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Owning a mobile device for the length of a contract, normally two agonizing years, is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to do. In a matter of weeks and months of a launch, a new phone can quickly become outdated or lose its luster in light of newer, bigger and better phones. Even rumors of phones several months away play a major part in the obsolescence of current and pending phones. For those with the never-ending desire to own the latest and greatest tech, staying loyal to the agreement you signed when you bought your phone is tough, to say the least.

And providers aren't making things any easier for consumers. When you buy a subsidized phone, you are signing an agreement. This agreement, depending on its length (usually anywhere from one to three years), drops the price of the phone significantly. To keep people from just buying a subsidized phone and cancelling their line after a few weeks or months, providers have applied rather steep early termination fees (ETFs) that kick in after the return period. Nearing the end of the contract term, the customer is offered an upgrade, where they can choose another phone and start the whole process over again.

Until this year, stateside carriers would offer early upgrade options to customers, allowing them to dig into a new phone before their term ended. But this has inevitably led to carriers losing money on phones. The purpose of a wireless provider subsidizing a phone is to make the device more affordable to the consumer while locking them into the provider's services on the assumption that the money lost on the discounted device will be made back over the length of the contract. If everyone chooses to upgrade early, though, the carrier will perpetually lose money on hardware.

In an attempt to cut losses, providers have started making it more difficult for customers to get out of their contract or upgrade early. Early upgrade options have been either nixed entirely or the respective fee was more than doubled. And ETFs have been raised substantially. The ETF for Verizon customers, for example, was once $175 for all devices. In September of 2009, that ETF was raised to $350 for all smartphones.

According to a recent survey performed by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, however, these efforts by carriers are futile. The survey revealed that people still don't mind eating the occasional ETF to get out of those pesky contracts and buy a new subsidized device, especially for the latest generation iPhone. Of all the iPhone 4S buyers surveyed by CIRP between October 31st and November 10th, 45 percent broke their commitment with one carrier to purchase an iPhone on another. Of those, 70 percent faced an ETF of $100 or more to make the jump.

Whether it's because the specific phone you want isn't available or isn't coming to your current carrier or because you just want (or need) a new phone, there are several reasons you might consider paying ETFs and going through the trouble of opening new accounts. It may be cheaper than buying a new phone at retail value. But is it really worth the trouble?

When paying an ETF and breaking a contract, there are several things that have to be considered. You cannot just waltz up to a rep at a Verizon store and tell them you want to pay and ETF to get out of a contract and immediately open up another account with them afterwards. You might be able to get away with this in some special cases, or if you try these two things at different locations on different days. But they have guidelines in place that should keep you from doing this.

Not to mention, all of the perks like grandfathered plans (unlimited data, anyone?) that you might lose when making a switch. And when canceling your line, you're not always promised to keep your number either. If you open an account with another carrier first and then port your existing, contracted number to the new account, you can usually hold on to your mobile number without a hitch. But as soon as the port is completed, your old account will be canceled and the ETF will be applied to your account, plus any remaining bill payments.

If you're planning on switching carriers in the first place, none of this is usually a problem. But if you're just going through all of this to get a new phone, chances are it's hardly worth all of the trouble and risk of losing perks. With new, more expensive ETFs now in place, the ever-increasing price of subsidized phones and resulting activation fees, it's generally easier to just buy the phone sans contract and activate it on your existing line.

Personally, I've never paid an ETF. And I especially wouldn't just to get my hands on a new device. I'm satisfied with my carrier and my current bill. I'm not going to lose my grandfathered unlimited data plan to get a new phone for one or two hundred dollars cheaper (after ETFs, subsidized price and activation fees) than retail value. I have, however, opened a new account with a carrier to test out a device for a few weeks. And I'm not against adding another line and dropping it to the bare minimum to get my hands on a new phone. It may be more expensive in the long run, but at least I don't have to worry about losing anything or opening a new account.

What about you, folks? Have you ever paid an ETF and switched carriers just to buy a new device? Was it worth all the trouble? Or after the fact, did you wish you had stuck with what you had to begin with or just bought a phone no-contract?


