Students should read the fine print

Early termination fees for cell phone contracts can be from $150 to $300.

Aidan M. Anderson

Cell phone-induced headaches don’t necessarily come solely from the megahertz frequencies of their tiny speakers.

Though many students find their cell phones convenient, they can come at an unexpected price.

Contracts often have early termination fees ranging from $150 to $300 per line, which can put students in a bind if they become unhappy with their service or phone.

Cingular Wireless customers can sometimes end a contract without paying a fee, but the company generally “sticks to the terms of the contract,” said Meg Frainey, a regional public relations director for Cingular.

The contract allows Cingular to provide the customer with benefits like discounted phones, Frainey said.

Kevin Keen, a first-year journalism student, didn’t have any complaints about his Cellcom service and said he would renew his contract with the local provider this spring.

“I think I’m pretty happy with the plan and the prices,” he said.

Keen said he likely would sign up for another two-year contract to get deal on a new phone.

The discounts offered on equipment give more people access to wireless services because they make the phones more affordable, said Karen Smith, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless.

Whether one is looking to pick up the latest MP3-playing smart phone or a more basic model, the best phone deal is usually linked to a one or two-year contract.

While no-contract cell phone plans have no early termination fees, they’re subject to service agreements. For example, Verizon’s INpulse prepaid plan reserves the right to terminate an account if the user doesn’t have the balance to cover the 99 cent daily usage fee, according to its service agreement.

Virgin Mobile’s pay-as-you-go plan requires a minimum payment every 90 days and will suspend accounts regardless of balance if a user fails to make an imbursement to the account, according to its terms of use.

Every cell phone company and plan has its catches. The important part is shopping smart to find a suitable plan, said Morgan Jindrich, director of strategic resources center at consumersunion.org, a consumer advocacy organization.

Jindrich offered three tips to consider when shopping for a new phone.

First, customers should read the contract entirely and thoroughly.

Second, most companies offer either a 15 or 30-day risk-free trial period. Customers should take the phone to all the places they anticipate using it. If the phone fails to provide the necessary coverage, customers can return it, she said.

“If the phone doesn’t work, turn right around and get it back to the company and go try it with another one,” she said.

Finally, customers should ask about expected charges on monthly statements. People should be prepared to pay 20 percent to 30 percent more than the advertised monthly cost, she said.

“Keep asking questions; if it takes you two hours, it’ll save you two hours with customer service,” Jindrich said. “It’s worth it.”