Verizon promised it wouldn’t charge an early termination fee, but it did


Verizon promises Marie Steponovich won’t be charged an early termination fee when she moves to an area where the service is spotty. Why won’t it keep its word?

Question: I had a contract with Verizon wireless and was moved for work to an area that Verizon does not cover. When I canceled the contract, a telephone representative assured me that I would not be charged an early termination fee.

But three months later, Verizon is claiming that I do owe them a $320 early termination fee because it’s not their fault that I chose to move outside of their coverage area. Very unfair! They said one thing and now they are saying another — and very costly — thing.

I need help getting the company to make good on their word. — Marie Steponovich, Long Beach, Calif.

Answer: Verizon’s customer agreement is crystal-clear on this issue. If you’ve had your cell phone longer than 14 days, and you decide to cancel, you’ll have to pay an early termination fee.

What’s that? You didn’t read the agreement? Don’t worry, almost no one does. But by opening the box on your wireless phone and turning it on, you have effectively agreed to the terms — whether you’re aware of them or not. Verizon’s one-sided customer agreement, also known as an adhesion contract, is fairly standard among wireless carriers.

Just because everyone else does it doesn’t make it right, of course. If I had a penny for every adhesion contract I’ve seen in my line of work, I’d quit the journalism racket and buy a Caribbean island.

Your circumstances were special because you were moving to an area that doesn’t really have reliable Verizon service. That’s supposedly addressed in a moving FAQ section on Verizon’s website, except that it’s not really.

Instead, you’ll go down another rabbit hole to its Worry-Free Guarantee, which appears to conflict with its actual customer agreement.

Among other things, the guarantee promises “America’s most reliable wireless network” and that you have the option to change your calling plan “at any time.” Also, “if you ever have a problem, it becomes our problem the first time you call” and finally, Verizon says you’ll experience “no run-around, no hassles.”

That didn’t really happen to you. America’s most reliable network? Not where you live. Change your plan? Didn’t happen. Did your problem become their problem? No. Run-around and hassles? Roger that.

Still, I think this could have been prevented by getting the phone representative’s promise in writing. Talk is cheap — unless you’re a wireless customer. Barring that, you might have appealed your case in writing to a Verizon executive.

I contacted Verizon on your behalf. A representative called you and made good on the company’s promise to waive your early termination fee.

Does Verizon really offer America's most reliable wireless network?

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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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  • Andre_K_FL

    This type of situation is one of the most common types of complaints with the cellular carriers throughout the country. There are dozens of people falling into this situation every day.

  • Blackadar

    The same damn thing happened to me with Verizon. My contract was expired and so I called them up before switching to someone else. I was told that I didn’t owe them anything and there would be no termination charge. Luckily for me, I’m in a state that allows the recording of conversations and I did so because mobile tel companies are notoriously sleazy.

    Of course they sent me a bill. Via their chat help I said I had proof I didn’t owe them anything. They agreed on that chat. So now I had it verbally and in writing.

    Yet they kept trying to bill me for it. Multiple times, multiple months I was billed for an ETF. Every month we’d call and say the same thing. Every month they would “look into it”. Every month it would get rebilled. We went around and around as they started tacking on late fees. Finally we got a notice threatening to send it to collections. That’s when I called up, played the audio tape and said if they send it to collections I was going to sue the ever livin’ shit out of them for fraud. that finally fixed it. It still took a number of phone calls, my time and a fair amount of stress.

  • Sascha Segan

    Everyone saying “no” has to say which carrier is more reliable than Verizon, nationwide. Verizon may not be your favorite carrier, or the cheapest, or the friendliest, or the best in your neighborhood, but survey after survey shows it to be the most reliable network across the country as a whole. Example:,2817,2454822,00.asp

  • stephen Reed

    Bye a google nexus 5 phone, sign up for month to month 5gb plan with tmobile. You will never have an issue with early termination and it only costs 30.00 per month. How can you beat that.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Doesn’t really help much if you live someplace where their coverage is spotty, though. And if they really are as great as they claim, why would it be so hard for somebody like the letter writer to get her money back? Shouldn’t those sorts of cases be very rare for “America’s most reliable network”?

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Might be great some places but T-Mobile coverage in my area is atrocious. The worst of any of the major carriers by far.

