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9 contracts that are hard to cancel (and how to cancel them)

Some contracts are costly or difficult to get out of. We focus on three services with contracts that consumers often struggle to end early.

By Cheapism.com Jan 30, 2014 12:34PM
This post comes from Josue Ledesma at partner site Cheapism.com.

Cheapism.com on MSN MoneyContracts are a standard part of doing business, one that obligates both parties to the stated terms.

As customers know all too well, trying to end the relationship before the expiration date usually incurs a penalty, typically called an "early termination fee" (ETF).

Frustrated woman with mobile device © Jacqueline Veissid, Photodisc, Getty ImagesAdding insult to injury, some companies make it very difficult to cancel a contract.

Here's a short guide to the cancellation policies adopted by mobile phone companies, gyms, and credit-reporting agencies.

Mobile phone companies

AT&T: The early termination fee for smartphones starts at $325 and drops by $10 for each month of service completed. For feature phones, the initial ETF is $150 and falls by $4 a month.


T-Mobile: The carrier's newest plans come with no contract and therefore no ETF, but customers are on the hook for the remaining cost of any (unsubsidized) phones they haven't already paid off. For customers with older T-Mobile plans, the ETF is $200 with more than 180 days remaining on the contract; $100 with 91-180 days left; and $50 when 30-90 days are left. With less than 30 days to go, the penalty is $50 or your monthly payment, whichever is lower.


Sprint: Sprint sets an ETF of $350 for smartphone plans with 23-18 months remaining and $340 with 17 months left; the $340 fee is cut by $20 each month with 16 to six months outstanding; starting with five months to go, the ETF is a flat $100. Feature phone users are assessed $200 for plans with 23-20 months left, and then catch a $10 break for each month less than 20 up until month five, when the ETF flatlines at $50.


Verizon: The ETF policy at Verizon starts at $350, minus $10 for each completed month of service for smartphones. For feature phones, the contract cancel fee is $175 minus $5 for each completed month of service.


Helpful hints
T-Mobile recently announced it would credit new customers for any ETFs they incur upon switching (for up to five lines). Mobile phone contracts often state that subscribers may have grounds to cancel without incurring an ETF when a new non-governmental charge is imposed. (Tip: Scrutinize your bill monthly.) While difficult to pull off, it's worth telling a customer representative that you are considering canceling your contract. The response might be to offer incentives or discounts to keep you on the rolls.

Various websites and carrier-specific blogs such as SprintUsers.com, Lifehacker.com, and TmoNews.com (T-Mobile blog) are useful to check before trying to cancel your mobile phone contract. They often provide timely notice when a policy change can be used to your advantage.

Gym memberships
Many gyms have transitioned to month-to-month membership plans, with fees on the order of $30-$40 (and up, depending on the facility and the privileges) that are charged automatically to your credit card. Even these arrangements can be a bear to cancel, and charges continue to accrue until you complete the cancellation process.

Bally's Total Fitness: Without an online option to cancel a membership, clients must call the company's member support team for specific instructions, as the process depends on the type of membership you have and where you live.

LA Fitness: The cancellation process at LA Fitness requires sending a letter postmarked at least five business days before the next billing cycle begins to avoid another month's charge. Alternatively, members can hand a copy of the letter to the operations manager of the local gym. (Is the manager present when you work out?)

My Sports Club: This gym offers both long-term and month-to-month memberships; both require a minimum 30-days' notice to cancel (and only after a minimum period with long-term deals). Long-term memberships can be cancelled before the minimum period ends only for "qualified medical reasons" or relocation beyond a "minimum distance" from a My Sports Club location (allowable distances vary by state). Members who want out must provide paper notification, handed in at a club or sent by certified mail to the member services department; cancellation rules vary by state, as do ETFs.

Helpful hints
It's a good idea to avoid signing a long-term gym contract, and with the trend towards month-to-month memberships, this is easy to do. To avoid the hassles involved in cancelling a contract when what you really want is a short-term hiatus, freeze your membership and pay a minimal amount, usually $5-$15 a month, in the meantime. While this might seem wasteful, you end up saving because the cost of re-enrolling can run upwards of $100.
Credit report companies
Credit report companies provide your credit score, a number that affects whether you'll qualify for a credit card or loan, and sometimes the interest rate you'll pay. The higher your credit score, the greater the chances of getting credit and the more advantageous the terms. You can get free credit reports through short trial subscriptions, but charges on the order of $20 a month accumulate quickly unless the service is cancelled. The challenge consumers face is reaching a customer rep to opt out.

