on-line yesterday about AT&T's new 'Administrative Fee' of 61 cents per line per month starting May 2013. When I logged in to check my bill, sure enough it was more than $2 higher than last month and showed a 61 cent charge for each line (I have three phones on my account). I called AT&T, stated my case and was transferred to 'Retentions'. I told them right off the bat that I know this fee is not a government mandated fee and since AT&T changed the terms of my contract by increasing the price, I qualified to terminate my contract without paying the 'Early Termination Fee'. They didn't argue with me but immediately offered $10 off per month for 12 months to keep me as a customer. For me this covers a whopping five years of this new 61 cent per line per month fee - now a decrease in revenue for AT&T from my account. If the majority of their customers call to complain about this fee, they may think twice about trying something like this again. If they want to impose a new fee on new contracts, fine . . . but to add it to an existing contract is not good customer service and could backfire on them.

This worked like a charm. Had me on hold for 30 min or so. I got to the retention dept. and she offered 10 off per month for the duration of the contract. I also explained to her that I was on hold for quite a while and she gave me 50.00 off the current bill. Thanks for the heads up. Boss, in laws, and sister in law all have at&t. This will be shared.

I Had a very good experience with AT&T They cage me a credit $20.00 and lowered my monthly bill by $20.00 Ten dollars off my unlimited texting for life. very happy

How about the change in Privacy Policy? would that be considered a change in the contract and therefore we should be able to terminate the contract without the early termination fee?

They have recently accounced the fact that they will be selling our usage data. I think this is bigger than .61/month/line.

Could be, but given the fact that you can opt out of having your data shared (instructions here), you may have a hard time convincing them. There's no harm in giving them a call to politely argue your case. Ask to speak to supervisors if needed. Worst case scenario, threatening to cancel will almost always get you passed on to a customer retention rep who will offer to lower your bill if you stay. Let us know what happens.

will this thing still work? i just knew it just today looking at the articles, its more than 30 days, i usually recieved my bill thru electronic, did not notice this .61 adjustment that they made. thanks

I saw and had called up today. They sighted that it had to be within 30 days and declined to waive ETF.

Any inputs or recommendations about, would it be good ideA to carry on this further with arbitration?

What about administrative charges levied by sprint. They recently adde d 1.98$month? Is this a good chance to get out of the contract? Does this fall under 'in response to a materially adverse change'?

Recently i was struggling with AT&T Early Termination Fees with 1 month fee. Its very expensive like 229.99 $ to over come. I must have to deal with this rotten and blood leech company.I was suffocated from AT&T services. Can anyone help out to dispute against AT&T fees? Please!!!

This may or may not work for everyone, but I actually complained to the BBB after I was charged $750 per line because I was past due and disconnected. I had forked up the past due and reconnection fee only to find I was subject to a "internal credit check". I actually got a call from the president's secretary of AT&t mobility and she said flat out I had to pay it or port out. I did the latter, and all of my charges were waived. I didn't ask any questions about how this happened, but I am thankful it did. Also, my ETF was waived before since I paid the past due balance. Maybe it had something to do with that. Maybe once it is waived, it waived. Dunno.

Did anybody gain anything other than 10 or 20 off the bill like a new cause that's I'm aiming for

I was on my son in laws att cell phone contract he texted me Saturday

saying I have 30 days to cancel the service he changed plans. He doesn't want me on his plan any more the contract was up in September

what should happen if I cancel it

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