Have You Tried Swapping Your Wireless Plan With Someone Else? We Want To Hear From You

We’re constantly being asked for advice on how people can get out of cell phone contracts early without being knocked upside the noggin with a brass-knuckled early termination fee.

Unfortunately, there are not many ways around that ETF, so a growing number of web sites have popped up offering to match disgruntled in-contract users who want out of their contracts with people looking to switch providers without having to lock in to a full two-year contract.

None of us have tried these services — like TradeMyCellular, CellTradeUSA, or CellSwapper to name a few — but we figured at least a few of you out there might have given it a chance.

If so, and you wouldn’t mind answering a couple of questions via e-mail, shoot us a message at tips@consumerist.com with “CELL TRADE” in the subject line.


Edit Your Comment

  1. Nighthawke says:

    I tried to sell my no-cap EVDO plan when I upgraded to a wISP for home service, but no one nibbled at it. I was forced to shut it down due to the financial drain it was incurring.

  2. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    “We’re constantly being asked for advice on how people can get out of cell phone contracts early without being knocked upside the noggin with a brass-knuckled early termination fee.”

    How about don’t sign into a contract with an ETF then?

    There’s plenty of no-contract carriers out there, with wide selections of full-featured phones. Problem solved.

    • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

      Gotta agree with you. Even if you want to stick with the big name carriers, the math has proven you are better off paying out of pocket for your fancy new phone than getting it for “free” with a two year contract.

      But, there is the big issue facing consumers right now. Get what you want, without laying out money, by obligating yourself in the future. Or, pay full price for what you want, and not have to be worried later about what you tied yourself into.

      • bsh0544 says:

        I would love to see this math. By and large the plans are the same on contract or off, T-Mobile being the only exception. If you pay the extra $200-400 up front you get no benefit over the long term.

        • bsh0544 says:

          And on top of that, since the ETF is prorated over the life of the service, if you’re going to buy a top-tier device you’ll probably come out ahead overall if you take ~$300 of subsidy and pay the ETF when you want out, as long as you want service for 6 months or more.

        • bendee says:

          Family plans, yes. Otherwise, not so much. 2 years on Boost will cost you $1140 plus tax (buy online and no sales tax, and sometimes a small discount). The ZTE Warp at $199 brings it to about $1340 total for two years with unlimited talk/text/data. Even with a free phone on Sprint, a new smartphone plan with taxes, fees, texting and data will be well over the $55/month you would need to come out ahead, and that will likely have a minutes cap, plus you are locked in to a contract.

          Page Plus offers unlimited talk/text plus 1 GB of data for $55/month total on Verizon’s network. Almost any VZW 3G Android will work.

          Red Pocket offers unlimited talk/text plus 2 GB of data for $60/month total on AT&T’s network.

          I’m currently on T-Mo’s $30/month unlimited text/data (5GB at 4G speeds) and 100 minutes talk. The phone is a Samsung Exhibit II which cost $200 and is actually a great phone.

          • Coffee says:

            Yep…and it’s a lot cheaper than anything comparable over two years.

          • bsh0544 says:

            As I said to the other guy, none of those are big-name carriers. They’re regionals or MVNOs and in both cases there’s usually a catch. Roaming was one – as a Sprint customer I could roam onto VZW and other networks no charge, which was not so for Boost or other Sprint prepaid sub-brands. There’s also device availability, which is just now becoming less of an issue now that the “okay” Android phones are approaching usable. A mid-range Android phone even a year ago was a miserable experience.

      • who? says:

        The “math” has shown that it’s better to pay out of pocket for a phone than to have a contract? What “math” would that be? The one where you don’t get the $300 discount for the phone, but still have to pay the same monthly rate as the people who got the discount?

        That math only works out if everyone is paying a large ETF on practically every phone. Which isn’t happening. The percentage of people who end up paying an ETF is pretty small.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        Here’s the math, for those of you too stupid to actually go and look for yourselves:

        On Verizon, just to randomly pick one major carrier, you can get an LG Enlighten Android smartphone with a physical keyboard and all the bells & whistles for free with a 2-year contract. Yay for stupid people who think “free” phones are a good idea! Note: Including current $50 off promotion that may or may not always be there. Then on top of that, unlimited voice is $70 a month, unlimited text is $20 a month, and 10Gb of data (they don’t offer unlimited) is $80 a month. So per month, to get the best of everything, it’s $170.