Equifax: Users report that it is very difficult to find a cancellation method/policy on Equifax's website. We found that searching on "Equifax cancel" was the best strategy. Placing a call is the only way to cancel a subscription, trial or otherwise.

Get Human lists a phone number (different from Equifax's listed number) that the site claims has an average wait time of five minutes. We tried calling and a representative came on the phone almost immediately.

Experian: There is no cancellation policy that we could find on the website and an online search for "Experian cancellation" turned up no relevant results. CancelWizard.com recommends the toll-free 1-888-829-6560 number (not listed on Experian's contacts page). We tried this number and a few short promotional recordings preceded a quick hold before a customer service rep came on the line.

Helpful hints
When it comes to signing on with these companies, our advice is simple: Don't. Federal law mandates that the three major credit-reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, Transunion) offer free annual credit reports to individuals. This means you can receive three free credit reports a year (one from each company), which should be sufficient. The jointly operated website where free credit reports are available is AnnualCreditReport.com.

Resources
CancelWizard offers free "how-to-cancel guides" that include contact information and steps required to cancel a contract. The guides note many common difficulties when trying to cancel a subscription and rates websites as "abusive" if company practices or cancellation methods lead to numerous reviewer complaints. A fee of $34.95 entitles you to use CancelWizard's direct cancellation service, with the charge applied only if successful. We found just one review (positive) for this service, but you can turn to the how-to guides for free.

Cancel-Help.com is similar to CancelWizard but does not offer cancellation services. Rather, this site provides detailed information -- comparable to, or better than, CancelWizard -- on how to cancel a specific service. Some information seems to be repurposed or imported from company sites, but at least you're reading information directly from the organization you'd like to part ways with.

