You Must Pay Your T-Mobile Bill In Person, In Cash, Forever

If I’ve learned anything from reading readers’ letters, it’s that I should never get divorced. Or married. Or die. All of these seemingly routine life changes confuse companies so badly that you’d think they had never happened before. But Jake, a longtime T-Mobile customer, has been cast into a special consumer hell after his divorce. His ex canceled the credit card he had used to set up automatic payments, and reversed his payments to the phone company. So they charge him the balance on his next bill, he pays it, and all is well, right? I mean, he’s a 7-year customer with no late payments. It’s not like he’s a credit risk or anything. Except….he is now. And he has to pay his T-Mobile bills in cash, in person, for the remainder of his contract.

No, he can’t get out of his contract. No, a few months of good payment history won’t fix this. No, no, no.

I’ve been a customer for over 7 years and had easy-pay set up the entire time. Thus, I have never missed a payment, nor have I been late on a payment.

Sadly, this past year I have gone through a divorce. This can obviously be chaotic when it comes to finances. My ex cancelled the credit card that was set up on easy-pay and several months worth of phone bills were reversed.

I had no idea until my March bill was hundreds of dollars and many times higher than any phone bill I’ve ever paid. I immediately called T-Mobile and got the bad news.

Ok, well, not their fault right? So I paid for most of the bill over the phone. The rep told me the date the remaining balance was due. On that date, I tried to pay online and the payment was rejected. I called in again and was told I was set to “cash only” status due to my billing issues.

According to the rep, this is a permanent status. As in, you can never, ever earn back their trust, no matter how long you are a customer. That sounded wrong, but I accepted it.

I made two payments in person at the T-mobile store (annoying and inconvenient) and figured, what’s the harm in asking again?

So I called back on May 17th. The rep put me on hold several times and told me that after the end of the current month, I would be able to set up easy-pay again. Hooray!

Today is June 1st. I called in and spoke to a helpful and apologetic rep who confirmed what the first rep had told me: Cash only. Forever.

There was no person or department I could talk to to change this issue. Once you are marked a credit risk, that’s it.

This is insane! I just want to register a DEBIT card that allows them to reach into my bank account and take the money at whatever time is convenient to them. Beyond that, I am leaving the country for nearly a month and will therefore have no way to pay my bill.

I just want them to let me register for easy pay. If they won’t, I want to cancel and take my business elsewhere. But I’m under contract for 13 more months!

In summary:

  • Charge reversals: no fault of T-Mobile
  • Initial rep who took my back payments made no mention of “cash only” status
  • 2nd rep I spoke to apparently lied to get me off the phone
  • T-Mobile has no review process in place for situations like this. You just get a black mark on your record forever

Clearly whoever set this policy has never been through a divorce. We hear that T-Mobile’s executive team is receptive to executive e-mail carpet bombs: give that a try and hope that someone rational answers.


Edit Your Comment

  1. humphrmi says:

    Change carriers as soon as your contract is up. The funny thing is, eventually they will beg you to come back to them. Resist this.

    Last time I shopped around mobile service, MCI (tells you how long ago that was) would only offer me a cash-only account, while AT&T offered full billing. To this day, I relish telling off Verizon telemarketers and hanging up on them. They had their chance.

    • johnyg30518 says:

      Simple solution, except you are not really reading the whole article: 1) He is stuck for 13 more months with the current contract. 2) He isn’t really able to shop around at this time due to being out of the country when the next due date comes around.

      Not really helpful advice for the current timeframe.

      • humphrmi says:

        > Not really helpful advice for the current timeframe.

        Sorry my comment does not meet your approval.

  2. kc2idf says:

    T-Mo used to get awards for the best customer service, scoring so high, in fact, that they ended up being the only one of the Big Four to be above average.

    What the hell happened?

    • jimbo831 says:

      As a former T-Mobile CSR, I can answer a lot of this. Years ago, it was a great place to work. Employees were treated with respect and had a great performance bonus structure. Management was always very proud of all their JD Power awards and use to have celebrations when we won yet another. All was well.

      Then all of a sudden, everything changed. Bonuses became impossible to achieve due to impossible new requirements. Our scoring system was made exponentially more difficult, lowering quality scores across the board, basically telling employees like myself who were always top performers that we sucked suddenly. Worse, a new huge emphasis was placed on average call times and we had to be fast before good. Call time expectations were drastically lowered.

      Further, benefits were slashed and employees were no longer treated well. We were basically expected to be happy to just have a job. Finally, many of the good employees left in droves. I myself went to Garmin. T-Mobile started outsourcing their overflow calls to the Phillipines. As more employees quit and they fired more, they stopped hiring. This meant more calls were overflow. Now, I get an outsourced rep the majority of the time when I call.

