Verizon won’t replace my broken phone — do I still owe an early termination fee?

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By Christopher Elliott

Judy Schulze’s husband needs a new phone. But Verizon Wireless wants him to sign a new two-year contract to get one. Is that fair?

Question

We were happy Alltel Wireless customers for several years. In July 2011, Verizon Wireless took over our local Alltel service. During this transition we were assured that Verizon would meet our needs just as Alltel had for several years. We chose to stay with Verizon as they transferred our plan and made wonderful promises.

Our wireless phone needs are very basic. We have four lines, all of which require only minimal minutes and texting services (two are used by my senior-citizen parents). We would even do without video messaging.

A frustrating encounter with Verizon’s plan policies

Recently, my husband’s phone broke. As it is very snowy where we live, it is preferable for him to have a phone while commuting to work for safety. I contacted Verizon to replace the phone, and they informed me that I could not add a replacement phone to my current contract and would need to choose a new plan. I offered to pay full price for the phone to avoid signing a contract and asked if I would then be able to put the replacement phone on my old contract. Unfortunately, I was told “no” in no uncertain terms.

The variety of plans currently offered by Verizon make no allowances for they type of service we need at a reasonable cost. The most inexpensive plan that would fit our needs (basic voice and text/no data plan) would increase our monthly payment by approximately $40. This is not something that we are able to pay at this time.

I checked locally and and found that AT&T Wireless offered a plan that was voice and unlimited text for the same price as our current Alltel/Verizon plan. I provided this information to Verizon and essentially begged them to help us. This request was met with a customer service rep. He informed me (and I paraphrase) that we would just have to pay more if we wanted to stay with Verizon.

Termination fees from verizon after switching to AT&T

We changed to AT&T. Shortly after transferring service, I contacted Verizon to inquire about the total for our final bill, and they informed me that we would incur $400 in early termination fees due to two of our lines having remaining contracts until June 2013. This revelation came as the first notice during the numerous conversations I had with Verizon.

I asked to have these fees waived as they did not offer a service that met our needs at a competitive cost. Also, they were unwilling to allow us to keep our Alltel plan. They had guaranteed would be available when they recruiting Alltel customers for Verizon. Unfortunately, I was given the standard refusal, and appeals to a supervisor went nowhere.

I would be willing to pay a prorated early termination fee, which in my calculations is roughly $80. I understand that there was a service contract; however, my contract was for the old Alltel plan that they are not allowing me to keep if I need to replace a phone. This is not fair and it strikes me as a method of bullying consumers into purchasing something they don’t need or want. — Judy Schulze, Cadillac, Mich.

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Answer

When Verizon acquired Alltel, you probably could have exercised your right to leave your existing cellular contract early. But you chose to stay and sign a contract with Verizon.

Even though Verizon gave you the impression that the service would be comparable to Alltel, the actual promises are outlined in the fine print of your contract. Unfortunately, that contract binds you to two-year agreement. You also agreed to pay an early termination fee if leave early.

Here’s the full agreement.

But here’s something Verizon didn’t tell you. As a way of roping you into another contract, the company will as a matter of policy insist that you sign a new contract if you make any kind of changes to your wireless plan. And that includes getting a replacement phone, in your case.

I’ve encountered this kind of corporate intransigence with a wireless company in the past, too. Even something as minor as changing the number of minutes on my plan meant I would have to sign up for another 24 months.

Fortunately, these onerous contracts appear to be on their way out. T-Mobile recently eliminated it two-year contracts, and thousands of customers have also urged Verizon to ditch its agreements. Simply put, these agreements amount to nothing less than two years of indentured wireless servitude. I’ll be happy to see them disappear. (Related: This Verizon mistake cost him big time!)

From verbal appeals to executive resolution

But that doesn’t really help you. It seems fundamentally unfair to demand two more years of business for a replacement phone. I see from your notes that you spent a lot of time arguing with low-level representatives. You are asking to appeal your case to someone higher up the food chain, but getting swatted down. I think you might have benefitted from putting your grievance in writing. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problems.)

Verizon’s online contact page is not helpful, failing to list an email address or offering a form for you to fill out. Like other wireless carriers, it seems to go out of its way to avoid dealing with a written grievance from a customer.

You could appeal your case to an executive. I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of the Verizon executives on this site.

I contacted Verizon on your behalf. A representative contacted you and agreed to waive one of your early termination fees. |He also prorated your final bill for the days you used.

Should wireless companies charge early termination fees?

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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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