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66Comments
Jan 30, 2014 4:52PM
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when you get married you cant upgrade or get out of contract without paying lol
Jan 30, 2014 4:15PM
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Ever tried to downgrade your service with Comcast?  They will not do it unless you go to the customer service center in person.  They will allow you to upgrade your service over the telephone or thru the net.
Jan 30, 2014 5:16PM
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When we first bought our home, as a gift my mother got us one of those yearly home insurance's where they cover things like appliances, leaky pipes, that kind of thing and they send a repair man to your house to fix them for $50.  We never used it.  When the year ended we did not renew and they kept calling and harassing us saying that we renewed and did not pay.  I kept asking for proof of where I renewed it.  They just kept calling and calling and sending collection letters when they did not even have my social security number.  Eventually they gave up and about a year later I received a letter about a class action lawsuit against that company where people filed claims and they never sent a repair man out to fix them.
Jan 30, 2014 8:53PM
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DISH Network is the worst!!!!!! Some people that I sold my home to skipped out on a DISH Network contract 3 years after I sold the property and DISH had it put on MY CREDIT REPORT!!!!!!!  It took me 5 years to get it straighten out!!
Jan 30, 2014 5:09PM
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The hardest of all to cancel is an MSN dial up contract.  Apparently it can't be done.
Jan 30, 2014 5:20PM
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I suggest NEVER buy a magazine from anyplace in IOWA.  Esprecailly, if you get an "offer" from HARLAN, IOWA or from DES MOINES, IOWA, I suggest you trash the offer immediately.  If you buy from one, it seems to me they all get your name and address.  It will take YEARS to get them to stop sending you offers, if you ever do.  Do not call Grassley's office.  He is the so called senator for that area but you won't get help from him if you are not in his district.  The BBB seems to be on the side of the magazine pushers.  A waste of time with them too.  IOWA magazine peddlers are as bad as or worse than the "ask your doctor' ads on  the medicine box (television).  The IOWA magazine peddlers have many addresses!  One in DES MOINES is on LOCUST street.  Seems a perfect name.
Jan 30, 2014 4:18PM
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My mother had to pay my uncle's Dish TV bill for several months AFTER he died!  They told her there was nothing she could do about it!
Jan 30, 2014 5:26PM
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     THE DOWN FALL TO EVERYTHING IS SIGNING A CONTRACT.  FIRST OF ALL IF YOU HAVE TO SIGN A CONTRACT THAT IS THE FIRST HINT YOUR GOING TO HAVE TROUBLE.  SO FAR I HAVE STOPPED PAYING VERIZON FOR PADDING MY BILL, MONOTRONICS IS ANOTHER THAT LIES THEN STEALS. (WHICH IM IN A CLASS ACTION LAW SUIT OVER THEM}.  I USE TO TELL THEM UP FRONT THAT IF YOU SCREW ME I DON'T CARE ABOUT A CONTRACT.  TAKE ME TO COURT, BUT MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE PROOF TO BACK YOU UP.  I CARE LESS ABOUT CREDIT REPORTS BECAUSE THEY ARE BOGUS AND FAULTY.  I PAY CASH NOW AND DON'T SIGN CONTRACTS.  SINCE THIS I HAVE HAD NO PROBLEMS.
Jan 30, 2014 9:28PM
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The worst are when you buy something and don't know/intend for it to be a recurring purchase. They've gotten real sneaky at selling something cheap and expect people to simply order without reading their terms which indicates by accepting, "In the fine print you have to click to read"  you agree they'll send you the same order each month until you cancel. If you order anything that requires you to accept terms read those terms. You'll probably be on the hook for hundreds of dollars you never intended.
Jan 31, 2014 11:43AM
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The only contracts that are hard to cancel are the ones where you give people the power to automatically debit your checking account or charge your credit card.  Retain control over payment and you will always have the upper hand.  Whenever someone says I have to let them automatically obtain their payment without me writing the check or otherwise authorizing each and every transfer I always choose another option. 
Jan 30, 2014 9:19PM
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The worst all around is AT&T,they bill you as a rule a different amount every month,when you have a problem most call go overseas (can't understand them)most of the time they can't  fix the problem your on the phone for a long period of time, they want you to buy a more expensive plan. I finally dumped them went to Cox cable everything fine for now. Good Luck
Jan 31, 2014 12:03AM
Jan 30, 2014 11:36PM
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DirecTV - be careful, if they offer you an equipment upgrade for free to modernize it, they will later tell you this service call that they initiated entitles them to tack a couple more years on your contract, just because they said so.
Jan 31, 2014 12:11PM
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When the mobsters use to engage in Contracts it was called "Loan Sharking" and you were charged "Points" towards your loan, When corporations do it, Its simply called a "Loan" and your charged "Interest." Different names, same racket!
Jan 31, 2014 12:34AM
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STAY AWAY FROM THE OWRKOUT CLUB IN SOUTHERN NH.
Jan 31, 2014 10:03AM
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FreeCreditReport.com is horrible. Took me over a year to get out of something I didn't even realize they had hooked me into. I didn't agree to anything, but when you sign up for your one free report, in very small, itsy bitsy letters at the bottom of the page, they have something about $24.95/month. Then they start billing your credit card. Charter cable company is another one. If you want to purchase one channel, you have to buy an entire package. If you want to get rid of a package, good luck. If you want customer service, you'll never find it.
Jan 31, 2014 12:27PM
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You don't have to put up with a company's crap. Ask for a manager each and every time because a low-level customer service representative is told to push services and they can't make a whole lot happen.


If you try and try again with a manager, try to reach the highest person in the company.  I've spoken to VPs about my issues because people below them couldn't or wouldn't help me. Their contact information is somewhere online. You just have to Google it using the right keywords.


If you feel threatened, think you can't get anywhere, or you're just impatient, then threaten them. Tell them you will call the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, whoever, and the Attorney General of both your state and the state the business is located in. In addition, two of my local news stations help people with their consumer issues. Perhaps your local news stations can do so too.  This can cause a public relations nightmare that no company wants because it will hurt their reputation and their bottom line.

Jan 31, 2014 9:46AM
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I call BS on credit reports... you can get the reports for free, once per year (annualcreditreport.com). Credit scores is another story I wont go into.

 

If you time it well, you can make as many as 5 pulls per year; 3 from the said website spaced out, and then join Quizzle for free, which provides you with a full report every 6 months. Discover credit cards give you a free FICO, and other sites like creditkarma.com, quizzle.com, credit.com and creditsesame.com will provide you with free credit report info (plus a FAKO score), updated in different intervals.

Jan 31, 2014 10:37AM
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I had 3 att phones and was hit hard each one got a 600.00 early termination fee

I had a merchants bank credit card and a 300.00 payment disapeared

these are the companies that will only serve other companies straight

at least that's been my experience

Jan 31, 2014 10:59AM
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Slander is verbal.  Libel is written.  Either way you have to show damages and/or the comment was not true.
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