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102 Reactions to this post

"Would you pay an ETF and switch carriers for a specific phone?"


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Edgar Valdivia Yes And iT Was Worth iT. iPhone 4S FTW. Android iS Open And iNfested With Bugs
Wendy Johnson No. When u buy a phone it should be one that u can give with foe two years which really isn't a long time. By the time the two years end the new age of cell phones will be it and then the process starts all over again.
Murad Nazi We buy the phones and are the owners of those phones. They should all be unlocked and let us choose which carrier to go to. They do this all over the world except in the U.S.
Andrew Fontana Fuck phone dog i cant win that damn shitin phone shits rigged ffffffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuu
Robert Centennial Anyone have a BB Playbook for sale? I need a digital photo frame for the guest bathroom. I have $50 burning a hole in my pocket. I also can pay at least $2 for shipping. My offer won't last long I heard next month Best buy will be throwing them at customers coming in the door.
Edmund Walker Heck yea, I plan on leaving ATT to obtain the Samsung Nexus. To make up for the ETF fees, just sell your phone on ebay. For example, I switched from iphone 4 to Android Atrix. It costed me $280 to cancel my contract. I sold my iphone4 on ebay for $400 dollars, I made out like a fat rat.
Chris Eng Hell. No.
Zach Cline Oh my god... Contracts jail for the consumer lmao.
Narone Victoriousatwhatido Thomas I learned my lesson from that, that's how these companies get their money, put out some garbage that does just as the phone you have and bam you paying fees as well for a newer phone even if you have a upgrade their is still a charge...quiet as kept all contacts are jail for the consumer...if you use wifi what's the use for data charges?...and if you use wifi shouldn't you have your bill deducted every time you use it....its all a scam.
Matt Bourdette been there done that
Scott Schumacher Hell no they get enough of my Money
Kathy Cook I got rid of all contracts a few years ago and will never go back!
Sean Martin No. I'm not remotely poor, but I can't justify that. Also, I'm already on the best carrier anyway (Verizon). No phone is worth going to the others.
Skylor Mitchell Phone? No. But I would to get a better plan for less.
José J. Landrau I only get a new contract when my phone is starting to give indications that needs to be replaced. I take good care of my phones so they last well after my contract ends.
Jake Mexin I have in the past but since the iPhone 3GS launched years ago I been just upgrading per iPhone that comes out and don't really care about other phones anymore
Ryan DeClue When I hit the Powerball, sure I would! Till then, I am still VERY happy with my CyMod 7.1 EVO 4G
Patrick Murphy Yep - I tend to follow the phone versus the carrier. However, I never sign a contract so I can switch easily.
Jordan Williams A phone is a phone. Its not worth a $150 ETF plus the cost of the phone itself. Oh and how about that "greatest phone" that apple couldn't even be bothered to stick an LTE radio in. Thats next years "revolution", isn't it?
Michael Blackman Just cause I can afford iPhones doesn't mean they suck
Keenan Ochoa I'd pay to not have a shitty iPhone LOL.
Su Zahir I agree with my man Scott. It really isn't worth it. All of these phones are about the same. So to give away money for convenience of a new provider is not me. A few dropped calls a week is okay for a $60 smartphone bill
Khoi Mai no, i'd but the phone unlocked
Scott Bitters I have done it but will never to it again.
Ray Dull Prepaid here,no contracts to deal with,I upgrade devices about every 3 months,sell the old one and buy a new one for about $50 more at the most.
Aaron Dean Why so that phone can be outdated in a month and most likely have a lack of support as well. (bug fixes)
Gabriel Tejada I cancel with tmobile on black Friday an switched to sprint because bills will be heaped and I get the iPhone :?
Malik Brock Heeeeeeck No! That's a waste, Sprint could have a new phone in December so u jump from TMobile then in May Sprint could have that same phone with better features, that's why I'm not getting the Sprint Galaxy S 2 yet I'm waiting until something else comes out cause I'm sure something will be better.
