Daily Tip: How to switch to a Verizon iPhone without an ETF from AT&T

Considering switching to a Verizon iPhone and wondering how to avoid an AT&T ETF?

Early termination fees are a necessary evil for most carriers. They allow the carrier to recoup some of the cost of a subsidized device if someone cancels early. It also makes the cost of switching to another carrier pretty painful. But there are a few ways to either get around an ETF or offset some of the cost to make the switch a little easier to swallow. Click through for a few suggestions.

Carriers are pretty hard up when it comes to waiving early termination fees. Especially when they know most customers are probably switching for a specific device. In this case, the Verizon iPhone 4. Back in June AT&T changed their ETF policies for smartphone users. The termination fee is not $175 any longer. It's now $325 and will drop by $10 for every month you carry service with them.

Avoiding an ETF

  • Watch for contract term changes. If rates go up, that typically will give you an out. Keep in mind the rate has to directly affect you. If text messaging rates go up a cent or two but you have unlimited texting, the change doesn't adversely affect you. You'd have a hard time arguing your way out.

  • If you've recently moved and your service is noticeably worse than what it was before, this can be a way out as well. You'll need to be able to prove the service is pretty bad. Calling and reporting dropped calls can have a huge impact on their final decision. And when you talk to a rep, always get their name and make sure they notate on your account that you were calling about poor service coverage. This also works for people whose service has went downhill. I live in a huge Centennial acquisition area and we've had sketchy service for about the past year. I've seen a few people talk their way out of an ETF because of the degradation in coverage.

  • Keep your cool. This is probably the most important point of all. You want the person on the other end to sympathize with you. If you have a bad attitude, odds are they probably aren't going to be too willing to help you out. Explain your situation thoroughly and with a level head. Reps are much more responsive to courteous customers than they are to those who just want to yell at them. Remember, the rep on the other line is a person too.

Offsetting the cost of an ETF

  • A lot of you may already have an iPhone 4 on AT&T. They sell like hotcakes on sites like Craigslist and eBay. They're worth even more if they're jailbroken and unlocked (or at least on a firmware that can be unlocked). In my area (Chicago), a 16 GB iPhone 4 is currently going for anywhere between $400-550 on Craiglist. A 32 GB that is unlocked is fetching around $650. These prices may vary given your area, but I'm almost willing to bet a mint condition iPhone 4 will fetch you at least the amount of your ETF. I always recommend meeting face to face for cash if you can. I've upgraded to the newest generation iPhone every year this way. I unlock them and fetch almost what I paid. I haven't paid for an iPhone since I purchased my first gen.

  • If you don't want to go through the hassle of listing your phone on websites, sites like Gazelle will take them off your hands for a reasonable amount. For a mint condition iPhone 4 with all the original accessories, the 16 and 32 GB models are being bought at $360 and $420 respectively. Enough to cover your ETF with AT&T.

  • If you'd like to get rid of your entire AT&T plan, you can always use sites like CellSwapper. You basically unload your entire contract. The way it works is you list your plan and device and when someone wants it, they'll notify you. You'll go through a change of responsibility with the carrier. Keep in mind the person on the receiving end will need to pass a credit check just like you did.

  • Find a family member or friend who wants an iPhone 4 and doesn't mind being on AT&T. Maybe they have better service in their area than you do. This is probably the easiest way. You'll need to call AT&T and tell them you want to do a change of responsibility. They'll need to verify information for both parties, so you'll both need to be on the phone call. They simply agree to take responsibility for the rest of your contract. Once they pass a credit check and pay their deposit (if there is one), you're free from the AT&T ball and chain.

These are some of the ways that I have found to be most effective for customers. You can also find more advice and experiences with escaping ETFs on sites like the Consumerist as well. If any of you have any luck getting out of your AT&T contract, let us know how you did it!

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Allyson Kazmucha

Senior editor for iMore. I can take apart an iPhone in less than 6 minutes. I also like coffee and Harry Potter more than anyone really should.

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Reader comments

Daily Tip: How to switch to a Verizon iPhone without an ETF from AT&T

43 Comments

I find that talking to the "next person in charge" always does the trick. If the regular CSR won't help you, ask to speak to customer relations. If they won't bite, ask to speak to a manager, then office of the president, etc. Eventually someone's gonna wanna shut you iPhone crybabies up.

That may be under normal circumstances but these are not. AT&T will be in war mode.

I actually know for a fact that some of these steps will work to get you out of an ETF because i have personally used them, when the dropped call part starting getting horrible on att in my area i called and got out ETF free. that was just last year.

It's actually part of your contract that if you spend over a certain percentage of time with your device either roaming or no coverage, they HAVE to let you out of your contract, no ETF. This won't work for everybody, but for those struggling with really bad AT&T service in your home/workplace where you spend a majority of your time, it could.

Just an FYI AT&T has already told all their employees ETF will be enforced, no exceptions. If someone complains about coverage they will give them a free m-cell. The increase in fees option has a loophole in the contract it states the contract can be canceled if the fees increase without notice, which they always give notice on fee increases.

