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

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Christopher Elliott

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.

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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 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 weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, Forbes and the Washington Post. He also publishes 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 Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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