        On Straight Talk, you can get an LG Optimus Q Android phone with a physical keyboard and all the bells & whistles for $180. Stupid people: “Oh noes! It’s not free! It’s a ripoff!” Then, an unlimited everything plan (voice, data, text) is $45 a month with no contract at all. If you’re feeling frisky, you can opt to pay for a year all at once for $500, which works out to $41.67 per month. Oh, and depending on exactly what phone you get from ST, the actual network you use is either Verizon or AT&T.

        So let’s see here…how does this math work? Stupid people: “MATH IS HARD!”

        On Verizon, you get a free phone and in the first month pay $170 for the plan.
        On ST, you pay $180 for the phone and $45 for the plan. Total of $225 spent.

        In the second month, you spend another $170 with Verizon, bringing your 2-month total to $340. With ST, you spend another $45 for a total of $270 spent. Well, what do you know…the cost of the phone already disappeared, and more, in just the 2nd month.

        How hard is that math, stupid people?

        And sure, you can whine about “yeah well I don’t need the 10Gb data plan or the unlimited text plan” or whatever. Doesn’t f%cking matter. The math is EASY and OBVIOUS. Only a total dipsh1t can’t see that.

        …and if you are one of those people who just “has to have” an iPhone – you deserve no sympathy anyway.

        So…anyone have any more issues with the “math?” Should I send you a sliderule?

        • bsh0544 says:

          “Even if you want to stick with the big name carriers”

          Last time I checked, Straight Talk is not a “big name carrier.”

          Also the Optimus Q is really not a very impressive device (and neither is the Enlighten). I don’t know who’s buying these mid-low range smartphones but I feel sad for them.

          • YouDidWhatNow? says:

            I see you fail at the internet. I didn’t utter such a phrase in my post…which you have replied to. But in a way, you kind of are staying with a big name carrier, since all actual cell service you get via ST is from one of the big name carriers.

            • bsh0544 says:

              Look at the post above yours to find that quote. The one that originally mentioned math.

              As far as the phones, I’d venture to say most people are happy with them because they don’t know any better. Even the super high end phones aren’t exactly perfect and performance doesn’t get better as the equipment gets cheaper. Call me an elitist idiot all you want if it makes you feel better.

              And in more direct response to your math, your assumptions are insanely flawed. Why would I compare the most expensive Verizon plan to a cheap budget carrier’s offerings?

          • YouDidWhatNow? says:

            Oh, and as for this moronically condescending comment:

            “Also the Optimus Q is really not a very impressive device (and neither is the Enlighten). I don’t know who’s buying these mid-low range smartphones but I feel sad for them.”

            I know buttloads of people with such “mid-low range” smartphones. Who love them, and comment about how there’s so much they can do that they can’t even imagine wanting to do anything else. These phones do *everything* the vast majority of people want them to do…make calls, text, cameras, GPS, games, apps, web browsing, even live TV. The people to feel sad for are the dipsh1ts buying $300-700 phones that…do the exact same things. Those people would probably be abysmally depressed about how stupid they are – if it wasn’t for the fact that they’re so stupid they don’t realize how stupid they are.

        • jeb says:

          All the Android phones on Straight Talk (except for the newest one, which uses T-Mobile, presumably with voice roaming) use Sprint’s network, with no roaming.

          Not comparable to Verizon’s network with free roaming.

          • YouDidWhatNow? says:

            That may or may not be. In which case make an educated decision about whether or not you’re going to be in that service range. And then maybe get a different phone from ST that works on a different carrier that has better service in your area.

            $170 a month vs. $45 a month is a massive difference in cost. One that I can’t imagine would necessarily sway a rational person from one phone to another. You’re talking about $3,000 more paid to Verizon, in my example above, over the life of a 2-year contract. You’d have to really *love* that iPhone, or whatever, to justify paying an extra $3,000 for the privelege of using it.

