If you want to switch cell phone carriers, what's holding you back?
Maybe you've been considering switching to another carrier, but you're not sure if you'll be charged a gigantic fee.
Or maybe you simply don't know how to switch to another carrier--or didn't know you could. Does this sound like you?
No matter what your problem is, I'm here to help you determine whether to switch and how to go about it.
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In this article, I will explain how to switch cell phone carriers on each of the four major carriers. I will also go through the good and bad aspects of switching or staying with your provider.
In This Guide
Why Do You Want to Switch Cell Phone Carriers?
In 2016, an estimated 25.4 million people were planning to switch to a new mobile phone carrier within the next year, according to Statista (paywall). If you're considering switching your cell phone plan and carrier, there could be several reasons. Here are some reasons people are planning to switch cell phone carriers so often these days.
1. Unreliable service
If you can never get wireless service in your area, that's a pretty good reason to switch your current carrier. You may have to opt for a more expensive carrier, but it will be worth it for reliable wireless service if you can afford it. Not sure of the extent of which your carrier covers? Take a look at our cell phone coverage maps.
2. Bad Customer Service
No one wants to deal with bad customer service. If you can barely get ahold of someone to answer your questions and help solve your problems politely, you may be inclined to switch carriers. You shouldn't feel bad about this, as you're probably paying customer service fees on top of fees to power your phone.
3. Save Money
You may want to switch your mobile phone carrier simply to save money. That makes total sense. You can use our handy cell phone savings calculator to see if you could be saving money with another carrier. Just tell us your current carrier, and select your the number of gigabytes you're paying for at what price. Then, it'll calculate how much you can save and direct you to where you can compare cell phone plans.
4. Confusion About Plans and Contracts
With so many changes happening within the wireless industry in the past couple of years, people might simply be confused about terms, agreements, family plans, unlimited plans and more, according to Forbes. It doesn't help that many of the claims wireless companies make on TV and in advertisements turn out to be ambiguous.
If you're confused about the terms and conditions of your current wireless agreement and what may lie in the future, make sure to read the fine print on your terms and conditions at the bottom of your wireless website's homepage. You can also call your carrier to ask any questions you may have. Some companies even have a live chat option on their site.
What's Holding You Back From Switching?
If you know you want to switch carriers but haven't, there is probably something holding you back. Here are some reasons you may be hesitant to switch.
1. Early Termination Fees
It's no surprise that early termination fees would deter you from switching carriers. After all, that's what they were created to do! Fortunately, with the intense competition among wireless networks, most companies have been forced to get rid of two-year contracts. If you have a no-contract plan and no installment plan, you may be able to get past early termination fees altogether.
That's right, contract plans are out the window, which means you don't have to worry about being stuck with one plan if you end up not liking it. Unfortunately, if you're still in a service agreement, including a monthly installment plan to pay off a phone, you will likely be charged a hefty early termination fee for cancellation.
If you want to avoid early termination fees, however, you can read through our guide on how to avoid early termination fees. For example, all of the major cell phone providers will buy out your current contract or agreement as long as you follow their requirements. In doing so, you can save up to $650 when you switch.
2. Worried About Phone Number Portability
Cell phone number portability is the ability to switch to a new carrier while keeping the same cell phone number. If you want to keep your phone number, don't worry! The FCC has made it so that wireless companies are required to port your number if asked, according to the FCC website.
All you have to do is request to have your number ported from the carrier you're switching to. Then, they will call your current carrier to have them port the number. In fact, most buyouts that pay for early termination fees and installment balances require you to port your number.
3. You're Paying Off a Phone
If you're paying off a phone with an installment plan, you'll have to pay it off completely before you can switch to another carrier or pay an early termination fee. Although most wireless carriers no longer require you to sign a two-year contract, they allow you to pay for your new phone via an installment plan on your monthly bill.
The plan usually lasts 12-24 months. This way, you're stuck until you finish paying it off unless you want to pay for it up front (no-contract) or be charged an early termination fee.
4. You're not Sure if You Can Switch from a GSM Network to a CDMA Network or Vice Versa
If you have a GSM network phone with a sim card and you want to switch to a CDMA network or vice versa, you may be wondering if it's possible to keep your phone when you switch. In short, most cell phones can't switch between GSM and CDMA. However, most new iPhones work on both GSM and CDMA networks. In general, Sprint and Verizon run on CDMA while AT&T and T-mobile run on GSM with sim cards.
It's easy to switch between AT&T and T-Mobile, but not so easy for Sprint and Verizon. Sprint and Verizon don't use a sim card for 2G and 3G, but they do use one for 4G. The truth is, most promotions in which carriers offer to pay your early termination fees make you trade in your phone anyway and buy another one with your new provider.
You may just want to let your phone go if you're planning on switching providers. If not, you may have to call your carrier for an unlock code. An unlock code is what your carrier uses to unlock your phone to use on another network. However, sometimes GSM and CDMA phones still don't transfer very well, even to the same type of network. Check out our guide on how to unlock your phone for more information.
Read More: What is a SIM Card?
How to Switch Carriers
Verizon Wireless is known to be the most reliable cell phone provider in the U.S. As a result, they are also known to be one of the most expensive. Here's an in-depth guide on exactly how to switch to Verizon.
