My phone doesn’t work — do I still have to pay my bill?

Question: I’m having a major issue with Verizon Wireless. They’re charging me for a month when I ended up having to return the phone because the call quality was so poor. I paid their restocking fee, and yet they still sent me a bill for an entire month’s worth of service.

I have a major issue with being charged for service that was completely horrible — call quality, dropped calls, etc, could barely hear my callers. Yet they still believe these service charges of $106 are valid.

Now they have sent my account to collections and I can’t seem to make any progress with anyone in customer service. They keep transferring me to “financial services” and then back to collections, saying the charges are valid.

What I am hoping Verizon will do is at least credit me for most if not all of the service charges, as I already paid their restocking fee. If you can help me in any way I’d appreciate it! — Joanna Morehead, San Francisco

Answer: Under Verizon’s customer agreement, the contract between you and your wireless carrier, you have two weeks from the time of accepting the agreement to get out. If you cancel after that, you’ll have to pay an early termination fee.

It appears you ended your service within 14 days. But you still had to pay an activation fee and for service through the date of your cancellation. (You have to cancel within three days in order to get a refund of your activation fee.)

So according to the contract you signed, the $106 appears to be valid.

But here’s the thing: If Verizon gave you a phone that never worked right, shouldn’t you be able to return it for a no-questions-asked refund?

Another wireless carrier tried to do the same thing to me a few years ago, and it’s extremely frustrating. This was before the first iPhone was released, and the state-of-the-art technology wasn’t exactly user-friendly. Also, network coverage in my area was spotty, at best.

After my service was activated, I made the first of several calls to technical support to get a variety of problems resolved. Finally, I canceled my service within the 14-day window, and I expected a refund, minus maybe a restocking fee. But the carrier didn’t care that I’d called it almost immediately after the phone had been activated to try to resolve the problem. It only counted the actual day of the cancellation, and billed me accordingly.

While it was technically right in doing this, it was a terrible customer service move. After all, the phone never worked. All efforts to fix it were unsuccessful.

In a situation like that, the company should have apologized and taken its phone back. Instead, it billed me and a representative told me I was lucky I didn’t go over the two weeks in my contract.

Thanks for nothing.

What I’m saying is that Verizon is both right and wrong. And your case deserves a second look.

You could have appealed through Verizon’s online contact page, but as I’ve noted in the past, its “help” section isn’t the most helpful.

Another suggestion: take your problem to one of the executives listed on the Verizon website. That might persuade the company to do the right thing. Email addresses at Verizon are formatted either or firstname.middleinitial.lastname@verizonwireless.

As it turns out, none of that was necessary. I contacted Verizon and it offered to cut your bill by 50 percent, which you found acceptable. Good luck with your next carrier.

Should Joanna Morehead have to pay for a phone that never worked?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • NoraG

    I believe that a contract for phone service should actually include phone service. If the service is not available, then the carrier has violated the contract; the customer should not be liable for the failure of the vendor to provide the service purchased. Only phone companies, airlines, and cruise lines get by with this kind of behavior.

  • Deborah Orth

    If you go into a restaurant and order a meal they can’t bring you an empty plate and say sorry we ran out of food and then hand you a bill. Same way if you contract for phone service the reasonable expectation is that you will get phone service you can actually use.

  • BillCCC

    She absolutely should not pay for a phone that never worked. In this case it was poor service not no service. I think that they should charge for the service until she cancelled and then cut it in half as a goodwill gesture. Of course from their POV since she will probably not sign another agreement with them they have no reason to make her happy.

  • KarlaKatz

    Gosh, Chris, you make me feel so smart :-)… I had a similar “problem”, I and didn’t bat an eye: I cancelled the second day, as soon as I realized I was being “walked down the garden path” by Customer Service, as a delay tactic. CS kept insisting that I should try this, or that, and the phone/service would improve, etc. Hah! I didn’t wait to find out; Got all my money back, and switched to another carrier with a phone that worked, and calls with clarity.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    Maybe she should contact NSA – they seem to have a direct line to Verizon.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Good one!

  • emanon256

    I’m really surprised. I guess cell phone companies have become meaner lately. Back in 2007 when they all have 30 days to cancel, I bought a phone and got horrible service. I was sent a second phone, still no service, and then canceled and was refunded the cost of the phone, the activation fee, and didn’t get billed for anything. I always thought this was great as you can find the right carrier for your area. It’s a shame they now try to stick it to you no matter what. I feel like customer service has gone down hill these days.

  • EdB

    One thing about cellphone contracts I have seen mentioned is they don’t have to guarantee coverage or call quality. Each carrier has wording to that effect. Kind of like travel providers that state in the COC they are basically not responsible for anything.

    One other thing to note is that since they are in San Francisco, California gives consumers 30 days to cancel regardless of what the carrier’s policy says.

  • JenniferFinger

    No, certainly not. She should only be paying for the service if the phone actually works. Chris, I’m glad you were able to help her.

  • Josh S

    I agree with you, though with a caveat.

    The answer to this really needs a person to split their “phone service” into its two components–the phone handset (hardware) and the wireless service (consistency of signal, lack of dropped calls). Depending which of those is at fault for “my phone doesn’t work” makes a HUGE difference as to the contract.

    If the wireless service is at fault–there’s no service to your phone, or the quality is so poor as to be practically unusable–then you should be out of your contract with no payment required for any of the days you “used.” (They didn’t provide service, so you shouldn’t have to pay for it.)