Now that is not true. I had to bail at&t a few years back, my reception was important for my job and in the area I worked in I couldn't hold a signal to save my life. When I started a paper trail about dropped calls, I had no intentions of leaving the company. The company went out of their way to keep me as a customer and were a helpful bunch with troubleshooting and suggestions. In the end they offered me a way out with out the ETF. Obviously I wasn't in the boat to jump ship for a device or a better carrier, but if someone is having cell reception issues, I wouldn't expect any less than what they did for me.

He's partially right. With the whole Verizon thing, they are going to be much stricter about the rules. Sob stories aren't going to work. Things that worked in the past aren't necessarily going to work now.

Port ur number over. Everything else will be taken care of for you. I'm only offering this as I WANT people to leave AT&T. Us staying will get better cell service. :D

You do realize that the amount of people on the network will not magically make new cell towers spring up in new places right? If you have no signal now you will have no signal when there are fewer people on AT&T.

Not arguing with you, but these sites definitely work. I have used gazelle.com several times. They gave me 415.00 several months ago for my AT&T iPhone and just received 280.00 for my Droid X. I have also used buymytronics.com, it depends which site is offering more. Hope this helps.
Just as a random statement, can't wait to be reunited with the iPhone, only this time I'll have service (AT&T really bad in my area)!!

Here is another way to get out of AT&T contract if your grandfathered in the unlimited data plan. Start downloading as many movies as possible on 3G network. If possible download as much as possible when roaming. You will be terminated from contract.

Definitely a terrible idea, but I have to wonder if they'd be more likely to let you go without a fight if they can see that you're presenting a significant drain on their resources that they can't otherwise do anything about.

Once the ATT rep sees that you have an iPhone on your account, good luck. I REALLY don't think they will be in the mood to HELP you leave. Ride it out, or be prepared to pay.

Correct. When they raised the ETF to $375 knowing their exclusivity on the iPhone was going bye bye, that was their way of saying "you're going to stay or you're going to pay- big".
Also, good luck trying to use things like Cellswapper to get out of your AT&T contract. You are now trying to sell something that everyone else is selling too. Not many people trying to buy in to AT&T. Good luck with that one. Ditto on selling an AT&T iPhone. Think of supply and demand. Lots of sellers + not many buyers = very low price that you're going to get.
Two options: Stick out your two years with AT&T or pay your prorated share of $375. Personally, I wouldn't go anywhere until I saw how Verizon's network is handling things and how well the iPhone functions on CDMA. Give it at least a month from February 10th to see how things go. Make sure you're not going from the frying pan into the fire!

AT&T iPhone will not lose value. It's still one of the best smartphones on the market and it has an advantage over the Verizon iPhone because it's gsm. That actually makes it more attractive when reselling it.

I didn't say it wasn't a good phone. Basic economics says when you have a lot more for sale the price will go down. There's really no debating that fact.

Geno is right. The Verizon iPhone will not be worth nearly as much reselling. I sold my (jailbroken and unlocked) iPhone 3G a few months back for nearly $300! People in countries outside of the US want them badly and for most people, a CDMA iPhone will do them no good. I'm sticking with ATT because, like Allyson mentioned in the article, the resale value is excellent on the GSM phones. In June, I'll sell my JB and unlocked iPhone 4 and will pay nothing for the iPhone 5 (I'll actually make money if ATT gives early contract renewal again)!

Yeah, the poor service excuse doesn't work. I have 4 lines on my family plan, and everyday, every line will drop or fail at LEAST 4-5 calls. My service area sucks! I have been complaining to AT&T for over a year, and it does no good. I have asked (nicely) several times to be let out of my contract because of this and they decline. Can't wait for June!

I'm not sure if this works now but this is how I got out of VERIZON service without paying ETF. It was quiet while ago.
I had a Samsung Juke and had 14 months of contract left with Verizon and I wanted to get the 3G after playing with one at the Apple store. I went to AT&T and told the rep that I want to get out and get a 3G but I don't want to pay for ETF. The rep got the store manager and the manager agreed to pay for the ETF (I'm sure it's not out of his pocket)
I came out of the store with a brand new 3G after little over an hour (it will require time). It was the store in Arlington Heights, IL.
So maybe you can try it at Verizon and deal with the manager directly.
All in all though, I will not be switching to Verizon. Although AT&T service not the greatest, I can manage and I can't give up talk and surf at the same time yet.

Not to rain on the parade, but I'd be surprised if this worked. Last year my wife tried to get out of a Sprint contract after they intentionally misled her and got her to enter into a contract that was unintended. They literally lied straight to her face. We talked to the manager at our local Sprint store and he was very understanding and upset. However, even he could not break the ETF. He talked on speakerphone with a Sprint rep to the point of anger (which was, frankly, embarrassing to see a "professional" store manager act that way) but they would not break the contract. Needless to say, she cut ties with Sprint that day, albeit through paying the ETF and she's been a happy iPhone customer since.