      As a customer, I have had nothing but bad experiences for over a year now. I have been incredibly loyal after working there, never thinking of leaving because I drank the kool-aid. No more. I am gone when my contract runs out next year. T-Mobile is all but dead, largely due to management acting the ways I laid out.

  3. bhr says:

    Did the exwife do a chargeback? He says several months worth of bills were reversed, so I am assuming she called and either alleged outright fraud or a chargeback for some other reason.

    If that happened I have a hard time blaming TMobile. Chargebacks are not only costly for a company, but too many of them can cause problems with the card service. If the ex alleged that he stole, or fraudulently obtained the CC# than they have even more reasons to be suspicious of his future cards.

    It’s kind of like passing a bad check, once you do it with a company once can you blame them for not accepting checks going forward? The risk is on TMobiles side, as they consider the OP a high risk for doing another chargeback/fraud claim in the future, as I am willing to bet that their system can’t differentiate between the two card holders.

    I would just suffer through the remaining months of the contract and go elsewhere. They really don’t want your business (except in cash) and you don’t like those terms going forward.

  4. JenK says:

    There may be something about payment methods in your contract. If there are, and T-Mobile has violated them by requiring cash only, you may be able to get out of your contract.

    • kpsi355 says:

      +1 If I had to physically come in to a store to pay, and that payment HAD to be in cash, I’d feel this was an undue burden not agreed upon at the time of the contract, and I’d feel justified getting out of it without an ETF. You may have to use small claims court but I’d strongly consider doing it.

      You also might try their retentions dept. Sometimes they have access to methods no other dept does.

    • jimbo831 says:

      From my memory of the terms and conditions, it does not say that. It wouldn’t matter anyway. The customer already violated this option by having a payment returned. T-Mobile is very strict about customers who have had returned payments as it costs them a lot of money. This may not be his fault, but it surely isn’t T-Mobile’s. As far as they are concerned, it isn’t much different if it is charged back or returned for NSF.

      Should they make an exception given the circumstances, yes, and I suspect if he gets in touch with corporate they will. Either way, the customer doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on.

      • Difdi says:

        The OP probably has standing to sue the ex for financial damages, in the form of late fees for when he is unable to pay his bill in cash in person on time (such as his trip out of the country).

  5. umbriago says:

    Divorces can really unintentionally mess up people’s credit ratings, so I would advise Jake to check his credit report and make sure it’s all good.

    And then, pay in cash as requested, but one month use two dollar bills, another month use Susan B. Anthony dollars, another month come in with a collection of the most tattered, taped-together dollar bills you can find: legal tender being legal tender.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      Better yet, just don’t get married.

    • oloranya says:

      Yeah, because taking out your anger at T-Mobile’s shitty policy on the front-line CSR in the store will solve everything. That would be a major asshole move that will have zero effect on the situation except to make the T-Mobile clerk hate you.

    • Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

      Hate to break the news to you, but most mobile phone providers usually are charging you in advance of the service you’ll be receiving; therefore, not a debt. Therefore, your tactic can easily be thwarted by them saying “I’m not accepting your 4,500 pennies or 22 battered pictures of Jefferson.” So you decide to be clever and wait until you’re overdue. Ooops, did T-mo just disconnect you and report you to the ratings bureaus? Not exactly the risk I’d want to take.

      • Difdi says:

        But if he forgets to pay his bill for a month, then it WOULD be a debt.

        And then, yay pennies!

        • Difdi says:

          Plus, if T-Mobile cancels his service due to non-payment, that cancels the contract too.

  6. kevinroyalty says:

    file a BBB claim (probably a waste of time)? small claims court – get them to let you out of your contract if they won’t accept your debit card.

  7. LJKelley says:

    The OP can’t expect T to trust him after two months of good payments when he self admits the non payments went on for months. There is no details of the non payments. Was the card closed and thus payments declined? Or were the charges reversed? A chargeback doesn’t just reverse the charge, it can include penalities for T.

    Take some personal responsibility. I do autopay, but I still check from time to time to make sure the family plan doesn’t have any overages. I also pay my credit card and would notice unusual charges etc… The fact is, either he didn’t discuss finance with his ex or she was vindictive. Either way, a smart person would have not have expected her to foot his phone bill.

    If the card was declined. You are not forever cash status, in a year or two it can be lifted. They just don’t want you calling each month. If there was chargebacks, especially many then expect a ban forever. And not only from T-Mobile. T-Mobile doesn’t handle their CC Billing, they outsource and as such AT&T and others may have prebanned you from using CC. They may allow you to use bank accounts. They share information due to pay as you go users who are crafty with chargebacks.