Essentially, Verizon will give you a $650 prepaid card per line toward your installment plan balance minus your phone's trade-in value or up to $350 prepaid card for early termination fees minus trade-in value, according to their site.
To be eligible for these perks, you'll need to activate a new smartphone from Verizon and port in your number from your previous carrier. You'll also have to trade in your current device, which has to cost more than $0. Your line must be activated for 6 months and you will receive the prepaid card within eight weeks after the receipt of the claim.
If you want to switch from Verizon Wireless, however, and you're in a contract or service agreement, you will have to pay an early termination fee. Here's a screenshot of what Verizon charges for early termination fees. You may have to pay up to $350. If you don't want to pay, you should look for another company to buy out your agreement.
Once you know what you're in for and you're ready to switch, you'll want to get in touch with your new carrier over the phone, in the store or via online sign-up. Make sure you don't cancel your current Verizon plan before you sign up for one with a new carrier. If you do, you won't be able to port your phone number.
When you sign up, you'll have to give your name, address, and current billing information. Next, you should ask to have your number ported if you want. Once your new plan is activated, your old one should be canceled.
AT&T has one of the largest cell phone collections next to Verizon. If you want to switch to AT&T, here's a great guide on how to switch. Basically, AT&T will give you up to $650 in credits per line minus the trade-in value when you switch to them from another carrier.
The catch is that you'll have to trade in your smartphone and buy a new one from AT&T Next. You'll also need to submit your final bill from your previous carrier and make sure your trade-in is worth at least $5.
If you want to switch from AT&T, contact your new carrier and sign up first. Then, call AT&T to cancel your service and deal with any early termination fees you may have.
AT&T charges an early termination fee if you want to switch from their network to another in the middle of a contract or installment plan. Here's what it says on the website.
Basically, if you have a plan with a service agreement and you cancel early, you will have to pay a termination fee depending on your phone and plan. For a smartphone with a data plan and service commitment, you'll have to pay $325 minus $10 for each full month of completed service commitment, according to the AT&T website.
Sprint is one of the cheaper wireless networks out there, but its reliability isn't as good as Verizon or AT&T. If you want to switch to Sprint, check out our guide on how to switch. Sprint will give you up to a $650 Visa prepaid card per line (minus the trade-in credit for your phone) after you register online and activate your phone on a 24-month installment plan or Sprint lease.
You'll only have to wait 15 days for your prepaid credit card once your Sprint registration is approved. Make sure to send in your final bill from your previous provider within 60 days of switching.
If you're looking to switch to a new carrier from Sprint, you won't have to worry about early termination fees unless you're on a two-year plan. Those in two-year plans will have to pay up to $350 per line in early termination fees per advanced device and $200 per line for other devices. If you are paying off a phone on an installment plan, you will have to pay the remainder of the phone off before canceling. Here's what it says on the website.
T-Mobile phones come with some of the cheapest plans on the market these days. Unfortunately, they are known for spotty coverage, especially in rural areas. They have a decent phone selection, however, and include taxes and fees in all of their prices. If you want to switch to a T-Mobile phone, check out our guide on how to switch to T-Mobile.
Like the other carriers, T-Mobile will give you up to $650 per line in Mastercard Prepaid Credit and trade-in value to pay off your contract and/or installment plan. To be eligible, you must trade in your device, buy a new device from T-Mobile (on an installment plan or up front), enter a qualifying plan, and port your number in. You must also send in the last bill from your previous wireless carrier. You may not get your credit for at least eight weeks, however.
If you want to switch from T-Mobile to another carrier, you may have to pay an early termination fee of up to $200 per line. This will depend on if you have a contract, how long is left on your contract, and your service agreement. Make sure to sign up with your new carrier before you cancel your service.
Related: Here are some of the Best Prepaid Cell Phone Plans
Tips to Keep in Mind When Switching Carriers
It will be helpful to remember the following advice if you decide to switch carriers.
- If you're under a contract or installment plan, get a company to buy you out.
- Make sure you're ready to pay your early termination fee up front because you may not get your buyout for a while.
- Most buyout plans require you to trade in your current phone. Make sure to double check the requirements.
- The amount of your early termination fee will likely depend on how much longer you have on your contract or installment plan; try to switch close to the end of your agreement to save money.
- You may want to look for a no-contract plan from a company like Straight Talk. Straight Talk's service uses towers from the big four companies, so service should be somewhat reliable and inexpensive.
- Bring your own phone plans and family plans are usually cheaper, but if you want a buyout, you have to make sure the plan you want is eligible for one.
- You will probably also have to pay an activation fee for your new carrier.
Overall, you shouldn't feel bad about leaving your current provider. We've done our best to try and explain the policies and incentives each company offers to get you to switch, but it's up to them to communicate with you about their terms and conditions. Unfortunately, they aren't always so talkative.
If you do decide to switch, most cell phone companies will buy out your contract and pay your device balance; just keep in mind it might take a while.
If you have recently switched to a new carrier and have experience with buyout plans and early termination fees, leave me a reply in the comments with your story. I'd love to hear about it!
Looking for a new cell phone or plan? Start here with our buyer's guide to cell phone plans! Need some recommendations? You can check out our review of the best cell phone plans on the market. There, you can see rankings, comparison, and in-depth analysis.