Sean Sedgwick Everyone claims they will, nobody does.
Ricky Amaro Done it!! N still will!
Zach Cline @ Joey- All android devices are outdated within months of each other.
Earl Schirmer Considered but never have
Samuel Claudio No way Jose, its not that serious.
Tim Springer @Paul Vella ETF is the Early Termination Fee
Tim Springer Yep. The iPhone made me leave Tmobile for AT&T with a $200 ETF
Randall Darden I do it all the time lol.
Ignacio Gonzalez Yes...just did iT. Sprint to VZW. Samsung Epic 4G for Droid RAZR. ETF about $100. (pro-rated ETF, contract signed before ETF fee hike). In an area where I have no 4G and 3G is hit or miss.
Brian Childs @Joey Cossack... 1st You should speak on what you know. All android phones are not upgradable and 2nd I didn't say the reason I got rid of my phone was because of it being outdated. If you must know.... the reason I got rid of my android phone is because the operating system is garbage!! I have had 4 androids and my wide has had 2 all of which have been glitchy. Not to mention everyone that I know who has an android complains of the same issues. Those who don't are lying!! I did the research for myself buddy.
Derek Wheeler @ marco. it depends on where you are in your contract and if you have a smartphone or not.
Kong Yang No, that's stupid as hell.
Marco Rojas I want to switch from att to sprint but dont want to pay $300 .. Anyone know how i can get out without paying??
Douglas Prevo Yes, if the cost of the phone subsidized on the new carrier plus the ETF was less than buying the phone at cost. This would effectively negate the contractual discount, but... you never really have to worry about contracts if you think of it this way.
Josh Pieters @ bruce. That stratosphere 4G is way tighter than the inc.2. If anything get a rezound. Legit
Derek Wheeler my wife and i just paid $300 to switch from at&t to sprint. we got the iphone 4s's and now don't have to worry about extra data fees. we are now paying $15 dollars a month more and now have smart phones instead of the "dumb" phones
Daniel K Ball Hell yeah but I already got the greatest phone iPhone 4s baby!!
Seth Lance Revelle I think you should just get insurance and tell them the problems with your phone to get a new one, bitten line tho not if it was for a piece of shit iPhone
Chris Mcnug Michniewicz Nope just birch til they wave it lol
Christian Cornejo Im thinking about it. From Sprint's Evo 3D to Verizon's Rezound
Joey Cossack @Brian child's.....too bad ur precious iPhone4s was outdated b4 it even came out...all androidphones are upgradeable so if u had an old version y didn't u update it???? #somepeopleskids
Jose Gonzales T mobile is the only reliable service I have had of many...i dont know what alll if you people are taking about lol ... And android all the way... Not so tied down... Etf,i think not!
Darren Penix There is always a way out a contract. I've done three times, but I'm staying right where I am for good
Calvin Roberts yes i would
Brandon Johnson I did when I got the iPhone 3G... VZW is shit where I live at&t has been pretty much perfect, can't complain about the price since I went from the other high plan carrier.
Robert Hoellering no but i would for a carrier that has working towers.
Tomi Géczy no. I'd rather just go and buy the phone on Ebay itself. I now own a Droid 2 Global, switched from a vzw iPhone. Sure, the phone might have been released in Nov of last year, but it's still awesome. People shouldn't care if it's outdated so much. I think to a degree Android's large phone selection can drive prices down faster for phones. E.G. My d2g cost $200 brand new. iPhone 3gs's and 4-s are still going for $300-400.
Ronald Williams If Verizon didnt suck so bad i would pay one to get the Droid Razr
Matthew Oates Anytime I'm always looking for what is the best carrier for my needs mostly which phones are the best all around to support my needs
Ishy Pas Why would anyone want to waste time paying a retardedly huge ETF and get a phone that'll be outdated in 6 months? To the person who was talking about switching ti iPhone because being on android she felt left behind, I LOL'd so hard at that statement.
