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Don't get trapped in a cell phone contract

Mar. 26, 2007 - 11:16AM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 26, 2007 - 11:16AM  |  
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Listen up. Choosing a cell phone company and deciphering cell phone contracts can be difficult at best. But cell phone contracts present even more challenges when you're in the military — unless you know how to protect yourself.

The issue is whether you can get out of the contract without a cancellation fee if you deploy to Iraq or some other place where you can't use the cell phone. Or you may get permanent change-of-station orders to an overseas destination or some other place where your cell phone provider does not offer service.

You aren't protected under law from having to pay hundreds of dollars in cancellation fees under these circumstances. But here are some options:

• Check out your local exchange. Some have concessionaires that sell cell phone service contracts. These contracts generally have a clause that allows you to cancel without penalty if you deploy or make a PCS move.

A word of caution: When it comes time to renew that contract, you may want to do so at a concessionaire at the nearest exchange. If you renew it at a retailer in the civilian community, you may not have that protection in your contract.

• Ask your cell phone provider what protections it offers. For example, Sprint Nextel allows you the option of canceling without an early termination fee. It also has a plan called Military Suspend, which allows you to suspend your account for 24 months, according to Roni Singleton, a Sprint Nextel spokeswoman. There is no charge each month and there are no calling minutes available, but instead of having to disconnect your phone when you deploy and lose your phone number, your account goes into hibernation.

All you need is a military ID or a copy of written orders, Singleton said. You don't have to sign up when you sign the initial contract, she said — just call the customer service department or go to any retail store when you find out you will deploy or move to a new duty station.

"We want to be military friendly," she said.

Verizon Wireless allows service members to suspend service for up to six months, or terminate service without an early cancellation fee if they deploy or get orders outside the cell phone service area, said company spokesman Tom Pica. Other options are available, too, such as continuing service at a bare minimum to allow checking messages, for example, but removing most billable features. If the service member is being deployed to another area in the U.S. where Verizon Wireless is available, he could opt to change to a national calling plan, Pica said.

So whether you're deploying and need to cancel or suspend your cell phone service, or you see an item at a cheaper price than you paid at the exchange — ask. You could save some money.

Price match

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service has expanded its price-matching policy to include warehouse clubs.

AAFES previously did not match warehouse prices because their shelf prices are offset by required membership fees. Customer feedback drove the policy change.

AAFES surveys and monitors prices in the civilian community. Even so, officials said, they rely on customers as their last line of defense to guarantee that when the exchange doesn't have the lowest price, authorized customers will still get the best price.

Here's how AAFES' "We'll Match It!" policy works:

• If you see an identical item with a lower price, you can get that price. If the difference is less than $10, tell the cashier, who will match it on the spot. If it's greater than $10, bring in the local competitor's current ad to receive the reduced price.

• If you already bought the item at the exchange and find the identical item at a local competitor within 30 days, you can still get a refund of the price difference.

There are some exceptions to the price-matching policy. Exchanges cannot accept challenges from any catalog or Web site except from the exchange catalog and http://www.aafes.com">http://www.aafes.com.

Other exclusions: special offers or promotions, free-with-purchase offers, limited-quantity offers, bundled promotions, special financing, gimmick promotions, special-order automotive parts, gasoline, automotive labor/service, double and triple coupons, clearance items, flat percentage-off items and vending items.

Spring's here

The 2007 Spring/Summer Exchange Catalog is available at main stores and online at http://www.usmc-mccs.org">http://www.usmc-mccs.org, https://www.navy-nex.com">https://www.navy-nex.com, http://www.aafes.com">http://www.aafes.com, or http://www.cg-exchange.com">http://www.cg-exchange.com. Its 500 pages include everything from gifts to home furnishings, handbags, apparel and jewelry. The catalog costs $5 and includes $20 worth of savings good through July 16. Prices also are good through July 16.

Got that? You're good to go.

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