Just a quick note, it's a lot harder to get the "My service is terrible" ETF excemption than it was. With the advent of Femtocell's they'll more than likely suggest you buy one. The only time moving works most of the time is if the account is liable to someone who is active in the military and you have to move because he/she is transferred to a location with poor reception.
The best way to try and get out is selling your existing phone and applying that towards the ETF. One of the nice things about the iphone is the very high resale value.

you can only have at t with an iphone. the plans are aeywnre from 50-90dollars a month and the only difference in the plan is minutes and a few nonimportant features.yes, it is worth it, it comes with many things such as:-unlimited internet-itunes-coverflow-touch-google maps-sms texting-camera-unlimited e-mailand much more.i do recomend an iphone if your cut out for it, because it is a phone you need to get use to.

When I needed to leave Verizon to get an iPhone on AT&T, I used the increased fees to get out of the ETF. The cell companies are always raising fees. Go through your contract to see which ones can void it and then go through your bills and find where they raised one of those fees. It can be just a few cents.
Call the rep with bills and contract in hand. Sound calm and knowledgable and if you get a decent rep, it will be easy to end your contract.
Best of luck! I am staying with AT&T. I like simultaneous voice and data and they have noticeably improved service in my area.

This doesn't always work though. For things like administrative fees (where it is a set amount, not a percentage) they'll often just credit you back the difference for the remainder of your contract.
Things like Per use changes (increased per use texting rates for example) are the "material changes to your contract" that will get you out every time, because it's impossible to predict.

I don't care to switch to Verizon. My iPhone has performed nearly flawlessly for the past 3 months in NY/NYC. I have no interest in switching.

how about form sprint?
And specifically how do you port a number if you have to cancel the sprint account first?

I hear this works too, but I haven't tried it: if you are very dissatisfied with AT&T for any reason, call them, ask to speak to customer relations. Once they answer, tell them why you are dissatisfied. Now for the kicker: tell them to cancel your contract or you will encourage everyone you know never to get AT&T cell service. They are more likely to cancel your contract that way -- losing one customer is better than losing 30+ potential customers.

I think you guys could wait till your contract is over. Because if you get out problaby there will be another iPhone coming out and It could be better on AT&T. It could be worth the wait

I used to be known as an ETF killer and unadvertised feature adder. :D :D
Since AT&T works incredibly well in L.A. (at least in the 4 locations that I frequent, including the freeways connecting them (think FaceTime over 3G by way of JB virtually without a hiccup), I'll share a little tip that will enable you to STAY with AT&T but get the full subsidy every year: Change your voice plan and features to something that will take the amount you spend with AT&T over $100 before taxes, and you only have to do this as late as one month before the next iPhone comes out, your eligibility will essentially switch from a 2-year contract to only a one-year term, allowing you to upgrade at the full subsidy level ($400 instead of $200).
The last time I pulled this off was only 2 weeks ago when I purchased an iPhone 4 for my girlfriend at $199 and this time, it took only a week, meaning I changed her to unlimited calling only 3 weeks ago, at which time her contract expiration had still been listed as late 2011. AT&T scans accounts on a regular basis and the factors that will allow you to either get out of the ETF or upgrade early, but at the full subsidy, are plenty, and apparently even faster than I gave them credit for.

If you have an unlimited data plan just start downloading everything like crazy - they will kick you off!

Calling and complaining about service doesn't work. I went so far as to write a nasty email to the CEO of AT&T wireless. 2 days later I received a call from the National Director of Executive Escalations. I pleaded my case, requested to have the ETF waived so I could just be rid of them. (I have no signal in my house ever, when I am outside in my town, I barely ever get more than 1-2 bars. My office in another city, according to their map has the best coverage they provide but i can only ever get 2 bars max). They flat out refused to waive the ETF and instead gave me 3 months credit (which was more than the ETF altogether), built a new tower a mile away from my house and are building a new tower a half mile from my office.
They are desperate to keep people...however here are some things to know about making the switch since I just moved to Verizon on Saturday.
Many of Verizon's phones right now have a major rebate. My ETF to remove 3 of the 5 phones frm AT&T was $385. The rebates I got back from Verizon were a total of $250. Verizon also has a phone trade in section of their site. You can sell them your old AT&T phones. My Samsung Captivate and the wife's iPhone 3GS were enough to cover the additional cost. So the ETF was essentially wiped out.

I just wanna say that as an ATT CSR, these tips for getting an etf waived are bogus and won't work. While it is true that selling your iPhone would more than likely offset the cost. The odds of having it waived for the above reasons are slim to none.

  1. Yes you can put in your old sim card and use it2. Depending on where you find one. ebay has them for $400 with no contract. If i was you I would raehtr buy it in the store for $200 with a contract.3. Yes, because AT T require you to buy a voice plan + $30 unlimited data plan for the iphone 3g.4. I have a 3G iPhone and I would be lost without it. I dont know how I lived without it. I have all my email address synced in, So i never get on the computer to check my email, which is great for someone thats always on the go or doesnt have much time. I have all my bill dates reminders, so my bills are never late. I can record lectures from professors for hours of recording. If im lost somewhere i can get easy directions with street view to show me a real picture of the street and where I need to go. Its an incredible device. You really wont find one iPhone user that regrets getting an iphone.