Jeffrey Hobbs @Robert Salender well don't worry you'll see those sims again pretty soon. Verizon's 4g is gsm and once they've made the complete switch all the phones will be sim card phones.
Jeffrey Hobbs Heck no, I'd call and complain about the service everyday for a month until they let me out of my contract then I'd go to the other carrier. Worked completely with Sprint, finally got big blue to wave like half of the fee, so that only left $100 which wasn't so bad.
Mike Jackson 200$ per line x 4 line. Ummm no
Ishy Pas Fuck no.
Zack Northern Been there, done that. Worst mistake ever. Left Verizon for AT&T.
Leobardo Ruiz Left t-Mobil for Sprint gotta say been happy they changed my galaxy s for the EVO 3d to keep me cause galaxy s is in back order did I mentioni got it for free :)
Bruce W. Thomas Jr. Umm... no I wouldn't... however I am thinking of using my 30 day warranty to get the Droid Incredible 2... I currently have the Samsung Stratosphere...
Jay Franklin Don't have to....my T Mo contract expired in Oct 11' :-D
Brian Childs Everybody is leaving Tmobile. That is who I just left for Sprint and the iPhone 4s. My phone is awesome and my bill is cheaper.
Hector Portalatin All I gotta say is .. FCK IPHONE ANDROID BTCH!!!! ics rom in alpha stage for most 2nd gen Android phones including mine (OG HTC MyTouch4G) its gonna be a good Xmas ths yr :)
Ray Munoz Hell no
Daryl Okimoto Just paid an ETF and left TMo for VZW...couldn't be happier!
Bilal Loya yeah for samsung galaxy note i would swtich from t-mobile to ATT
Norris Reber I paid the early termination fee to leave T-Mobile when Sprint released the HTC EVO. T-Mo's service sucked and wasn't getting better, it was a good switch. Sprint lately has not been good with their 4G here in the Long Beach, CA area
Robert Salender Verizon since 2006. No, never. Screw SIM cards.
Ezekiel Keator If they give me a free monkey with the new phone!
Brian Childs Did it for the iPhone 4s. I couldn't be happier, and I do plan on keeping this phone for the entire contract. When the new iphone comes out the 4s will still be above other phones in my opinion. I have had numerous android phones and I haven't been please with any of them and since they come out with a better version of an android phone every month you feel like you are getting left behind. There is only 1 iPhone per year. So in a two year period I will only be 1 phone "outdated"
Toby Bruckner Verizon, I will not ever switch my carrier. I have never experienced anything wrong with Verizon (other than they don't have 4G in Montana).
Jay Lazz For me its about the monthly plan price. 59.99 a month t-mobile here. Sure id like an iphone, but why would I spend 130 on att or verizon when I get the same with T-Mobile at such a lower price. Besides, the android phones here are just as good as the iphone.
Jeremie Merchant No. There's ways to get out of cell phone contracts other than paying out. There's things that void the contract completely. Just gotta look
Agim Alion pick your carrier, then the phone
Welldone David I have been with Sprint for 12 years. My needs are simple. I get the cheapest or free phone at upgrade. With the discount I get no one else can beat the price. Phones come and go.
James Newman Nope. The beauty of being with a GSM carrier is I can buy just about any phone I want, unlock it, and use it with my current provider.
Nathaniel Walker Yes. I'm getting the iPhone 4S soon. Android and WP7 just don't do it for me. So, I'm going to pay 2 ETF fees to T-Mobile to go to AT&T and get the iPhone. My bill will go up, but it will be well worth it. After that, I'll just buy upgraded iPhones off-contract.
Veen Oui NO WAY, I had them all and i found my favorite "Data / Price / Reliability" carrier, I would UNLOCK before anything else.
Arturo Cifuentes I wanna see the Samsung galaxy nexus eat the iPhone 4s in a ice cream sandwich
Eduardo Ordaz No way. Rather wait. Who knows there might b more powerful phones then the one u want when u pay for the ETF just to get that phone.
Tara Manrique I did twice before.
Brandon Duran Regalado I'll stay with my iPhone 4S
Warren Whitworth Been there.. Done that




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