Why isn’t AT&T prorating my bill?

Why is Ramesh Kaimal being billed for an extra week of wireless service with AT&T, even though he’s already given up his phone? And is there any chance he can get his money back?

Question: I transferred my wireless number from AT&T to Verizon Wireless on Oct. 10, 2015. My first Verizon bill covered the period from Oct. 10 to Oct. 19. But AT&T had already billed me in advance for the period between Sept. 20 and Oct. 19 – in other words, I had paid for nine extra days on AT&T that I wasn’t able to use.

I requested that AT&T give me a prorated refund for the overlapping period. They responded by refusing to give me the refund for the double billing.

I don’t think that’s fair. I would like to get a prorated refund from AT&T for the overlapping period from Oct. 10 to Oct. 19. Can you help? — Ramesh Kaimal, Princeton, NJ

Answer: AT&T shouldn’t charge for phone service you didn’t use. Unless, of course, you agreed to let it bill you for those days when you switched to Verizon.
And you didn’t. Technically, you agreed to those terms when you signed up for AT&T wireless service.

AT&T bills for services in advance, which means you’re billed one month ahead for service. It’s in your Wireless Agreement. See section 5.1, which explains that AT&T bills for its services in advance. No proration.

The takeaway? You should have canceled at the end of your billing period to avoid these unnecessary extras. Or you should have signed up for service with a wireless company that bills only for the services you use. (This isn’t the first case of proration confusion involving AT&T. I think a lot of customers assume they’ll only get charged for what they use. All the more reason to read your wireless agreement before you sign the dotted line.)

Related story:   His AT&T phone isn't insured, after all

You could have appealed this to an AT&T executive – I list their names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer advocacy website – but I’m afraid the answer would have been the same. AT&T doesn’t prorate.

I checked with AT&T to get its side of the story. Its records indicate that you left a little later than you said – you had service until Oct. 13, according to the company – but that the contract you signed did, indeed, allow it to bill you until Oct. 19.

Billing ahead in this way favors the company, of course. As a consumer advocate, I completely understand your disappointment with this outcome.

You pressed your case to the Federal Communications Commission, but the result was the same, unfortunately. A contract is a contract. I wish this one could have ended differently for you. You paid AT&T for more than a week of service you couldn’t use.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • sirwired

    Pre-paid, pre-paid, pre-paid. Now that “contract” phones are pretty much no longer subsidized, pre-paid gets you the same networks, the same service, but MUCH lower prices. You still gotta pay a month in advance (if you are on a monthly plan), at least everything is clear and up-front.

    And not only are the monthly “sticker” prices with pre-paid often less, apart from government fees that are absolutely required (i.e. E911 fee), the sticker price is what you pay. No “Regulatory Recovery Surcharge” or other junk fees.

  • jim6555

    I switched from T-Mobile to MetroPCS several months ago. Metro is a pre-paid service which T-Mobile owns. Both use the same towers and switches. I have found absolutely no difference in call quality and I’m saving almost 30% each month by having made the switch.

  • redragtopstl

    Consumer Cellular also uses AT&T towers and AT&T-compatible phones. (And despite the fact that their ads target senior citizens, you don’t have to be a senior to use their service.) They’re very reasonable, their coverage is excellent, and you can adjust according to your needs (talk and data).

  • Pat

    When I switched from AT&T to Verizon, I cancelled just before the start of a new billing month for that reason. But then they tried to charge me the ETF when the remainder of the contract was less than the ETF. I sent a polite, professional email to the AT&T president explaining the issue and why they lost my business. They decided to wave the ETF and zero out my account balance.

  • MarkKelling

    This is not double billing. The service from AT&T is billed in one month increments as are most all cell phone programs. Not sure how or why “a lot of customers assume they’ll only get charged for what they use” since this is not like your electric, gas, or water bill which are utilities that bill based on actual usage and not time frames. IF the OP had moved from one AT&T program to another AT&T program and was billed for both, then that is double billing. He would face the same issue if he had moved the other direction. Be glad it is only a few days and not an entire month of overlap and remember this for the next time you move to a different cell provider.

  • Bill___A

    Where I live, they require 30 days’ notice and pretty much you eat a month of extra services when you switch carriers.
    Not good or fair but that’s how it is set up. A week would certainly be much better.

  • Éamon deValera

    I wonder what the ROI in time spend on this by the consumer v. the dollar loss is. I understand it is often the principle of the thing, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

    This does remind us to read contracts before we agree to them. The law requires we be given an opportunity to read the agreement before we sign, and that we be given a copy for our records. Use the law to your advantage.

  • AJPeabody

    But you can’t get the contract modified. It’s always take it or leave it.

  • cscasi

    Out of curiosity, does MetroPCS service cover overseas: like if I go to Europe can I use my MetroPCS phone there? If so, at what rate?
    I can use my T-Mobile phone and plan wherever I travel and I only pay 20 cent a minute for calls I make in most of Europe. Just curious

  • jim6555

    Metro does provide service throughout the world but does not offer the T-Mobile 20 cent per minute plan. I understand that their international calling rates are extremely low but I’m not at all familiar with the exact rates since I have not traveled out of the US since changing services. You can find the latest offerings at http://www.metropcs.com

  • RightNow9435

    And that is why, as a earlier poster said, the ONLY way to go is PRE-PAID

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