Make us your home page

10 Tips: Avoid cell phone contract headaches

Avoid headaches on contracts for cell phones

Thousands of consumers are locked into long-term cell phone contracts laden with sky-high, headache-inducing fees. Sound familiar? These tips can help:

1 Give your phone a thorough test drive. Clarify how much time you'll have to return your phone and get out of your contract — likely a week to 15 days. Use your phone in all rooms of your home, in your yard, on your commute, at your job and at your favorite stores. If the service is spotty or calls keep getting dropped, return the phone.

2 Don't get trapped in "cell phone jail." Avoid contracts by using a prepaid phone.

3 Pursue other escape plans. Swap your phone and your plan with someone else online through a trading site such as Or call a customer service representative and attempt to negotiate your early-termination fees.

4 Avoid "handset upgrade" fees. If you switch out your phone, be sure to eyeball your bill carefully for the next few months. You could be hit with a "handset upgrade" fee of $30 to $40, even if you paid retail for the new phone. Call customer service. You could get a refund.

5 Just say no to "premium text messaging." The fees associated with subscribing to joke-of-the-day or special ring tone services can be astronomical.

6 Monitor those minutes. Regularly check your bill and your cell phone company's Web site to make sure you're not close to exceeding your monthly allotment. Set yourself up with enough minutes so you won't inadvertently go overboard. If your provider offers warnings that you're approaching your limit, sign up for that valuable service.

7 Pause before deciding to switch or not switch area codes. If you recently moved to the Tampa Bay area, or if you're thinking of moving away, you may just keep your old cell phone number with its old area code for the sake of convenience. But your taxes are based on your area code regardless of where you live — and the differences can be staggering. To avoid surprises, check out

8 Ask about rock-bottom plans. Would you like to have a phone handy for emergencies only? Then ask more than one company about inexpensive deals that never get promoted. It's likely that you could score a very low-minute, free-weekend, low-cost cell phone plan.

9 Inquire about other deals. Some cell phone companies may offer deals "for new customers only," but you may be able to get those deals even if you aren't a new customer by requesting them in a persistent, yet polite, way.

10 Know where else you can turn. If you're feeling run over by fees and you're not getting satisfaction from customer service, send a firm letter of complaint to the offending business with carbon copies to the Florida Division of Consumer Services (, toll-free 1-800-435-7352), the Better Business Bureau (, toll-free 1-800-525-1447) and the Federal Trade Commission (, toll-free 1-877-382-4357).

Laura T. Coffey (

Sources: Gotcha Capitalism: How Hidden Fees Rip You Off Every Day — and What You Can Do About It, by Bob Sullivan; Red Tape Chronicles (

10 Tips: Avoid cell phone contract headaches 06/07/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 9, 2008 1:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Ousted to political Siberia by Corcoran, Kathleen Peters sets sights on Pinellas Commission

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to "Siberia" might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political …

    Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, has been relegated to the back row in the State House chamber, moved to a fouth floor office and stripped of her job as chairwoman of a House subcommittee after a series of disagreements with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  2. UPS relocates express operations from St. Pete-Clearwater to TIA


    TAMPA — United Parcel Service Inc. is switching airports for its express air operations. Beginning in October, UPS will relocate from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport.

    Beginning in October, UPS will move from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport. [Associated Press file photo]

  3. Richard Corcoran takes aim at public financing of campaigns

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor — not yet anyway — but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

    House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants the Constitu?tion Revision Commis?sion to ask voters to repeal the state’s system of partial financing of statewide elections.
  4. Related Group breaks ground on complex at old Tampa Tribune site

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — When Miami developer Jorge Perez first eyed a 4.2-acre tract on the west bank of the Hillsborough River two years ago, people asked him if he wouldn't prefer to build on the opposite side closer to the downtown core.

    No way.

    From left, Related Group executive associate Arturo Penaa, Jorge Perez, center, founder and CEO of the Related Group, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Steve Patterson, the President of Related Development dig their shovels  during the groundbreaking ceremony of the 400 unit Riverwalk Manor apartment complex on site of the old Tampa Tribune building on Wednesday. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
  5. Eat 3-course meals for $35 at these 100 restaurants for Orlando's Magical Dining Month

    Food & Dining

    In the early 1900s, hotels offered "table d'hote" or "prix fixe" menus as a form of loss leader. Hotels didn't necessarily make money on these lower-priced, multi-course meals, often served at communal tables, but they made up for it on the booze. Prohibition may have contributed to a gradual shift toward a la carte …

    Bulla Gastrobar serves a variety of Spanish and Portuguese dishes.