Why did T-Mobile charge me an early termination fee?

Pavel Ignatov/Shutterstock
Pavel Ignatov/Shutterstock
Question: I recently discontinued my T-Mobile wireless service in what I hoped would be a smooth transition. It wasn’t. As I began to pay my final bill, I realized that I had been charged a $200 early termination fee. This was a surprise to me, because I thought I had been operating on a month-to-month contract for several months.

I signed up with T-Mobile in the summer of 2011, and after about a year I realized that I had been paying entirely too much for the unlimited plan. So I decided to change my plan. When I looked at plan options, I wanted something that was cheaper, but I also wanted to end my contract and go month-to-month, which would give me the flexibility to go to the company of my choice.

When I chose a plan change, I selected an option where I also would pay a termination fee of $100 to end the contract that I was under. I reasoned that the termination fee would pay for itself with the lower plan option in a couple of months. My plan was to wait for a couple of months and then make a decision on where to go next.

When I questioned the termination fee, T-Mobile said I had renewed my contract for two years at that time and that my contract would not end until the summer of 2014. Nowhere in any of the options when I changed my plan did it state that I would have to renew my contract. In fact, I specifically looked for that provision, because I would not have done it had that been the case.

I tried to recover any documents that showed where this was the case, but because I am no longer with T-Mobile, I could not access my account. Nor did they send me any notification by mail or email. The only thing I have from them is the bill where they charged me the termination fee.

I stated all of this in a letter to their contract review, but my request was denied. I called their customer service and eventually I talked to a manager who gave me credit for my last month’s bill, but stated that she could do nothing about the termination fee.

The amount is too small to take any type of legal action, but I still do not believe I should have to pay a bill that I do not justifiably owe. It is frustrating because I feel like there is nothing I can do about the situation. Do you have any suggestions? — Chad Jones, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Answer: I reviewed the correspondence between you and T-Mobile. Here’s my problem: Not only do you have zero documentation about your terms of service, but since you’ve already terminated your service, the company won’t even let you back in to retrieve whatever documents might — or might not — exonerate you.

T-Mobile’s position, which is articulately stated in the two form letters you received, is that you never made the switch to the month-to-month plan. In other words, you were still under contract when you canceled, and owe T-Mobile $200.

But I also believe you when you say you switched to a month-to-month contract. You can see the terms of your current contract on your monthly bill, which, if you’re paying electronically, would not be accessible to you now that you’ve left T-Mobile.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand the reason wireless carriers have early termination fees. I’m not going to go down that aisle in this story. But if you took every step you believed was necessary to switch to a month-to-month contract, then I think T-Mobile should honor your request.

You could have also tried to appeal this decision to a T-Mobile executive. The names of its corporate leaders can easily be found online. If your email through its website doesn’t yield results, try emailing the execs directly. They use two email naming conventions at T-Mobile: [email protected] and [email protected]

I contacted T-Mobile on your behalf, and it refunded $100 of the early termination fee. It also offered you a “free” Samsung Galaxy S2 or an HTC One S if your reactivated your account in the next 30 days. Something tells me you won’t.

Should T-Mobile have charged Chad Jones an early termination fee?

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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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  • Whitney

    I’m in the same boat…. i bought the new phone at the time…. Samsung galaxy s3…. and paid month for the phone. I was told there would never be a cancellation fee because I was month to month.
    I had tmobil for YEARS!!! I moved to an area that had little to no coverage and had to switch…. standing on a chair in the corner of the den for 10 min trying to send out a text message was just more than I could stand.
    So I switched….. cause I shouldn’t have had a cancellation fee
    Well…. there is a $200 term fee that they want and I just don’t understand why.
    Tmobil is LYING to their customers. False advertising and straight up lying.

    Anyone know of a class action against them?

    I am going to be speaking with a lawyer and the media. I can’t believe they are getting away with lying and ripping people off. Unreal.

  • EdB

    Is that an ETF or the balance on the phone? If you still have an outstanding balance when you terminate, the balance is due immediately.

  • Whitney

    No, I’m completely fine paying off the balance that I owe. … its the additional $200 termination fee that I’m upset about…. especially when I was told I was out of contract and month to month…. they are advertising that they have no ETFs.. its not right.

  • Whitney

    No, I’m completely fine paying off the balance that I owe. … its the additional $200 termination fee that I’m upset about…. especially when I was told I was out of contract and month to month…. they are advertising that they have no ETFs.. its not right.

    What Can People Like me do to avoid getti ng bamboozled? ?

  • EdB

    Have you contacted T-Mobile and asked them about it? How long ago did you get your new phone? I’m wondering if you were still on the old style plan because you have been with them so long. Guessing you didn’t pay for the phone on an installment plan, but it was subsidized. In that case, while you were month to month before because you had completed your contract, when you got the new phone, it started a new contract.

  • SJohnson

    I am going through a similar situation with T-Mobile… Tried to get help with my service with T-mobile and they were unable to give me service that was working properly. I called several times and tried to get it fixed. Then I was told to go to a store… T-mobile has taken all of their products out of the area. I have to drive 2 1/2 hours to get to a store. So I had to switch because they couldn’t give me the service that I was paying for. I run a home business and I lost clients!! Now the endless letters and emails have started. Is there any hope. I have an attorney but I don’t want to have to go that far for $400.00