3 industries that make it entirely too difficult for customers to call it quits

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Like a clingy ex lover, some businesses just don’t know when to let go when a customer wants to call it quits.  

The experience of one Comcast cable subscriber whose attempt to cancel his subscription earlier this month went viral reminded us just how desperate businesses can be to hold us captive.

It’s easy to understand why. Sometimes companies need us more than we need them. That knowledge can certainly work in your favor, especially if you’re trying to negotiate better rates or service. But if you’re determined to break up with a company altogether, there’s a good chance they won’t make it easy.

Here are a few services that won’t let you go so easily — and tips on how to let them down, with minimal hurt feelings:

Cable and Internet providers

In 2013, 251,000 basic-cable subscribers ditched their cable providers, according to financial research firm SNL Kagan.And in a recent survey by consulting group cg42, more than half of consumers said they would ditch their current cable company if they had a choice. Thanks to offerings from subscription services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, and newer services like Verizon FiOS, Dish Network and DirecTV, they finally do.

“Cable companies really need to take a hard look at whether they can have a sustainable business model built on a frustrated customer base,” says Steve Beck, founder and managing partner of cg42. “They’re frustrated with the fact that they have limited options, frustrated with the nickle and diming, with paying for things that they don’t want or need.”

It’s no surprise that cable and Internet providers are among the least liked businesses in the U.S., according to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index. Among the top complaints about cable providers? There’s minimal competition in the space, leaving little room for consumers to shop around for better prices, and poor customer service.

Compounding our frustration with cable companies is the fact that two-thirds of Americans rely on them for Internet services. As it stands, Americans pay more for Internet access than many developed nations, yet the quality is often lacking. On top of high rates, Internet providers have gone so far as to charge customers a monthly fee ($4-$7) for the modem. The only way around this is to purchase your own modem, which can cost north of $50.

Make a clean break: Your cable provider was happy to send a technician to your home to install their system when your relationship was exciting and new. Once you’ve severed ties, don’t expect the same treatment. You’ll have to drop off your cable boxes, remote controls, and any other accessories in person at one of their offices.

That’s if you can get past the person that every cord-cutter dreads: the company’s customer retention specialist. Oftentimes, retention specialists have their wages and bonuses tied to the number of cancellations they let slip through on their shifts. Those types of incentives are what drive some of them — like the aforementioned overzealous Comcast rep — to take things a little too far.

If you suspect your rep isn’t being forthcoming about how to cancel your subscription, or they’re needlessly transferring you from department to department, the simplest thing you can do is hang up and try calling again later. You might be connected to someone more willing to help. If the situation doesn’t improve, you can request to speak to their supervisor or, in serious cases, file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission — especially if they continue to charge you after you request the cancellation.

Be strategic about when you cancel your subscription. You might save a bundle by ditching cable in favor of an online service like Netflix or Hulu. But if you’re locked into a contract with your cable company, you could face a cancellation fee if you close your account early.

Do a test run for a week without cable to see if you can survive the break-up. If you decide too late that it was a terrible idea and go running back to them, you’ll wind up paying all over again for installation. See our handy 5-step guide to cutting cable first.

Big banks

Since the 2008 financial crisis, big banks have been scrambling to save their bottom line, gobbling up smaller failing institutions and jacking up fees on their products and services. When Bank of America and Chase both rolled out plans to hit customers with a $5 monthly debit card fee in 2011, disgruntled consumers launched National Bank Transfer Day, a movement aimed at getting as many customers as possible to ditch big banks in favor of more customer-friendly credit unions and local banks.

They quickly found out it wasn’t as easy as it looked. In the realm of business break-ups, big banks put up the biggest fight. A 2012 report by the Consumers Union found several obstacles are put in place to deter customers from switching banks.

For starters, it can cost time and money to close a bank account. You need to transfer all of your deposits (your paycheck direct deposit, for example) to a new bank, a change that can take up a month to process, as well as setting up your new account to accept automatic deposits. Some banks charge customers up to $180 for leaving their service if they’ve been with them for fewer than three months. If your bank doesn’t offer balance transfer services (which often come with fees), you’ll have to withdraw your cash and go about physically depositing it into your new account. On top of that, you may need to keep some cash in your old account to cover automatic bill payments, which may not process your bank change until the next billing cycle.

Even after you’ve ditched your old bank, there’s the risk of “zombie accounts” popping up. This happens when a business attempts to charge a closed bank account. If a company or person tries to deposit money into your account — for example, if you return merchandise to a store where you paid with a debit card linked to your old bank — some banks reserve the right to reopen your account to accept the deposit. Once it’s reopened, you’ll have to close it all over again.

Make a clean break from your bank:  Keep your old account open while you start a new one elsewhere. Next, make a list of all the bills and utilities that you have linked to your current account. Modify your account on each service to reflect your new bank account number .Be sure to leave enough cash in your old account to cover those fixed costs for about a month, or however long it will take for them to begin charging your new account. Wait until you’ve been successfully charged at least once by each service at your new bank account. Then you can call your old bank to close your account.

If you’d rather gradually close your bank account, make sure to check your fee schedule to see if there’s a minimum balance requirement, and leave at least the minimum to avoid a fee.

Cellphone providers  

Cellphone servicers were the No. 1 source of complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau in 2013. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they charge a small ransom to any customer who dares to leave his or her contract early. For example,  AT&T charges up to $325 and Verizon charges up to $350 in early termination fees.

If you have second thoughts about a phone plan after signing up for a contract, you usually have anywhere from two to four weeks to return it without incurring a fee. But then you might get hit with a restocking fee, which can cost up to $70, depending on the type of phone.

How to get around early termination fees: The simplest way to avoid these charges is to simply sign up with a mobile phone carrier that’s willing to foot the bill for you. T-Mobile, for example, generously offers to cover up to $650 worth of termination fees if new customers agree to a two-year contract.

There’s a contract loophole that might work in your favor, too. If your provider suddenly changes the contract’s terms — say it increases a certain fee or changes your billing cycle — they have to give you an opportunity to accept the changes or walk away. This happened a couple of years ago when Verizon gave customers 60 days to accept a new regulatory fee or end their contract. Plenty of people took the opportunity to walk out without penalty. It’s harder to plan for this type of loophole, but it’s a handy one to remember.

Some companies will let you dodge fees if you can find a customer who’s willing to “trade places” with you and take over your contract. If you don’t know anyone who’s up for that, you can check out services like Celltrade or TradeMyCellular, which help connect people who want to leave their contract early with others who want to piggyback onto a shorter contract.  

Bonus: Online accounts

Even if you don’t want to completely get rid of a service but would rather just delete your online account or profile with a company, it can be difficult to do so. But in an age when basicallyall data is hackable, any consumer would be justified in wanting his or her personal information scrubbed from sites they no longer use. 

For example, you can put your Netflix account on hold, but the company will still keep your “queue” and viewing history cataloged in case you come back. To truly delete your account, you have to call their customer service line and expressly ask them to put the kibosh on your account.

Just delete yourself: Netflix is just one of dozens of web services that have landed in the “Impossible” category on Justdelete.me, a site that ranks websites based on how hard they make it for customers to close accounts and offers instructions on how to get around their obstacles. Visit the site and you’ll find most mainstream social media, ecommerce, and media sites listed with instructions on how to delete your account. They are color-coded for difficulty — green for “easy”, yellow for “medium”, red for “difficult” and black for “impossible.

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