            • jeb says:

              Also, the comparison you made wasn’t entirely apples to oranges. While there’s unlimited on both plans, the 10GB Verizon plan would be overkill for most people, along with allowing a faster internet speed (LTE speeds versus the 1-2 Mb/s on Sprint).

              Not that Straight Talk isn’t a good value for most people; in fact, I use it myself because it’s so inexpensive. But there are some advantages to other plans (and Straight Talk plans are also in the range where you don’t need unlimited everything to save money.)

              • YouDidWhatNow? says:

                As I noted, you can make whatever changes to what exact plans you get from Verizon (or whoever) all you want – it makes no difference in the fact that you save assloads of money over the life of their 2-year contract.

                …and as noted if you don’t like the ST phone that runs on Sprint, get a different model that runs on Verizon or AT&T.

                Sure, ST has limitations. Like, no roaming off your home network. So if you know for a fact that you’re primarily not going to be in the range of Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint…then move along. Maybe a different pay-as-you-go company other than ST would have coverage for you. ST isn’t the only one. It just happens to be the only one I have any experience with.

                Ultimately I think the % of the population for which ST, or another similar provider, isn’t the best possible solution by a massive margin is an incredibly small % indeed.

    • Such an Interesting Monster says:

      Unless of course by “wide selections of full-featured phones” you mean “the low-end crap phones that no one wants but we’re still going to charge you $50-$250 for”?

      • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

        If you want an iPhone, buy an iPhone. Trading a contract for a “free” phone is basically like taking a loan out to buy your phone. So you an either afford what you want, or not afford it.

        • Such an Interesting Monster says:

          Irrelevant. He suggested going with a no-contract plan that offered a wide variety of full-featured phones. Which is great if you want a POS phone as that’s what’s offered, but no so much otherwise. Or are you advocating buying 2 phones — the one you really want and then the crappy one they force you to buy?

          In other words his comment is full of fail (not unlike yours), and doesn’t at all address the issue being discussed.

          • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

            I think what his comment should say (not to put words in his mouth) is a no-contract plan that supports a variety of full featured phones. Since a no contract plan inherently doesn’t just GIVE you a phone.

            So no, he doesn’t end up with two phones. He buys the one he wants, then signs up for a no contract plan. You, sir, seem quite confused.

          • Coffee says:

            You’re not really correct here…for example, if you want to do T-Mobile’s month-to-month contract and get a nicer phone, you can, provided it will work on T-Mobile. Let’s take the Galaxy S II, for example…unlocked it costs about $650 after taxes:


            So if you get the Unlimited plan that I mention further down, the total cost over two years will be $780 ($32.50 x 24 months) + $650 = $1,430

            If, on the other hand, I want to enter a contract, the phone costs $150, but the monthly service is more like $75 (or more)…which makes the total $1,800 ($75 x 24 months) + $150 = $1,950

            In either scenario, you get the same high-end smart phone, but if you don’t enter a contract, you pay $500 less over two years, so AB was correct that getting a nice, discounted smart phone is a lot like taking out a loan…you pay less up front but more over time.

            • ScandalMgr says:


              Honey Badger, FTW

              Can’t get any winnier than that.

            • Such an Interesting Monster says:

              “Provided it will work on T-Mobile”

              Well there is the kicker. Will the Galaxy S II work on T-Mobile? Sure. But will it work well? Not so much. Unless the phone is designed for the network it will be used on you’re likely to have issues, for example, not getting 3G or 4G speeds. So if you’re cool spending $650 on a top-of-the-line 4G phone and only getting EDGE data service, well then it should work out great for you.

              So while it might sound great on paper to just go buy the phone you want and then find a carrier, in practice it rarely works out well. And of course it doesn’t work out at all if you don’t get a GSM phone, as all others require their respective carriers.

          • YouDidWhatNow? says:

            Your failure is catastrophic.

            Just for one, go look at the phone selection at http://www.StraightTalk.com. Verily a wide selection of full-featured phones.

            Then again, you probably just wanted to be a douchebag and aren’t interested in learning anything…in which case, go do it somewhere else.

            • Such an Interesting Monster says:

              Just for shits and giggles I went to Straight Talk and punched in NYC. The selection of phones is paltry. The best you’re going to get is a low-end LG Android phone for $180. Wow, just what I’ve always wanted.

