How to Avoid TV Cancellation Fees

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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.

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How to lower your bill or cancel service

We’ve discussed negotiation tactics to get a lower bill, but if the idea of dealing with underpaid customer service reps gives you pause, you can always have someone else do it for you.

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.

CompanyFeeCancellation contact
AT&T U-verseAbout $180 (depending on your individual plan)1-800-288-2020
CenturyLinkUp 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
CoxPLG with monthly discount—$240 and $10/mo. ETF reduction PLG only—$96 with $4/mo. ETF reduction.1-866-961-0027
DIRECTVA prorated ETF of up to $20/mo.1-800-531-5000
DISH$20 for each month remaining in contract, up to $4801-888-283-2309
Optimum$0 (no contract)1-866-200-7273
SuddenlinkUp to $200 1-877-794-2724
Time Warner Cable (Spectrum)Up to $175 with $7.50/mo. ETF discount1-800-892-4357
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.

ChannelsPriceMax simultaneous streamsTry it
Sling 20–45+$20–$40/mo.47-day trial
DIRECTV NOW60–120+$35–$88/mo.27-day trial
fuboTV54–77+$15–$90/mo.27-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.

If you never want to deal with early termination fees again, we recommend taking a look at SlingTV, DIRECTV NOW, and fuboTV.

Find the best TV provider in your area.

  • Yovana Perez

    I’ve had direct tv service in the past , where everything was fine and service was good. I moved address and called direct tv to inform them of the move , well I came to find out that the better option was to cancel that service and open a new service with the bundle of internet and land line. Everything was done through direct tv , it would work out according to the representative because I would be sharing the services with my son in law in the second floor. Well after they signed me up for the whole package I then called att to change over my land line phone number to the new address . To my surprise I was then told that land lines did not exist any longer in my area . I then got upset because I was already in the package with direct tv where they failed to inform me of that they just signed me up with no problem. I then spent over two hours on the phone with att trying to disconnect the landline that I was issued by direct tv and I kept getting the run around. After that incident I then got my services with cable and internet disconnected I was promised a 50 speed that was the max for my area and that’s what my tech told me he did.not only that but he had to go on a hunt around my neighborhood to locate my package for installation. He found it at another address , they sent my stuff to the wrong address.. It had not even been half a month into the agreement or sign up with direct tv. I got disconnected due to non payment which is weird considering that I’ve had the service less than a month. I called direct tv where they said I had a credit in my bill and that they didn’t understand why my services got disconnected. They turned my cable back on , but then the internet I had to call att because direct tv told me that they had nothing to do with their part of the deals. I spent another hour and a half trying to resolve the internet part. They said it was a mistake and that they would turn my services back on . I left to work and the next day I come to find out that I had no internet service again. They never turned my service on . After that is when all the calling and being back and forth with direct tv started . I spoke to a supervisor who assured me that I was not getting the speed I was suppose to and that it would be an additional monthly charge to get it . I have spoken to many representatives and many supervisors and the customer service has been horrible. I have spent many hours of my life trying to resolve issues , being transferred back and forth being hung up on , not getting calls back , getting transferred to a company that had nothing to do with direct tv encountered service reps that made me feel that I was crazy , and I just now got off the phone with a billing manager by the name of Jessica that at the end of my rant I guess in trying to get my services disconnected gave me the silent treatment and I had to say hello about 5 times from time to time to get her attention only to be told that she was not going to repeat herself very rudely and said there was nothing she could do. I have. It been using the direct tv services for a couple of months now and I don’t believe it’s fair for me to pay the cancellation fee and the months of the service. It being used. And I believe that anyone in my situation would agree with me on that part. It is unfortunate that it came to the point of me not even recommending nor ever getting direct tv again in my life because I have been lied to , hung up on, made feel crazy , transferred back and forth and ignored so many times when I’ve had direct tv in the past.