    As for leaving the country. Write a check. Or ask someone else to do you a favor.

    • Difdi says:

      He could also try overpaying a bill, so that he has a positive balance to the tune of several months worth of bills. That way, if he misses a monthly payment here or there, he’s not delinquent.

      • I Love Christmas says:

        How can he overpay when he is paying cash to a cashier? If he gives them extra money, they will just give it back in change.

  8. Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

    He’ll take back those wishes as soon as T-Mo F’s him in the A with their overbilling. I canceled my contract, payed the 200 ETF, and they continued to bill me a 200 ETF several months after until I canceled the card. This was about 3 years ago, so hopefully they’ve gotten better about auto billing.

  9. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    About 10 years ago, I helped my sister out financially after a particularly nasty divorce.

    In addition to being required to pay for utilities in cash or with a money order, her car payment had to be made via Western Union to Ford Financial. It’s the only example I’ve ever seen of Western Union being the only option for a normal financial transaction.

    • elangomatt says:

      I used to be a Western Union agent, and there were quite a few people who had to do the same thing to Ford and Toyota as well as some mortgage companies (before the meltdown in the last few years). It was probably at least 25% or more of the send money business. I always wondered why they chose to spend $15 to pay their bill but I never really considered the fact that it might be their only choice.

  10. Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

    However, though, Chargebacks ARE VERY COSTLY to businesses and I can’t blame T-Mo for switching him to cash only status. File a chargeback with my company and your account and IP address are suspended from ordering ever again. I would charge him a fee (equal to the chargeback fees accrued) and let the man register his card again.

    • PHRoG says:

      As a fellow eCommerce store owner, I agree with you completely.

      Except for banning the IP.

      There’s still too much IP rotation going on that you could legitimately ban a valid customer who just happens to have the same IP that got rotated to them. I’ve had it happen..thank goodness the customer cared enough to call and get the issue resolved.

      I flag the card and address with my merchant. Then the account and email in my store. That pretty much covers it.

      • ThinkingBrian says:

        A note the IP address, I don’t have the same IP address every time I log in as my cable company doesn’t assign permanent IP address. You open the browser and are randomly assigned an IP address. If companies are penalizing people via IP address is dangerous because that will hurt more than one customer.

        • AustinTXProgrammer says:

          Does it hurt the consumer or the business when that consumer just moves on to the next site offering the service?

    • DFManno says:

      So when your company screws up, your customer has no recourse?

      Which company is yours, so I can be sure never to do business with you?

  11. Murph1908 says:

    Ths hdln s th wrst yt.

  12. Bodger says:

    T-Mobile is awash in really really stupid policies and mindless drones to enforce them. For example: I’ve been a customer of theirs for a couple of years and 18 months ago I changed my mailing address for all purposes to a box at my local PO — it saves a lot of hassle trying to stop home mail deliveries when I decide to go away for a while. T-Mobile refuses to let me change to the PO box for mailings even though the credit card that automatically pays my mobile bill every month uses that selfsame address. In fact, T-Mobile is the only company or entity which refused my address change.

    • JJFIII says:

      Really? Does your state allow you to have that as your only address on your DL? The IRS also REQUIRES a permanent address, NOT a PO.

      • chatterboxwriting says:

        How can they do that? When I had a P.O. box, I didn’t have a permanent address. The landlord refused to set up mailboxes for us. When I had to make up a physical address, I actually had to write “Chatterboxwriting, Route 6, Anywhere, PA”

        What if you just don’t have a physical address to give?

        • kbsparky says:

          Simple. Give them the physical address of the actual post office where your PO box is located.

          As part of that physical address, list your box number as “Suite xxx”

          No brainer.

          • Difdi says:

            This. The postmaster can certainly figure it out, since the practice is hardly unusual.

      • Bodger says:

        I didn’t write anything about a PO Box being my only address. All I want to do is have my mail sent to that address. If my PO Box is acceptable to Chase and Capital One and my banks and everyone else I have financial dealings with then why shouldn’t it be good enough for T-Mobile? I own my own unlocked phone so it isn’t as if they are going to try repossessing it in the dark of the night.

      • DFManno says:

        The IRS REQUIRES a permanent address? Someone should tell the IRS: “P.O. box. If your post office does not deliver mail to your street address and you have a P.O. box, print your P.O. box number on the line for your present home address instead of your street address.” (IRS Pub. 17, 2012, p.15)

  13. coloradogray says:

    Accumulating several months of charges on a cell line would also require the customer to ignore calls and text messages from the carrier advising them there account is past due. With T-Mobile, there also would have been a period of time after the first month of past due balance that any call out from the phone would have gone straight to customer care. So yeah, we’re not getting the full story.