              I guess your definition of “full-featured” is “circa 2008”.

    • bendee says:

      I also agree with prepaid – If you have a feature phone, every provider offers unlimited talk/text/web for $50/month or less with no taxes/fees besides sales tax (in some states) which can be avoided fairly easily. For Android, T-Mo and Sprint (Virgin/Boost) offer unlimited everything plans for $55-60, and it’s cheaper if you can skimp on minutes.

    • tbax929 says:

      So you’re solution to how people get out of contracts they’re already in is to not sign them in the first place?

      • Lyn Torden says:

        It worked for me! It should work for you, too!

        • tbax929 says:

          I’m currently in a contract. I guess it could help me in the future.

          It’s my understanding that some pre-paid plans use the networks of larger carriers. I’d have to have this because I travel a lot.

          • jeb says:

            Yep. I have Straight Talk, and it uses the AT&T network (postpaid, so includes roaming.)

            Certain phones use the Verizon native network instead. PagePlus has the same setup.

            So far, can’t complain. =]

      • kenj0418 says:

        My solution to not wasting your time reading unhelpful posts is not to read them.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      …as a side note, I think the whole ST (and other similar “reseller” carriers) have really shone an interesting light on this industry.

      Obviously, ST is renting time on Verizon/AT&T/Whoever’s network. That major carrier is, by necessity, making money on that rent – or else the enterprise would be unfeasible for them. Then, ST can turn around and sell that rented service and make a profit on it themselves. At prices that are nearly a quarter of what the major carrier would charge on their own.

      So what does that say about the profit margins being enjoyed by the major carriers on their own direct customers? If ST can make a profit on reselling the rented service from the very same major carriers, who in turn are making a profit from ST, it’s eminently clear that the margins that the major carriers are getting from their direct customers is MASSIVE. Stupid massive. Ridiculously stupid massive.

  3. Coffee says:

    Yes…I got the T-Mobile month-to-month with the following:

    – 100 minutes talk
    – Unlimited data throttled at something like 4GB
    – Unlimited texting

    It’s $30 a month plus a small amount of tax, which brings it to about $32.50, and there’s no contract. Had to buy the phone up front…since I don’t need a hugely powerful phone, I got an LG Optimus T, which cost about $160.

    The negative to the plan is that there aren’t many minutes for talking (the rate is $.10/minute once you exceed 100), but if you mainly use your phone for texting and other social media, it isn’t a problem.

    • Coffee says:

      Shit…looks like I didn’t read the question closely enough…obviously this doesn’t help you get out of your current shitty contract, but once you are, it’s an option. Need coffee.

      • Lyn Torden says:

        Maybe more people should be making better use of time machines, so they can go back to their younger selves and provide the correct answer at a time when it can be used.

        It is still the correct answer for many things people do badly. It’s called responsibility. If you don’t want to stay in a two year contract for two years, don’t get in one to begin with.

        Yeah, yeah, I know there are lots of people out there pleading “help me, I am dumb and signed a two year contract when I only wanted to be committed for six months, so help me fix my stupid blunder”. It’s still the correct answer … but they will have to wait to take advantage of it … or read the article.

  4. Phil Keeps It Real [Consumerist] says:

    I know I could easily sell my Sprint, 500mins, unlimited data, txt for $28 post tax, grand-fathered plan, no problem. Only down side is that this plan doesn’t support Android phones, per-say … there are some known work arounds, but not really worth it, IMO. I have small Win-Mo phone which works for me, & doesn’t bring me to tears to replace in case lost. I’ve had this plan for atleast 5 or 6 years now.

    • bsh0544 says:

      Last I heard they had added some “sero plus” craziness that costs an extra $10 and lets you use any Sprint phone.

      • lilyHaze says:

        I’m almost positive that this person doesn’t have an official SERO plan, but another grandfathered one. Only the official SERO plans have the plus feature (paying $10 for a better phone, and another for a 4G/iPhone one). Other grandfathered plans can’t do that.

