Many consumers have had the experience of hearing a sales pitch and being sufficiently impressed to purchase the goods or services, only to find that the reality was somewhat less than anticipated. When the purchase involves a device or service that we tend to rely on daily, and which potentially binds us to that service for years to come, this can be a very bitter pill to swallow. With cell phone plans that typically span two years, buyers need to be sure that the service as well as the phone itself will meet their expectations.

Smart shopping up front can certainly go a long way in assuring that consumers get the cell phone and service that they expect. Assuring that the cellular provider has adequate coverage in areas where an individual needs to routinely place or receive calls can help reduce the likelihood that dropped calls and gaps in coverage are problematic. Such issues are one of the most frequent reasons cited by dissatisfied customers who wish to terminate a cell phone plan early.

Reading the written contract is also critical to assure the service offered is as the sales person describes it. Despite what any sales person may say, it is the written contract that will determine what service the cellular provider can be held responsible for providing. Realizing, for instance, that roaming fees are added on to a frequently called long distance number only after an exorbitant bill is received, can be a painful experience. The wise consumer also keeps a copy of the contract on hand just in case discrepancies arise later.

However, even with a significant amount of investigation the experience of using a particular cell phone plan can still fail to meet the customer’s expectations. Coverage may be available in a given area but the quality of the call may be poor. The phone itself may not perform well. The pricing for some calling features may be significantly different than what the consumer understood them to be during the sales process.

Because of the potential for such discrepancies in expectations versus realities, it is extremely critical for consumers to make full use of the assessment period they are allowed with most cell phone plans. Assuring that the plan purchased allows a 14-30 day trial period in which the phone can be returned or the plan can be cancelled without termination fees should be a factor in selecting the service. Again, this cancellation policy should be in written form within the contract.

Consumers should fully assess their new cell phone plan during the initial period to assure that it will meet their ongoing needs. Are calls of acceptable quality? Are calls dropped? Does the phone perform as expected? Users should also keep track of charges. Checking the bill online is possible in many instances rather than waiting for it to arrive in the mail. Certainly all problems can’t be identified in such a short period of time, but many can. The critical first few weeks of a new cell phone plan are often all consumers have to allow them to assess and terminate if needed without penalties.

To assure the process of cancellation and return of the cell phone goes smoothly in the event that this is necessary, consumers should maintain any receipts, a copy of the contract, and the original packaging for the cell phone. A phone in good condition and timely adherence to the time line offered by the contract’s cancellation policy will help assure that there are no termination penalties incurred.

Certainly, consumers can terminate cell phone plans early but not without significant penalties. Options also exist online that allow disgruntled cell phone plan owners to identify others willing to assume their current plan, but again these options are not completely cost or risk free.

Although there is no current legislation to provide other recourse to consumers who have legitimate issues with their cellular service, there are some signs that the future may bring additional protection. In Washington State, for instance, legislation is currently being considered to allow consumers to terminate cell phone plan contracts without financial penalty when they experience excessive dropped calls or gaps in coverage. For the time being however, consumers need to make use of the one primary means of assuring that they get the service they anticipate: the cancellation policy within the contract that allows them a window of time to assess and terminate if necessary.

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The author, Christine Peppler invites readers to visit her site for simple, useful information when shopping for cell phone plans and other cellular products.

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