Switch carriers without Early Termination Fees: How to avoid phone ETF fees

Don’t get penalized by switching to Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint

Getting slammed with Early Termination Fees of a few hundred dollars isn’t what anyone wants, but it’s an unpleasant reality if you ever switch phone carriers in the middle of a contract. 

Breaking a phone contract and binding payment plan often entails an early termination fee, or ETF, or may immediately require a user to pay off the remaining balance of their smartphone if it was purchased on an equipment installment plan. This cost makes it hard for phone users to switch from one US carrier to another.

Early Termination Fees: Tips to avoid ETFs 

Mobile carriers don’t want to let their customers go – that’s the point of service contracts. If there were no penalty for terminating a contract, the contract wouldn’t have much retaining power. That’s why you can see ETFs in a lot of contracts with mobile carriers. They may be less common today than they were ten years ago, as more and more carriers are switching over to mobile plans that users pay monthly. Carriers are also rarely subsidizing phones anymore, opting instead to sell them on installment plans that help the carrier keep customers on the network for the duration of the plan. 

The easiest way to avoid early termination fees and other large bills when leaving a mobile carrier is to avoid lengthy contracts and payment plans in the first place. This can mean larger expenses up front, as users need to buy their phone outright and may miss out on special offers from their carrier, like deals on the iPhone 7. For some, these upfront expenses might keep this from being an option.

Fortunately, there are deals hiding around every corner, with the four major mobile carriers all offering some incentive to assist mobile users in joining their network. Let’s take a look at how to switch to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon and avoid a huge bill from the carrier getting left behind.

Switch to Verizon without ETFs

Phone owners hoping to switch to Verizon Wireless from another posptaid wireless carrier can get reimbursed for their ETF or the balance of their remaining device payments. To take advantage of this offer, they have to trade in their current phone in good condition, port over the number, and purchase a new phone from Verizon on an installment plan along with an eligible line of mobile service that remains active for six months.

Verizon offers a credit for the trade-in phone and will cover up to $650 for any remaining payments on that phone or up to $350 for an ETF from the carrier. Verizon will subtract the old phone’s trade-in value from what it covers, and return the balance as a Visa prepaid card.

Switch to AT&T without ETFs

AT&T is offering up to $650 to lure mobile users away from their current carriers. Customers need to bring their current device to AT&T, trade it in, port over their phone number, purchase a new phone on the AT&T Next or AT&T Next Every Year installment plan, and enroll in a post-paid mobile plan with AT&T.

What AT&T offers for switching customers is a trade-in credit for their old smartphone as long as it’s worth $5 or more and in good working condition. From there, AT&T will cover customers’ ETF from their old carrier up to $350, or it will cover the remainder of an installment plan on the phone for up to $650. The trade-in value of the phone will be deducted from AT&T’s payment, and the customer will get a promotional prepaid card for the balance.

Switch to Sprint without ETFs

Through its “Clean Slate” program, Sprint is also offering up to $650 to customers switching away from post-paid plans with other mobile carriers. To take advantage of this offer, customers can take their current phone and trade it in to Sprint, purchase a new phone on lease or a 24-month installment plan, port their old phone number to the new phone, and activate a mobile plan.

Sprint will credit new customers for the trade-in value of their old smartphone and then give them a Visa prepaid card for the cost of any switching fees minus the trade-in value of the old phone. The switching fees Sprint will cover may be remaining payments on a device purchase from another carrier or an ETF.

Switch to T-Mobile without ETFs

T-Mobile efforts to eliminate early termination fees have been a years-long crusade. Currently, T-Mobile offers to cover both the remaining balance on a phone from another carrier as well as any ETF incurred leaving that carrier when customers switch to T-Mobile. New customers have to trade in their current phone in good condition and port over that phone number. They also need to buy a new phone from T-Mobile and get a T-Mobile One data plan.

T-Mobile will credit customers for their trade-in and cover the remaining device payment plans and up to $350 for ETFs -- the key word being “and.” For users on a mobile service contract and paying device installments, this offer can cover both. T-Mobile will give customers an electronic pre-paid card for the amount of switching fees it covers minus the value of the trade-in phone.


As things stand right now, each mobile carrier is offering pretty similar deals for users looking to switch to a new carrier without paying ETFs. The two notable differences are from Sprint and T-Mobile. Sprint has a simple max of $650 without indicating a $350 max for ETFs, and T-Mobile offers to cover both ETFs and phone payments for those willing to switch. The good news is mobile users should have a fairly easy time getting out of any contracts and switching to any of the four major carriers. They can instead focus on which carrier has the best smartphone deals.