As someone dissatisfied with my current cell phone carrier, I was curious about T-Mobile’s switch for free offer. I’ve heard the radio commercials and seen the signs, but I know there is always more to any deal than the bold text. I wondered, is the T-Mobile switch for free deal really a good deal, or was it some sneaky scam. I figured I could look into it, and then blog about the real deal on T-Mobile’s pay you to switch deal.
Reading the fine print, and understanding what you are getting into beyond the blaring headlines of an advertisement is probably the most important day-to-day money management skill a person can have. Too often, someone’s personal financial planning intentions get dropped out the window thanks to unanticipated expenses or monthly costs. Worse, sometimes these decisions are costly, or even impossible to reverse.
The headlines for this deal scream that T-Mobile will pay your early termination fees and that they’ll even give you a big credit toward a new phone. Is this a great deal, or is this going to turn out to be some switch carriers scam from T-Mobile.
T-Mobile Switch Plan Fine Print
Some day, I’m going to develop a class on fine print, until then, just know that “up to,” or “as much as,” and their ilk are the biggest hiders of expenses and other limitations in America today. Look no further than your average internet provider when you purchase a data plan with speeds up to 40 Mbps, or whatever. (Up to, means that there is no legal obligation to provide you any speed whatsoever. Even .01 Mbps falls under the umbrella of, “up to 40 Mbps.)
The web page for the switch to T-Mobile for free offer is littered with up tos.
- get up to $650 per line
- up to a $300 trade-in credit
- up to $350 per line ETF credit
What is the deal with these up tos? Will need to get beyond the bullet points to find out.
Is The T-Mobile ETF Refund Legit or a Scam?
Let’s start with the Early Termination Fee refund, or ETF pay back.
It turns out that the, up to, here is completely fair and harmless. T-Mobile will pay up to $350 per line for your ETF fee, but only if your ETF charge is actually $350. If your final ETF cost from your original carrier is only $200, then they’re only going to pay $200. In other words, you aren’t going to profit from the deal. This is totally legit and fair.
There is one catch that you want to be aware of though. Retailers of all kinds have gotten in the habit of giving you a refund, or in this case “paying you to switch,” via something other than cash in the form of a check. In this case, T-Mobile requires you to submit your final bill showing your ETF charges, so they know how much to pay you for them. Then, you get a prepaid MasterCard for the amount within eight weeks.
Why does this matter? Well, if your finances are in good enough shape, it all sort of works out in the end. You pay off your final bill. Then, when you get the prepaid MasterCard, you buy groceries with it instead of using your checking account, and boom, you’re even. If you don’t have as much wiggle room in your budget, however, you’ll need to plan ahead.
The mechanics of how the T-Mobile ETF refund part works is that you will have to pay your old carrier for the ETF fees when the final bill is due. In most cases that will be within 30 days of receiving the bill. However, you won’t get your prepaid MasterCard for up to 8 weeks. If you are switching 4 lines with $200 each in termination fees, you need to able to cover that $800 for up to 8 weeks before you get your $800 card. Then, you need to be aware that you are going to get an $800 MasterCard, not an $800 check. Again, if you have enough cash, it really doesn’t matter, but your landlord might not take a credit card for your rent.
To minimize the lag between when you have to pay out your ETF fees and when T-Mobile gets you your MasterCard, be sure to submit your bill right away, then pay your bill on the last possible day. If you’re lucky, that will cover three to four weeks for you and you’ll only have to wait four or five weeks more to get your card.
Assuming you plan correctly, there is no way to lose on the ETF refund part of T-Mobile’s offer unless you have an ETF charge higher than $350 somehow.
So far, this T-Mobile switch for free offer is legit.
T-Mobile Switch Carriers Offer Phone Credit
The next part of the switch for free offer from T-Mobile is a credit toward the purchase of a new phone. Depending upon what kind of phone you have, what kind of phone you want, and when you last purchased the phone, this is the part of the offer where you say, “Oh. I didn’t realize that.” This is the T-Mobile switch offer catch, if you will.
In order for this switch to be truly free, you would have to get your new phone at T-Mobile for free, because the deal requires that you get a new T-Mobile phone, and that you trade in your old phone for credit toward that phone. You cannot participate in this deal without buying a new T-Mobile phone and signing up for a qualifying plan.
The, up to, in this part of the offer is not as friendly as the, up to, in the ETF refund part of the offer. Here, up to, means that you very well may get less than $300 for your trade-in. How much you get depends upon your phone’s market value. Older phones are worth less, so are lower-end phones. This deal is made as a swap, not an upgrade, so you won’t be trading your flip phone for an iPhone for free. Although it isn’t spelled out anywhere, damaged phones may be worth less too. (The offer does say that your phone must be “working.”)
You are supposed to go into a T-Mobile store to do the trade-in part of the deal, so it isn’t really clear resource online about how much your particular device will be worth. There is an online device trade-in area on the website, but you have to login to your T-Mobile account to view it. Suffice to say, you definitely want to find out how much your phone is worth up front.
Let’s say that you recently bought a Sprint Galaxy S4 phone and you want to switch away from Sprint because they still don’t have any 4G coverage in Denver and their 3G coverage is terrible. It’s reasonable to assume that a current model, working, Samsung Galaxy S4 phone is going to be worth the full $300 credit, or at least close to it. So, how does switching to T-Mobile using this special offer impact this customer?
While I can’t find a trade-in value online, I can browse the latest phones, where I find that replacing this phone with a T-Mobile Galaxy S4 will cost $624 plus $10 for a “SIM starter kit.” (I guess the necessary SIM card for your phone to function on the T-Mobile network is not included. I call that a T-Mobile scam, but that’s a different article.) Since I’m only getting a $300 credit, I’ll have to pay $334 to switch, “for free,” (per phone).
If your phone is older, then this is less of a big deal since you might be buying a new one anyway. Of course, if your phone is older, then it probably isn’t worth a full $300 trade-in credit either.
Is T-Mobile Switch Offer a Good Deal?
So, if you were already planning on buying another phone in the near future, this still might be the deal for you. Otherwise, you’ll want to be doing it for other reasons such as better service, improved coverage, or another reason that you might have had even without the offer.
Here’s the really weird thing. Nowhere on T-Mobile’s website does it call this a switch for free deal. It says that they’ll pay your termination fees for you. Now, I’m confused. Is it billed as switch for free on the radio, or what that just what some over-hyperbolic reporter said in the news articles I read when I first heard about the deal.