  • Sascha Segan

    I’m just kibitzing Chris’s survey question. Carriers should absolutely waive their early termination fees if you move somewhere they don’t have coverage. But no wireless carrier in the US has complete, total coverage of everywhere. “The nation’s most reliable network” only means it’s more reliable than the other ones.

  • Mel65

    Our family has been with Verizon, after being with every other major (and a couple of minor) carriers for about 7 years. We got smartphones with “unlimited data” years ago, and now are stuck on the Verizon hamster wheel because our jobs take us to locations where ONLY Vz has coverage (California deserts, Florida swamps) and we’re stuck with them if we want reliable service. More frustratingly, though, we’re also stuck paying full price for our phone if we want new ones because “upgrading” with Vz subsidized phone will automatically switch us to one of their “family share” data plans. We pay about $350 a month for the five of us, and they keep pressuring me to switch to the share plan, but laughably, after running the numbers, it would only save us about $10 a month. Once you’re on contract, get accustomed to reliable coverage and get addicted to smart phone capability, Vz is the crack of telecommunications!!

  • emanon256

    The problem here is the way the cell phone market works, people want $600 cell phones, but don’t want to pay for them, so they sell the phone at a reduced price with a service contract and inflate the monthly cost. The ETF is there to recover the phone subsidy. What frustrates me is that they don’t reduce your rate after you have paid off the phone subsidy. Also these new gimmicky plans that let you get a new phone sooner now make you pay extra on top of the already inflated rate, so they are double charging people. My friends who work in IT for the cell phone business said they loose so much money to people who get the latest greatest phone, and within a month or to, stop paying, and eventually go to collections, and still never pay. So they then charge the rest of us with higher service fees.

    I still wish we had the European model. A low monthly rate that includes everything, and we buy the phone for full price separate from the service. The phone companies don’t need these service contracts because they don’t have to subsidize the phone. They don’t have higher rates because they don’t have to collect their subsidies. And in the long run, we consumers also pay lass. But unfortunately the credit and instant gratification mentality in in States allows if not forces the companies to give us cheap phones now and collect later, charging us all more.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I use my cell phone for business. T-mobile isn’t nearly robust enough

  • omgstfualready

    I agree. I am grandfathered for unlimited data. However, any change on the plan (even minutes, not just data), would take that away, but adding a new phone would not. Once I decided on my desired phone I did the math. A new 2 year plan would make me pay $20 more a month (on top of the plan charges I have) to get the same level of data I have now. That is $480. Plus the phone wasn’t free, it was $100 with a new contract. And they charge some activiation fee, so about $600 over 2 years to have a new phone with my current level of service. The phone I wanted was $500. So I could buy the phone outright, have no contract, and keep my unlimited data, and paid $100 less than if I went with the contract. Sweet. And I did look into their Edge program and that is a big fat loser for the customer too. Basically do your own math but 9 out of 10 times, if you are going to keep your phone for a couple years, just pay for it out of pocket and you’ll be ahead (or at least not further behind AND stuck in a contract).

  • omgstfualready

    Oh, did I want a nexus 5 but no coverage where I live. Had to stay with Verizon, nobody else comes close to their coverage for me.

  • Annie M

    None of these companies provide the most reliable wireless service. I still have problems getting and making calls in my own house, regardless of the carrier!

  • Rebecca

    I switched to a no contract plan a while ago, which lowered my bill by about $100/month. I recently bought a Galaxy Note 3 for my husband. I shopped around, because I was afraid of buying one on Craig’s List, and paid $600 at Frys for a brand new one. Everywhere I went, they tried to get me to sign up for a contract, because then it was only $200 upfront. I ran the numbers, and over those two years, you pay about $1800 more by signing up for a two year contract (and that includes a deduction for the $400 savings upfront). How can anyone justify paying nearly $2000 more to save $400? Let alone you’re stuck in a contract for 2 years. My husband likes to have a new phone more often than every 2 years anyways, so the long term cost becomes astronomical. He can sell the one he has in about 9 months and get about half of what we paid (that’s been the average), and apply that to the next phone. It is really worth paying upfront. And if you can’t afford $400, you really can’t afford thelong term cost

  • Mark Cuban

    What does the poll question have to do with the issue?

