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Cell phone upgrade fees: Verizon, AT&T, etc. really know how to ruin the fun

Posted by Mitch Lipka  April 13, 2012 02:30 PM

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More fees? Now all the major cell phone carriers are charging a fee, on top of any other charge they might dream up, to upgrade your phone.

After all the fuss over bank fees - the fuss, that, if you don't remember, stopped Bank of America from charging for the privilege of having one of their debit cards - it is unfortunate that another enormously profitable business has gone the fee route.

How about making a fuss about this? It stinks. Doesn't it?

Who hasn't looked forward to the end of the two years or so of their cell phone contracts and making an additional commitment to get a new - and free - phone. Thank you Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, for ruining the fun.

Verizon this week became the last of the biggies to charge this new fee. AT&T and Sprint are the priciest at $36. Verizon undercut them by $6 and is charging $30, while T-Mobile looks practically generous levying half the fee of AT&T and Sprint. That's still $18 more than they were charging before this fee-fest.

"I am very concerned that consumers have little choice in the cellular phone marketplace except to pay this new activation fee when upgrading to a new phone," state Consumer Affairs chief Barbara Anthony said. "With the announcement this week by Verizon, all four cellular phone carriers are charging upgrade fees – in addition to the price of a new phone."

The idea of long-term cell phone contracts has always been a risk for consumers - with the reward being the free phone - so Anthony cautions consumers to be particularly attentive to what they are agreeing to.

Here are some tips from her office:

  • Ask for all information in writing up front.

  • Understand what you are buying.

  • Try to negotiate the most consumer-friendly plan.

  • Don’t sign any documents without fully reading all the material.

  • Pay special attention to cellular phone contract terms.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at


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