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 ([email protected])

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. Carrollwood fitness center employs scientific protocol to help clients


    In 2005, Al Roach and Virginia Phillips, husband and wife, opened 20 Minutes to Fitness in Lakewood Ranch, and last month they opened the doors to their new location in Carrollwood.

    Preston Fisher, a personal fitness coach at 20 Minutes To Fitness, stands with an iPad while general manager/owner Angela Begin conducts an equipment demonstration. The iPad is used to track each client's information and progress. I also included one shot of just the equipment. The center recently opened in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser.
  2. Olive Tree branches out to Wesley Chapel


    WESLEY CHAPEL — When it came time to open a second location of The Olive Tree, owners John and Donna Woelfel, decided that Wesley Chapel was the perfect place.

    The Olive Tree expands its offerings of "ultra premium?€ extra virgin olive oils (EVOO) to a second location in Wesley Chapel. Photo by Danielle Hauser.
  3. Massachusetts firm buys Tampa's Element apartment tower

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Downtown Tampa's Element apartment tower sold this week to a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company that plans to upgrade the skyscraper's amenities and operate it long-term as a rental community.

    The Element apartment high-rise at 808 N Franklin St. in downtown Tampa has been sold to a Northland Investment Corp., a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company. JIM DAMASKE  |  Times
  4. New York town approves Legoland proposal


    GOSHEN, N.Y. — New York is one step closer to a Lego dreamland. Goshen, a small town about fifty miles northwest of the Big Apple, has approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park.

    A small New York town, Goshen approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park. Legoland Florida is in Winter Haven. [Times file  photo]
  5. Jordan Park to get $20 million makeover and new senior housing

    Real Estate


    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG —The St. Petersburg Housing Authority, which bought back the troubled Jordan Park public housing complex this year, plans to spend about $20 million to improve the 237-unit property and construct a new three-story building for …

    Jordan Park, the historic public housing complex, is back in the hands of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority. The agency is working to improve the 237-unit complex. But the latest plan to build a new three-story building for seniors will mean 31 families have to find new homes. [LARA CERRI   |   Tampa Bay Times]