  • Christopher Elliott

    My polls aren’t always related to the story. See my frequently asked question.

  • Helio

    Some people only check if the bill fits in the monthly expenses. US$600, even only once, probably not, but US$50 fits. They don’t worry if they will pay two or three times more the actual price, because they didn’t expend all this money upfront, only few bucks…

  • emanon256

    I see that as part of the problem here. Why not save $50 a month, and get the phone in a year, rather than pay $50 extra a month for two years?

  • emanon256

    I am fortunate with AT&T, I am grandfathered into unlimited data, and they still let me get subsidized phones and make servcie changes. I just can’t get unlimited data on a new line. Unfortunately they don’t change what they charge me whether or not I have a contract. So if I don’t get a new phone every 2 years with the subsidy, I pay the subsided rate for nothing. Of course they keep offering me their new deal where I pay the full price of my phone spread out over 12 months, on top of the subsidized rate, which is clear rip-off.

  • Carchar

    I can’t answer the poll because I only know what works where I live. I do know that Verizon doesn’t work where one of my daughters lives.

  • Helio

    Because some people prefer having the good now, instead of waiting one year (in this case) for it.

  • omgstfualready

    That’s the entire reason our country has been, is, and could likely continue to be, in a deep financial crisis. Car loans, once unimaginable, are now up to 7 years! Or worse, leased so payments get you nothing in return other than to drive a car you probably couldn’t afford to buy. Credit cards, once not revolving, have people paying only minimum payments. Houses, once paid with at least 50% down and paid within 5 years are now 100% financed over 30 or 40 years. I understand the shift to needing credit and maybe not paying a large unexpected bill right away and needing a few months, but that is not why debt levels are where they are today. People cannot wait. That perfectly good tv is now garbage since the new one came out for $2000. No cash for a vacation, no worries, take out a HELOC to pay for it later. I know, it’s a tirade but people over the last 20 years have gone from figuring if they can afford the price of an item to affording the payment of the item. That is the root cause……okay, I feel better…

    Oh – and I’m in my early 40s for the record….not 80s though I know I sound like it!

  • Mel65

    We are grandfathered for our unlimited lines only as long as we make no changes to our plan or get subsidized phones ;( Recently I called them to ask why the “hotspot” button was grayed out on my phone but not my son’s (limited to 2GB) phone. I was told “we don’t offer the WiFi hotspot use option on phones with unlimited data.” We had a nice go around about how ridiculous it was that I already pay for “ALL THE DATA IN THE WORLD” but that in order to use my phone as a hotspot I would have to pay another $30 a month for MORE DATA….although my son could use his phone as one, in hopes no doubt that he’d go over his allotment (which he does with regularity) and I’d end up paying overage charges. ARRRRGGHHHHHH!!! I oftentimes wish I had never gotten accustomed to having a smartphone!

  • emanon256

    That is infuriating. Wow!

  • Helio

    It reminds me the old ADSL days, when you were legally allowed to use the internet connection with only one computer in the house, you couldn’t add a router to share your connection with a 2nd. computer in the household.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    So long as you don’t start yelling “Get off of my lawn!”, you’re fine. :)

  • sunshipballoons

    Who DOES offer America’s most reliable wireless network? It has to be somebody.

  • Bill___A

    It is a cost of moving, sorry.

  • Bill___A

    It apparently is Verizon actually.

  • Bill___A

    Since none of them are exactly the same, one of them must, by definition, be better than the others and therefore “most” reliable. There would also be a second most reliable, third most reliable, etc.

  • Bill___A

    Did you feel bad the first time you put in a router? Incredible that people and providers thought that way. Sort of like when you had to pay for every extension phone.

  • Helio

    In my case, when I finally have more than one PC at home routers had became “legal”. :-)

    But I remember when I “routered” (?) the ISP modem to avoid using the horrible dialing software the ISP provided. It was a hassle every time I had a connection problem, and the help desk denied to help because the modem wasn’t as shipped, and even knowing the problem was at their side they refused to do anything because of that. Soon I learned to tell then that I was using their dialer, pretending I was re-doing their instructions the recriate a connection string, to finally they decided to check their side and realizes the problem wasn’t at my computer.

  • Bill___A

    Unfortunately, that’s often still the way to deal with the help desk.