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BBB Tip of the Week

Sun., Sept. 11, 2011

Early termination fees: According to CNET, Sprint has raised its early termination fee (ETF) from $200 to $350, joining the ranks of AT&T and Verizon. Sprint’s new ETF will be prorated, based on how many months are left on the customer’s contract. Which brings to mind a question the BBB is asked a lot: Can they do that? Or, how can they do that? The BBB can’t answer legal questions. Your state Attorney General’s office or the Federal Communications Commission usually are good resources for these queries.

Here’s what I do know: You have the most power before you buy long-term services which may include an ETF:

• Cell phones

• Satellite TV

• Health club memberships

• Cable TV

Do your homework thoroughly before signing anything. What’s the company’s reputation? How good is their service? Do they prorate fees over the term of the contract? At what rate do they decrease? The FCC offers these tips:

• When signing up for a new cell-phone service, make sure you are fully aware of any ETFs.

• Ask how much the early termination fee will be and how it is prorated.

• Ask if it would be possible to buy a handset at full price and avoid an ETF.

• Ask about the trial period during which you can cancel the service without an ETF penalty. This is typically 14 to 30 days.

• If you use your phone sparingly, consider avoiding the whole ETF issue by buying a pre-paid phone.

Feel you’ve been had? File a complaint at You can also let the FCC know about your experience at

More info or to report scams: Visit the BBB website at Call (509)455-4200 or (800) 356-1007.

Holly Doering,

Better Business Bureau

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