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

Have an easier time switching to Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint

When you switch carriers, the last thing you want is to get slammed with Early Termination Fees that can be a few hundred dollars. But, it’s an unpleasant reality if you ever try switching 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 can make 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 X. 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 T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T or Verizon and avoid a huge bill from the carrier getting left behind.

Switch to Verizon without ETFs

Sadly, for anyone trying to switch to Verizon from another carrier that has them locked in a contract or tied to an equipment installment plan, Verizon currently has no special offers to help new customers switch over.

Customers are able to trade in their old phone to recoup some of their money, but that isn't likely to add up to the value other carriers are offering right now. On the plus side, Verizon does have a number of good phone deals and plans available

(Image credit: ATT)

Switch to AT&T without ETFs

AT&T is offering up to $650 to lure mobile users away from their current carriers and switch to AT&T. Customers need to get a new smartphone from AT&T on an AT&T Next installment plan and start a new line of service with a qualifying plan. They also have to port in their phone number from their old carrier. After that, they must trade-in their old smartphone. Finally, the new customer must submit the final bill from their carrier to AT&T.

In return, AT&T will cover up to $650 per line switched over. 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, customers switching to Sprint from a post-paid plan from another mobile carrier can get $650 toward an ETF or remaining device payments. To take advantage of this offer, customers can take their current phone and trade it in to Sprint, purchase a new phone on a Sprint Flex installment plan or buy it outright, 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. 

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 the remaining balance on a phone from another carrier or 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 on an installment plan and get a T-Mobile One plan.

Customers switching to T-Mobile through this deal will get up to $350 via a prepaid card to reimburse them for the cost of ETFs or they can get up to $650 to cover the remaining payments on the phone from their old carrier.


As things stand right now, each mobile carrier has some offer to make joining their network an attractive offer. When it comes to avoiding ETFs or getting forced to pay off a equipment installment plan, all of the major carriers except Verizon has an offer to defray the cost. For those three carriers, the deals are pretty even, covering up to $350 for ETFs and $650 for devices. So, instead of focusing on which carrier's deal is better, shoppers aiming to switch can instead look into which carrier has the best plans and what their best phones are.

See the best phones from each carrier:

See the best plans from each carrier:

Mark Knapp

Over the last several years, Mark has been tasked as a writer, an editor, and a manager, interacting with published content from all angles. He is intimately familiar with the editorial process from the inception of an article idea, through the iterative process, past publishing, and down the road into performance analysis.