I terminated my cell phone service, but where’s my credit?

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By Christopher Elliott

Lavan Reddy has to pay for a month of AT&T service he won’t use after canceling his service. Is that fair?


AT&T is charging me for service I haven’t used. I need your help with a refund.

Four years ago, when I signed up for my AT&T wireless account, I knew I would be charged an early termination fee if I ended my contract early. But they didn’t tell me everything.

I found out the rest when I switched from AT&T to T-Mobile. My contract with AT&T was ending on Nov. 17, but I terminated it on Oct. 7 to avail an offer with T-Mobile.

Here’s the thing: AT&T charges their customers in advance. In my last billing on Sept. 24, I paid the charges for the month of October. Since I terminated my contract on Oct. 7th, I was ready to pay the termination fee, but I was supposed to get credit for the services I did not use from Oct. 8 through Oct. 24.

My bill on Oct. 24 doesn’t have any credits. I contacted customer care and all they said was AT&T’s policy is not to give the remaining credit.

I asked them to send the policy details, and they told me that they would email me. They haven’t sent it yet. All that I should pay is an early termination fee and any taxes. I’m ready to pay those. AT&T owes me $50. Can you help me get it back? — Lavan Reddy, Annandale, Va.


AT&T should have explained its refund policy before you signed up, so that when you canceled your service, you could do it at the right time. Its terms of service are outlined on its website.

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According to AT&T, you have 14 days to terminate your wireless contract for any reason and without penalty. After that, you agree to pay AT&T for “all fees, charges, and other amounts incurred and owed under your Agreement along with the applicable [Early Termination Fee].”

The way I read that, you would have to pay for any usage until the cancellation. But the way AT&T reads it – at least according to the oral and written communication with the company – is that since it bills you in advance, all pre-billed services are considered a valid charge. (Related: But how will I know?)

Here’s the thing about contracts. It isn’t just knowing the rules – it’s interpreting them. And the company doesn’t just get to write the terms but it also gets to say what they mean, which can be a little maddening to the average wireless customer. (A reader’s cell phone ‘protection’ won’t protect him when he tries to invoke a buyback clause. is he out of luck?)

I note that while you did send some written correspondence to AT&T, you failed to escalate this to a higher level. Those managers are all available on my website.

We just updated our AT&T Wireless contacts, so you should have no trouble getting through to the right person. (Here is our guide on how to contact the CEO directly).

This is yet another reminder that you need to review all the terms of your wireless contract before you decide to break it. Companies use a lot of carrots to get you to sign up and sticks to prevent you from leaving. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. It can hurt.

My advocacy team and I contacted AT&T on your behalf. A representative called you and agreed to refund the $50 for October. Enjoy your new T-Mobile service.

Should Lavan Reddy have paid for the month he didn't use?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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