15 Contracts That Can Be Painful to Cancel and How to Get Out of Them
Companies make it very easy for consumers to start using their services -- by offering a free trial or requiring only a brief online form. Canceling is often more difficult. As many consumers know all too well, trying to end the relationship before the expiration date may incur a penalty, typically called an early termination fee. Even with no ETF, customers may have to provide notice in writing or find time during business hours to call a specific phone number that is hard to find. Those who can't get out of a continuing service contract have no choice but to continue using the service -- and making monthly payments. To make things easier, here are the cancellation policies for three types of companies traditionally reluctant to let customers go: mobile phone companies, gyms, and credit-reporting agencies.
Canceling a mobile service agreement can be nasty business, and doing so before the requisite two years have passed is likely to result in a hefty penalty. A number of companies now offer to pay that fee for for new customers who break contract with their previous service provider. Check for this benefit when considering switching carriers.
Customers who cancel within the first 30 days of their contract do not have to pay an ETF. Otherwise the fee for each smartphone is $325 minus $10 for each month of the contract completed. For basic phones, the fee is $150 minus $4 for each month completed. To cancel, call 800-331-0500.
Customers can cancel their plans and return their phones within 30 days or 300 minutes of use (whichever comes first) at no charge. Beyond that, they can still cancel but have to pay for any services used. The company must be notified in writing at 7204 SW Durham Road, Portland, OR, 97224-7574.
T-Mobile's newest plans come with no contract and therefore no ETF, but customers are on the hook for the remaining cost of any phones they haven't paid off. For subscribers with older T-Mobile plans, the ETF is $200 with more than 180 days remaining on the contract; $100 with 91 to 180 days left; and $50 when 30 to 90 days are left. With less than 30 days to go, the penalty is $50 or the monthly payment, whichever is lower. To cancel, call 877-746-0909.
Sprint amended its cancellation policy in March so that customers can cancel within 30 days without paying an ETF. After that, the fee is $20 for each month remaining on the contract, with a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $350. For other devices, the ETF is $10 per month remaining on the contract, with a minimum of $50 and a maximum of $200. To cancel, call 866-866-7509.
With a smartphone contract, the ETF is $350 minus $8.33 per month for the first 22 months completed and $8.41 for the 23rd month. With a basic phone, the fee is $150 minus $3.13 per month of the contract completed. Subscribers who cancel within the first 15 days of service not have to pay an ETF -- but they are still on the hook for a $35 "restocking" fee for the phone. To cancel, call 888-944-9400.
Verizon customers have just 14 days after activating to cancel without paying an ETF. Outside this window, the fee for each smartphone begins at $350, minus $10 for months seven to 17, $20 for months 18 to 22, and $60 for the 23rd month. For each basic phone, the ETF begins at $175, minus $5 for months seven to 17, $10 for months 18 to 22, and $30 for the 23rd month. To cancel, call 844-837-2262.
Even for members who avoid signing a long-term contract, a gym membership can be a bear to cancel. A monthly fee is usually charged automatically to a credit card, and charges continue to accrue until the cancellation process is complete. Many gyms are franchised businesses and do not have clear, universal procedures for canceling. Make sure to keep a copy of the contract; it may be the only place the cancellation policy is spelled out unambiguously. One advantage of paying with a credit card: If a problem arises, the credit card company can investigate and potentially reverse the charges.
To avoid the hassle of canceling a contract to take a short-term hiatus, freeze the membership and pay a minimal amount, usually $5 to $15 a month, in the meantime. While this might seem wasteful, it can end up saving money, because the cost of re-enrolling can run upward of $100.
Members who have completed the one-year obligation in their contract can cancel in person or send a written letter to the local club requesting cancellation. The amount of required notice varies by location and contract and is prorated based on the amount of notice provided. With proof, customers can cancel a membership within the first year if they relocate more than 25 miles away from the closest Equinox, have a medical issue, or lose a job.
Gold's Gyms are independently operated, so cancellation policies may differ by location. Members cannot cancel by email, online, or on the phone. They can cancel in person or by sending a letter to 4001 Maple Ave., Suite 200, Dallas, TX 75219. They will still be charged on any billing dates that fall within 30 days of cancellation. Members under contract may have to pay a fee, which varies by location. The obligation is waived for a medical disability (with a signed doctor's note), call-up for military service, or relocation more than 25 miles away from a Gold's Gym.
To cancel an LA Fitness membership, clients need to send a letter to P.O. Box 54170, Irvine, CA 92619-4170. The letter must be postmarked at least five business days before the next billing cycle to avoid a charge for the next month, although LA Fitness will issue a refund. Members can also deliver a written notice of cancellation to the operations manager at the local gym. Of course, the manager may not be present when you normally work out.
This gym offers both long-term and month-to-month memberships, both of which require minimum notice of 30 days to cancel. Long-term memberships can be canceled before the minimum period ends only for "qualified medical reasons" or relocation beyond a "minimum distance" from a My Sports Club location (the rules and fees vary by state). Members who want out must provide written notification, handed in at a club or sent by certified mail to the member services department.
Planet Fitness members must cancel through the local franchise where they have a membership, either by filling out a cancellation form in person or by sending a letter to the branch. Members who cancel before their membership commitment is over have to pay a $58 fee. Written notice must be provided by the 10th of the month to avoid being billed for the next month.
Members can cancel without penalty and receive a full refund if they do so within the "cooling off" period, which is three to five days, depending on the state. After this period is over, a monthly membership can be canceled by calling 866-308-8179 between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Pacific, Monday through Friday, to stop future payments. Members with prepaid, limited-term memberships can cancel and claim a refund only in the event of disability or death (although there may be exceptions in other circumstances).
Credit-reporting companies entice consumers to sign up for credit monitoring with short trial subscriptions and promises to reveal their credit score. Charges on the order of $20 a month accumulate quickly unless the service is cancelled. The challenge consumers face is reaching a customer service rep to opt out.
The easiest way to go: Don't sign on with these companies in the first place. Federal law mandates that the three major credit-reporting agencies offer free annual credit reports, which are provided through the jointly operated website AnnualCreditReport.com. This means consumers can request one free credit report every four months, which should be sufficient. Although the reports do not include credit scores, there are also many ways to get a credit score for free these days.
Members can place a call to Equifax to cancel a subscription, trial or otherwise. The listed number is 866-243-8181, which is staffed between 8 a.m. and 3 a.m. Eastern, seven days a week. GetHuman lists a different phone number for reaching an agent directly -- 800-846-5279 -- with an average wait time of 17 minutes.
Experian's help page is coy about how to cancel a membership, directing customers to call 877-284-7942 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with "questions about your subscription." When calling in, though, the first option is to press "1" to cancel a membership. Callers can opt to cancel through an automated system or speak to a customer care professional.