Know the Wireless Contract of your Service Provider

Interested in buying your first mobile phone? Then you’re going to need to choose a wireless provider, and if you’re signing a contract you should know what is going to be expected of you in that contract. If you’re switching or planning on switching providers then you might already be pretty familiar with contracts. If not chances are you will be when you find out your locked into your contract and you’re not going anywhere until it expires or you pay your ETF.

Contracts can be very appealing and very tempting. Especially with that shiny new phone worth hundreds of dollars and all you need to do to get it is to pay just a fraction of the full retail price sometimes as low as a penny, oh yeah and sign a contract and then it’s all yours, what a great deal right? Well if something seems too good to be true then it probably is.

The reason why you usually get such a great deal on a phone, especially a Smartphone, is that the carrier selling you the phone knows that they will recuperate the money they invested, and then some, as you pay your monthly bill for wireless service.

Oh and one more thing that you might want to consider. Getting into a contract is simple but getting out of one isn’t so simple and as mentioned above you almost always have to pay an ETF (Early Termination Fee) which is often A LOT of money! The Wireless provider you signed a contract with doesn’t want you to go anywhere and if you do their going to make you pay through the nose.

Don’t think that just because you’re having a problem with your service or your phone that you will be able to go into the store or call customer care, and complain and get out of paying your monthly bill. Even when you threaten to cancel your account you might get a retention statement like “well we really don’t want to lose you as a customer, but I can get you with so and so department if you wish to look into canceling your contract.” when what they are thinking is “I don’t get a darn thing if you stay or go, and I want to transfer you to this department so that I can, one – stop getting yelled at and dealing with an upset customer, and two – get someone else on the line that I can get some sales and therefore commissions from, etc, plus once I transfer you to the cancelation department and you find out how much your Early Termination Fee is going to be they’re going to transfer you right back to my department so you can speak with another rep, or a different department so that they can try and deal with you”.

You can spend hours on the phone with your wireless provider getting transferred to one department or another getting nothing but frustrated. But I digress, sorry for the rant but as you can see I don’t care for contracts myself. Usually if everything keeps working correctly then a contracts not the worst thing in the world, I hate getting locked into anything though, prepaid is more my style. If I start having phone problems and my service provider can’t offer me any alternative solutions then guess what, they don’t get my money the next month, The End.

But I don’t mean to scare you. A contract can get you a pretty nice phone if you don’t have a lot of cash on hand to buy one. I do suggest however that you know what you’re getting into. That’s why I tried to hunt down the actual Contracts and Wireless Customer Agreements for the major and popular wireless service providers.

Sprints Wireless Customer Agreement

Sprints Terms and Conditions are a little taxing on the eyes but can be located here.

T-Mobile’s Wireless Customer Agreement

T-Mobile’s terms and conditions are relatively easy to navigate through and understand and can be read here.

AT&T’s Wireless Customer Agreement

AT&T is most certainly a corporation and as such has an obligation to its stockholders, (Service providers are one of the best stocks you can own, especially AT&T and Verizon, but where not talking stocks were talking phones, so that’s a topic for another day) not my favorite provider just because of their corporation like methods of business, heck they didn’t get to be one of the top 10 largest companies in the United States by giving away free phones writing checks or crediting customers accounts at the drop of a hat.

As a wireless provider they are pretty solid though and I have to complement AT&T for being so upfront with most of the information a customer should know. If you want to know something about AT&T then you can perform a Google search or hop on and usually find the answer pretty quickly. Here is AT&Ts Wireless Customer Agreement and what you might want to look over before choosing AT&T as your wireless provider.

Note: I love how they wrote the part about ETFs “The Early Termination Fee is not a penalty, but rather is an alternative means for your perform your obligations under the Agreement that partially compensates us for the fact that the Service Commitment on which your rate plan is based was not completed” (Section 1.1 paragraph 3, as of October 2012) DID YOU SEE THE TYPO “means for your perform your obligations” Even a huge corporation like AT&T can make mistakes on their terms and conditions. Then again who, besides me, actually reads a document before signing it these days? I would also like to compliment AT&T for including how you might be able to avoid an ETF and they have the whole paragraph in capital letters, no fine print here.

Verizon’s Wireless Customer Agreement

Verizon’s contract is pretty solid; at least I didn’t run across any typos. Their contract also has a very interesting section about their customer’s rights when it comes to Dropped Calls or Interrupted Service.

Verizon is another big and popular wireless provider in the United States. Its Wireless Customer Agreement can be read here.

Things to Look for in your Contract

When you are reviewing the contract for a Wireless Service Provider here are a few things to consider,

  • Buyer’s remorse and return policies – typically 14-30 days but make sure you KNOW what this timeframe is, and make sure that if you don’t like your phone or if it isn’t working correctly you take it back to your point of sale before this period expires. Very, very, important.
  • A way out of your wireless contract – look for ways to break your contract should you end up being unhappy with your service. If your service provider changes the contract that you signed you are often able to break that contract with no penalties or fee what so ever. Especially if it involves you having to pay a higher bill each month.
  • Early Termination Fees – these are usually A LOT of money and most certainly a deterrent to keep you from breaking your contract. Make sure you KNOW this little bit of fine print as well. When your service provider is charging you 409$ for a broken phone + a 300$ ETF (Early Termination Fee) + that months bill and then you have to consider the activation fee for your NEW provider + shipping of the NEW phone (cant unlock your old phone any more, it’s the law, and chances are if you signed a contract your old phone isn’t unlocked and will only work on your old service provider) + you have to buy a phone for your new wireless carrier! You’re looking at THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS! No wonder why more and more people are going prepaid! But I digress. For more information about Early Termination Fees check out Comparing ETFs of popular Wireless Service Providers.
  • The Contracts start and end dates – when does your contract officially start and when does it officially end. This usually effects when you will be upgrade eligible again to get you to sign a new 2 year contract.
  • Automatic Renewals – check to see if you need to give prior notification for not renewing the contract. This can help you avoid an extra months service added to your bill.
  • Payment Terms – what you are going to be expected to pay every month and when. Note: don’t forget to consider taxes.
  • Network coverage and details – such as dropped calls, interrupted service, congestion, location, in doors and outdoor coverage, etc. what is the point of owning a phone if you can’t even use it properly.
  • Roaming charges – these can add up pretty quick, and you might not even be traveling any more than usual.

Chances are high that you will be making payments to this company every month for the next 24 months and after signing a contract you will be obligated to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars to this wireless provider throughout the term of the contract. Just keep these factors in mind and you shouldn’t have any issues making an informed decision when choosing a wireless carrier.

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