How to Avoid TV Cancellation Fees
Is it time to break up with your cable company? Maybe you’re moving and can’t keep your service—or maybe you watch only a few channels and no longer need the premium packages. Whatever the case is, canceling your service can be expensive and time consuming, so we figured we’d help you out.
If you are in a 1- or 2-year service contract, you’re likely to face early termination fees (ETFs) unless the company specifically breached the contract. If you’re dead set on canceling, prepare yourself with our steps and tips below.
We’ve used bill negotiating services like BillFixers, and we think it’s worth checking out if you can’t stand hours of hold music.
Fee breakdown target
Here’s a breakdown of fees and contact information per provider. Bear in mind that termination fees often depend on your specific package, so you’ll find out the fee when you call or email your provider. If you don’t see your provider listed, let us know in the comments! We’ll update our list accordingly.
|AT&T U-verse||About $180 (depending on your individual plan)||1-800-288-2020|
|CenturyLink||Up to $200 max.||1-800-244-1111|
|Charter Spectrum||$0 (no contract)||1-877-906-9121|
|Comcast Xfinity||$220 (Comcast is purposefully vague in its subscriber agreement, but says it will refund any portion of a month you have paid for but not used.)||1-800-934-6489|
|Cox||PLG with monthly discount—$240 and $10/mo. ETF reduction PLG only—$96 with $4/mo. ETF reduction.||1-866-961-0027|
|DIRECTV||A prorated ETF of up to $20/mo.||1-800-531-5000|
|DISH||$20 for each month remaining in contract, up to $480||1-888-283-2309|
|Optimum||$0 (no contract)||1-866-200-7273|
|Suddenlink||Up to $200||1-877-794-2724|
|Time Warner Cable (Spectrum)||Up to $175 with $7.50/mo. ETF discount||1-800-892-4357|
|Fios by Verizon||$165 (see service agreement)||1-844-837-2262|
Now that you know the fees and what you’re up against, here are a few steps to consider before you make the call.
1. Cut the cord before you cut the cord
Living a cable-free lifestyle sounds easy. There are so many streaming services and apps that can substitute for traditional cable, and all with access to the latest and greatest entertainment.
However, you may not realize the downside to streaming until the cable box goes dark. You might find that you actually miss around-the-clock cable news stations or those addictive real estate shows. Luckily, there are plenty of players in the live TV streaming space nowadays. We recommend checking out the following services.
|DIRECTV NOW||60–120+||$35–$88/mo.||7-day trial|
SlingTV is the most popular and most affordable option, but you will have to pay an additional $5 for DVR service. DIRECTV NOW doesn’t include DVR service at all and fuboTV includes its DVR option for free.
DIRECTV NOW’s strength is its high channel counts. fuboTV shines in its sports selection, which emphasizes soccer but has plenty of coverage for basketball, baseball, American football, and other athletic events.
Other options for streaming services include PlayStation Vue, Hulu Live TV, and YouTube TV. Cutting the cord is gaining popularity, so we expect to see great new options in the coming years.
Plus, if you’re pulling away from traditional cable, there are so many cool streaming devices like Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and Apple TV. You’ll reduce the clutter of a cable box, so no more tripping over wires and wondering which remote works for what. Many of these can be grabbed quickly and connected to a different TV
2. Read the fine print
It can seem like reading The Odyssey in Greek would be easier than combing through your cable contract to make sense of what you’ve signed. Teams of lawyers craft these contracts. However, taking a glance at the exact wording in your contract is worth the effort; it could provide you with the golden ticket you need to walk away from your TV provider without losing a lot of money.
Check to see if your cable company is in breach of contract for failing to provide services it has promised. Was your cable out for long periods of time? Were channels that you were paying for blocked?
You might be able to convince a customer service representative (or their supervisor) to allow you to back out of your plan without penalty if you express displeasure with the service you received. At the very least, you may be able to minimize the size of your cancellation fee.
Read up on the details of your contract to see if cancellation fees are prorated based on the duration of your contract—meaning your fee would be increased for every month left on your contract.
3. Make a phone call
It’s amazing what a conversation with a live agent can do. Negotiating your contract requires speaking with a customer retention specialist—someone whose duty is to prevent you from leaving the company or service.
These agents receive commissions based on how many accounts they keep active, so if there’s a way the company still makes money, you can leverage that to your advantage. Try out something like, “This service is too expensive; I could afford it if it were cheaper” and see what happens.
Here are potential points of leverage:
- Fee increases
- (“We didn’t mind the package price, but these new fees are too much . . .”)
- Service interruptions
- (“We haven’t had TV service out here for three weeks. This keeps happening . . .”)
- Programming changes
- (“We don’t get ESPN with our package anymore, so . . .”)
- Breach of contract
- (“According to our contract, our service was supposed to be . . .”)
Making a phone call is especially important if your reason for canceling is that you aren’t getting access to all the special channels or movie options you want. If you leverage for it, a customer retention agent may offer you a package upgrade or premium channels for no extra charge—just make sure you’re clear on how long these perks last to avoid more surprise fees in the future.
Agents might even throw some credits or free streaming into the mix to keep your business. Ask for what you want, and you may be surprised at what you end up with. You might just get the incentive you need to keep your current cable provider.
4. Do the math
Remember that your cable contract is a legally binding contract. Sometimes there’s just no way around paying cancellation fees when you break that contract. It is also important, however, to do the math regarding canceling your subscription versus letting it expire. You don’t want to end your service if your cancellation fee is higher than what it would cost you to pay out the duration of your subscription. Sometimes, the best strategy is to wait until your contract expires. Of course, you need to be vigilant about remembering that date to avoid automatic renewals.
5. Return your accessories
Just like at the end of a romantic relationship, giving back belongings is crucial when you end things with your cable provider.
Many people don’t realize they need to return the rented cable equipment that was provided during installation. Something like a rented DVR or satellite dish could cost up to several hundred dollars, and a company won’t send out a technician to remove and collect items. The last thing you want to experience after breaking up with a cable company is an invoice for an item that was never returned.
Sometimes, there’s just no getting around paying early termination fees. If you are expecting a cancellation fee but it never arrives, contact your cable provider. An unpaid bill could result in penalty fees or a ding on your credit record.
Once you’ve made the decision to walk away from your cable company, you want to make the transition as painless as possible. With these recommendations, you can make a clean break and move on to a service that fits you better.