    • Tiffymonster says:

      I set my sister up with my old sero account and she uses it with an iphone. There is a $10/month smartphone fee and some other $10/month charge but the total works out to be $50/month for 500 anytime minutes, free nights and weekends starting at 7, unlimited mobile to mobile, unlimited texting, data, GPS and other services so its pretty much an unlimited iphone for $50/month which is a lot less than what I’ve been paying with ATT

    • theblackdog says:

      Man, I wish I could get a SERO plan.

    • incident_man says:

      I walked away from a Sprint SERO plan to sign up with US Cellular. The difference is like night and day. WAY much better coverage too.

  5. Bluth_Cornballer says:

    I got stuck with a phone I hated coupled with moving into an area with spotty service. With a year left on my contract, I decided to wait out my remaining time with Verizon rather than deal with a swap or ETF. I was already on a lower tier plan and it seemed like most people are attempting to opt out of higher priced plans.

    I’ve since gone with a no-contract carrier and couldn’t be happier. Better service, free data, unlimited texts, and all for half the price.

  6. cyandron says:

    I tried to use CellSwapper to get out of the remaining 16 months of my contract with T-Mobile after they refused to take care of a “lemon” phone without charging me. I put the plan online, got a bite and was told I’d have to pay $18 listing fee to go any further with the trade. The site made it sound as if the other person had decided they did want the plan. I paid the $18 only to never hear from the “buyer” again. Total waste of my money. I ended up just paying the ETF and getting an iPhone 4s with Sprint. I know, I totally threw away my money, but I just couldn’t stand the thought of continuing to give T-Mobile more money month after month. I’m very happy with my unlimited data at Sprint, so far.

    • thomwithanh says:

      Most cell-phone contracts have a provision to let you out sans-ETF if you move to an area with bad or non-existent coverage, or if they stop serving your area. Getting them to honor it may be a totally different story, but it would have been worth a try.

  7. Taliskan says:

    Sort of on topic, anyone know how to get out of a house security system plan (Time Warner Security)? I could use the money elsewhere and the ETF just doesn’t make it viable to pay off the service rather than letting the contract end.

  8. diagoro says:

    Just love all the “you signed the contract, live with the terms” talk here. As though service providers NEVER fail to live up to their end…….

    In this day and age, there’s very little to keep corporations from screwing customers. We get locked into contracts, we sign terms that limit our legal rights, and we’re generally treated as nameless/faceless digits on their quarterly reports.

    There are real reasons why we should be allowed to leave without an ETF, and it’s usually related to lack of proper service, major device issues (that aren’t properly serviced/warrantied) a change in contract terms, etc.

  9. Clyde Barrow says:

    I tried to swap my wife for my neighbor’s wife. Didn’t go for it!

  10. smo0 says:

    I actually want to sell my contract for a fee… I have an iphone for my job so now I have two phone bills.

    Currently, I’m on a grandfathered TMOBILE plan for 34.99 unlimited data/texting/pic msging for android phones and a 49.00 a month unlimited minutes plan….. for my cellular contract

    However, I don’t need it – and it’s up for grabs for a fee.

  11. Cacao says:

    I don’t get how this could work. When we did BRCs (Billing Responsibility Changes) at Verizon, the new party had to choose from current pricing. You couldn’t keep the old plan. Is it different with other companies?

  12. SoCalGNX says:

    Do NOT get Walmart’s Straight talk. Lots of technical problems, rude customer service (in another country so its harder to understand them), misleading information such as showing you have time left then they snatch it away. Impossible to get on the net with a smaller phone, lots of text spam each day. Tech support will either disconnect you when they transfer you or if you email them, it won’t go thru even using their link. I am going back to Verizon because ST is no bargain.

  13. jennsters says:

    Last year my husband traded his Sprint account for a family member’s AT&T account. Apparently Sprint’s system did not convert the account fully because my husband could still access the account with his username and password, but once logged in all of her information was visible. Fast forward a few months and my husband begins getting letters from collectors saying he owes Sprint. Checked his credit report and sure enough Sprint reported him. I went into the account online saw his family member had never made a payment, took a screen shot of the account with her name displayed, sent Sprint, the creditors, and all three crediting agencies a dispute letter (I helpfully included her current phone number and address) and a copy of the screen shot. In a month creditors stopped calling and his credit report was clean. We will never trade again.