    However, if the phone handset is at fault — other people on the network can make/receive calls without being dropped, from the same location you’re in — then the company *is* providing the service, you just don’t have a phone that can access that (for whatever reason). I still think there’s a case to be made here that the wireless company provided insufficient hardware to access the service provided and should be held responsible. BUT if you drop the service rather than give them a chance to make it ‘right’ with a functioning handset, then I think they should be able to charge you for providing the service.

    BUT, in the US the prevailing business model is to sell the handset and the service as a “package deal” of sorts, so there’s very little way to unbundle the two to see what the actual culprit is and demand appropriate restitution.

    If you buy the phone separate from the service plan you should (in theory, though not likely in practice in the US) be able to pester the retailer where you bought the phone for any issues arising from its inability to access the network, and pester the service provider for any issues arising from getting lousy/no service on a phone that works just fine. Roll the two together and you’ve got a ton of hassle.

  • DavidYoung2

    Although T-Mobile truly is the ‘Walmart of Phone Service,’ they do have on-line maps that tell you the strength of coverage for any particular area. That should help in determining if the promised service actually exists in the area you will be using your phone.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Everything you’ve said is true, but cell companies ARE required to make sure you have service in your home per FCC rules. Too many people rely on their cell to be their primary phone number and if service is spotty, so is calling 911 in an emergency.

    My husband and I are with Sprint and our service at our house was full-blown roam, unless you stood in the corner of the master bath (the tub) or sat in the tub in the second bathroom (and it was our teenage son who discovered this – many nights he sat in one of the tubs on his cell phone). I contacted Sprint several times about it, expressed my displeasure with this (though standard CSR discussion was fruitless, full of, “Try this and try that”, and I had to send an e-mail to the higher ups, using Chris’s wiki for contact information – it really DOES work) but we were finally given an AirRave and service for it all at no cost.

    It’s the first level of customer service where you have all the problems with resolving issues with your service. If I call Sprint and can’t get it resolved with levels 1 or 2 of the customer service department, I send an e-mail to the higher ups and it’s usually fixed the next day.

  • Miami510

    Christopher did a good job, although I agree Verison should have returned 100% in the interest of good customer relations.

    If you’re still looking for “the pound of flesh,” then send a letter to your State’s Public Utility Commission. You will not get any direct satisfaction from them…. BUT the next time Verison appears before the PUC for a rate hike, some organization that is opposing the rate hike will ask for, and receieve, your letter. No company wants bad letters in their file.

    In fact, something like this often works when making the request. As a medical practitioner I use to have trouble with insurance companies holding back payments to “play the float” game. I would stamp all requests for payment IF THIS INVOICE IS NOT DENIED OR PAYED IN 30 DAYS, A REPORT WILL BE MADE TO THE STATE INSURANCE COMMISSION. I never had problems after that. (Except with Medicare… they couldn’t care less)

  • Bill___A

    If there’s no coverage from the home, the phone should be returned promptly with very little airtime and there should be no charges. By very little airtime, I mean under 15 minutes.
    How much airtime was on this phone when she returned it? Why did she wait two weeks?

  • BillCCC

    I am sure that T-Mobile wishes they were the Walmart of Phone Service.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Way to go!

  • jim6555

    State public utility commissions no longer regulate wireless service rates. The same is true for landline phone service since there are several choices available for local phone service. The carriers can charge as little or much as they want for service without having to get government permission to change rates.

  • john4868

    “cell companies ARE required to make sure you have service in your home per FCC rules”

    Could you provide a reference for this? My parents have had issues for years with cell phone reception in their house due to the construction (steel beams). I’ve never heard of this requirement and couldn’t find anything on the FCC website.

  • EdB

    I have never heard any discussion about any FCC regulation like that. In other blogs I follow when the discussion of getting out of a contract with no ETF, people try using this argument of how can a contract be enforced if you can’t get service? I would think if there was such a regulation, it would have come up before now.

    Would you please supply reference to such a regulation.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Alas, since the US model is to buy phones and service together, then if the phone cannot access the network then its a failure of the carrier as well.

  • oldft

    “…a deal’s a deal…” no service,no payment; seems simple enough to me!

  • lcpossum

    A comment down below refers to 2007 before customer service went downhill. That’s a bad joke. I signed up with Verizon in 2006 and was given a phone which simply didn’t work. The company required me to mail the phone back and the replacement arrived about ten days later. That’s when I found out that there was ZERO service at my house, After much back-and-forth with Verizon they agreed to cancel my contract with no penalty and no charge for the first month’s non-service. I returned the phone and forgot about it. Then Verizon’s collection people started hounding me re the early termination fee. They never actually gave up and I still receive the occasional dun from them. And, of course, they won’t release the personal phone number which I ported to them. Anything involving Verizon is definitely bad news.

  • PsyGuy

    I would have sent Verizon a demand letter for the full amount, then when they denied or failed to respond, file a suit in small claims. Even better if your state allows you a jury trial for small claims court. They would love to give you all the damages possible.

  • Sam

    I activated a phone online with Verizon, and had to provide them a 75 dollar payment immediately to turn the phone on. Now they tell me that I never paid them. They also told me that I didn’t have to pay the activation fee, but they never took that off the bill. After being harassed by emails and phone calls for payments, 1 month and 6 days later I told them to turn off the phone. Now they send me a bill for 205 dollars for one month of service. Verizon has perfected the art of ripping off their customers. After being a customer for 15 years- I am turning off my home and internet service with them. Never again, Verizon…… you treat people like crap in the name of greed.