    • Jer in Denver says:

      More like you’re not reading the full story.

      “Sadly, this past year I have gone through a divorce. This can obviously be chaotic when it comes to finances. My ex cancelled the credit card that was set up on easy-pay and several months worth of phone bills were reversed.”

      Right there, black and white, for ya to read. All you have to do is do it.

      Several months worth of phone bills were reversed…not declined, but reversed, which means suddenly he went from paid up to several times his monthly bill due. That T-Mobile set him to cash-only implies that they had those dollars, then had the dollars taken from them and now they want dollars that can’t be taken from them, so I’m going with ‘chargeback’ here.

      Moral of the story? Be sure the girl or guy you’re going to marry is not a douche….ah hell, screw it. Just don’t get married! >.>

  14. ThinkingBrian says:

    If i read this article correctly, I’m not blaming T-Mobile here for the most part. Think about it for a minute, his ex-wife reversed several months of payments to T-Mobile, which means T-Mobile is out a lot of money including fees. T-Mobile then sends the OP the bill to pay up. He pays over the phone for most of it and pays the rest at the end of the month. No he is labeled a bad risk and most pay in cash.

    Personally I don’t blame T-Mobile for not accepting another credit card right now from the OP because of all the chargebacks. However I don’t understand the lifetime ban, that’s going overboard. But 1,2, or even 5 year ban, yeah I understand that. No to mention, T-Mobile could be having issues with the credit card company over this as well.

    Advice to the OP, pay the bill in cash and when your contract is up, leave T-Mobile and go to another wireless company. Or stay with T-Mobile without a contract or go prepaid and maybe after a few years, they might reverse the lifetime ban.

  15. Geekybiker says:

    Once you charge back its no surprise that your credit is no good with them. Its different than just being late or bouncing a payment. I know I would blacklist anyone who did a charge back as a company. Can you not even pay by mail with a check though? There has to be some way to avoid trips into the store.

  16. nearly_blind says:

    Overall the best way to minimize life-time hassles is to use your bank’s bill-pay for all bills. Do people really not have 1/2 hour a month to check all their statements and pay each one using bill-pay?

    As far as the OP:
    I doubt his “cash-only” claim is really correct. He didn’t mention if paying with bank bill-pay or a check (to payment address) is also blocked (which I find unlikely). He could easily verify this by paying $1 with bill-pay and seeing if its credited or not. I doubt that t-mobile would reject an incoming deposit from a bank initiated from the bank.

    Worst case for his 1 month trip, pay your next month in advance.

  17. That guy. says:

    So…what does T-Mobile propose he do when he is out of the country for a month?

    • LJKelley says:

      Most cell companies allow you to suspend services. They may not be as forgiving in this case. I would prepay, ask if sending a check is okay, or worse ask a friend for a favor.

    • wasabirobot says:

      I can’t think of any reason he couldn’t prepay it. Wouldn’t they just take extra money as an account credit?

  18. energynotsaved says:

    It takes years to recover from all the screw-ups (both financial and emotional) caused by divorce. I recommend never getting married. If you are married, stick it out. Less stressful and much easier. Don’t die, either. Took me two years to straighten out my dad’s finances after his death–and he a small estate with no debt!

  19. LogicalOne says:

    For the length of the contract does not mean “Forever.” Just sayin’…

  20. Lyn Torden says:

    If it weren’t for the fact that cash is mandatory legal tender in this country, they would have refused that, as well.

  21. Nidoking says:

    Just terminate the contract and refuse to pay the ETF. What are they going to do, withdraw the money from your account automatically?

  22. who? says:

    Divorce sucks, and I can’t really blame T-Mo for this. It sounds like the ex found a really great way to screw him, and he’s going to have to just deal with it until the contract is up.

  23. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    I would have been very tempted to say if you want me to continue service and pay these balances you will accept my valid credit card. If you would prefer to loose hundreds in a collections case that will likely never succeed (battling collection agencies can be perversely fun if you have the right mindset, I miss it) you can require me to pay cash.

  24. JGKojak says:

    1) Mail a check to headquarters (do some research, figure out where the billing center is).

    2) Take your monthly bill amount and put it in a seperate account, then refuse to pay them. When they threaten sending you to collections, say “oh, you mean that – here’s the money” and give it to them in one lump sum. Save you the trouble.

  25. Judah says:

    I’d take them to small claims court and get out of the contract. I’m sure refusing payment is not part of the deal.

  26. dourdan says:

    can you pay in cash for more then 1 month, then have it credited?

    • Difdi says:

      Some companies let you do this. Some companies will mail you a check for any overpayments.

  27. Jake M says:

    Hey all, OP here.

    I left a couple things out of my story in the interest of brevity, but here are a couple of clarifications.

    1. I’ve paid $80 in returned payment fees on top of the $800+ back bills.

    2. The payments were reversed all at once, months after they had been processed(yes, likely due to a chargeback) so I continued to get the text messages thanking me for my payments this whole time.

    3. I can understand that there would be a cash-only status for risky accounts. My concern is that they don’t have any kind of process for review. I can show them my bank statement, tied to my debit card, that has plenty of money to pay my phone bills for many years.

    4. I have been quite happy with TMobile’s service, to the point of telling everyone with iPhones that I will stay with them for that reason. This is the first time I’ve been outright lied to by a rep.

    Oh, and I did end up just paying my bill early, in person at the store, to the least helpful group of people I have ever encountered. I felt like I was interupting their loud converstation about “this white guy comic who always plays at black comedy clubs” complete with detailed descriptions of his sexual jokes. Classy, TMobile, classy.

    Anyway, thanks to everyone for your advice!

  28. daemonaquila says:

    I’d do an EECB asking them to override the decision or let him out of the contract immediately, making it quite clear that they won’t get a dime if they insist on him coming in to pay cash for the next 13 months.

    Yes, this actually works. I had a membership with a large gym franchise that did an autowithdrawal every month. The problem was, I changed banks. I gave them plenty of warning, and was told that they’d get the account changes processed well before the next payment was due. They didn’t. So I paid them a late payment and told them to fix their billing/autopay issue. After all, it should take a day, and they had almost a month (again) to do the switchover. The next month came, and of course they had done nothing – and nobody could figure out who was responsible or why it wasn’t done. But at that point, they wanted me to pay cash for the rest of the term. I told them no (it was a huge shock to them). Not only was I not going to pay cash this month, but I was not going to pay cash ever. The fix is totally in their hands. If they want money, they can get on the stick and change the bank withdrawal, and get it on the normal schedule. Or, they can release me from their contract and I’ll go work out in a competently run gym.

    You bet that policy went right out the window in about 2 days, and they reinstated withdrawals.

    A lot of people think they have to roll over when a corporation yaps, or they’ll damage their credit, have no end of hassle, etc. That’s not how it works most of the time. As long as you haven’t had a horrible history with the company, it’s worth their while to grumble and do the reasonable thing, versus spend a bunch of time on paperwork to send an account to collections, go to court, etc. Most of the time they’ll just take the easiest way out when faced with a problem. So, you become that problem.

  29. spamtasticus says:

    Ok, here is what you do. Walk in with a box of loose pennies to the payment center at the bussiest time and start slowly counting out the payment one penny at a time. Record the whole exchange, all five hours of it, if they reject your pennies then congrats, they have just broken the contract. They will do that or let you mail in payments by the second month for sure.

  30. Jake M says:

    Hey everyone, OP here again!

    Got what I wanted!

    A couple days after this article was posted, I got an email with contact info for someone at the PR firm that represents TMobile. Called him, gave him my info and he said he’d have someone call me back within the day.

    Couple hours later, someone from the Executive Customer Service team called me and said he was overriding the decision and set me up for Easy-pay over the phone.

    Great response by them.

    Still sucks that it had to get to this point to be resolved, but I am happy with the outcome. Thanks Consumerist!

  31. makoto says:

    I’m confused why there were charge backs and reversed charges… If your ex-wife decided to reverse the charges, she is on the hook for this. If you weren’t living together, etc, and it was your bill alone, then you would have to owe her for those months you charged back. Otherwise, she was just flipping the charge back on as many months as the credit card company would give her and let her get away with. That’s what happened. Never mind T-mobile being a retarded carrier about this. The problem seems like it began long before this issue arose.

  32. Difdi says:

    I know of a department at T-Mobile that can help the OP. The legal department. Ask to be connected to them, and the first thing you ask them when connected is for contact information for their agent for service of process.

    Explain to the legal department that you cannot make cash payments in person every month, that you just want to pay your bill, and it’s not your fault your ex maliciously canceled a credit card. Point out that if you cannot pay your bill, and T-Mobile won’t let you out of the contract, you’ll have no choice but to sue.

    The Legal department can work bloody MIRACLES when dealing with the rest of a corporation’s stubbornness.