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Switching TV providers? Avoid these common, costly mistakes

Anne Wynter and Jennifer Berry
Whether you're looking for a better sports package or you're fed up with your current provider's level of customer service, there are plenty of great reasons to switch TV carriers. To make sure you're getting the best deals and enjoying the smoothest transition possible, take a look at the following common mistakes consumers make when they change TV providers.

Whether you're looking for a better sports package or you're fed up with your current provider's level of customer service, there are plenty of great reasons to switch TV carriers.

However, if you rush into making the switch, you could end up spending more than you anticipated or you may even miss out on some great opportunities to save money.

To make sure you're getting the best deals and enjoying the smoothest transition possible, take a look at the following common mistakes consumers make when they change TV providers.

Forgetting about Satellite Providers

If you're thinking about switching cable TV providers, you'll want to consider all of your options - including satellite providers. If you only focus on cable, you could be making a huge mistake.

That's because satellite TV packages are often cheaper than cable packages, according to Dana Blouin, a telecommunications and networking expert with over 10 years of experience.

"Generally, satellite offers lower basic package pricing for their customers," says Blouin.

Why can satellite providers charge less?

"Satellite companies are not limited by factors such as a physical infrastructure, only by the coverage area of their satellites," Blouin says. No physical infrastructure means satellite companies don't have to spend the money on the maintenance that cable companies do.

Carly Fauth, a marketing professional for the financial fitness site, moneycrashers.com, is always looking for ways to save money. And dropping her cable TV for satellite is one way she's doing it.

"There are many reasons why I will be switching," she says. "But the first is price: I will save roughly $20 per month by switching, and that's on top of all the teaser deals I'll receive, such as free HBO for six months and a gift card… and I will get a larger selection of channels for a cheaper price."

In one year, Fauth will be saving nearly $250 by making the switch from cable to satellite.

[Do you want to save on your TV and Internet bill? Click to compare rates from providers now.]

Failing to Inquire about "No Contract" Options

Is your new provider trying to lure you into signing a contract by promising free premium channels, high-value gift cards, and lifetime passes to Disneyworld? Okay, maybe we invented that last perk, but as tempting as these extras may be, if you have to sign a long-term contract to get them, it might be better to just say "no".

In fact, "you should avoid signing a contract at all costs," says Andrew Schrage, money-saving expert and co-owner of the financial fitness website, www.moneycrashers.com. Schrage says that one or two-year contracts often require you to pay a higher rate after the initial promotional rate expires.

What's more, if you come across better deals from different TV providers, your contract will probably prohibit you from taking advantage of those deals or will charge you an early termination fee to do so.

If you have a number of potential TV providers in your area, the simplest way to avoid signing a contract is to choose a company that advertises no long-term contracts, such as certain Verizon FIOS plans or Charter HDTV plans.

Schrage notes that if your new provider is insisting on a contract, it may seem difficult to get around this stipulation at first. However, he says that if the company really wants your business, you can typically get them to drop this requirement, so he recommends that you get in touch with your inner haggler and keep at it.

[Are you ready to switch TV and Internet providers? Click to compare rates from providers now.]

Not Keeping Track of Service Agreements/Cancellation Paperwork

If you're trying to save money on TV, the last thing you want to deal with is being erroneously charged for money that you don't actually owe your TV and Internet provider.

This is exactly what happened to Corona, CA's Barry Maher, 65, speaker and author of "Filling the Glass". Maher needed to switch his TV service as he prepared to move. He was previously signed up for a DirectTV package that was bundled together with Verizon phone service.

After Maher cancelled his service, he received conflicting final bills - one that noted his account was paid in full and another that stated that he owed money for one more month.

It took numerous phone calls to finally resolve the issue and get final confirmation that his balance was actually settled, Maher says. And even though Maher was able to spot the problem before he paid the erroneous bill, other customers - like those who have automated payments set up - may fork over the money without realizing there was ever a mistake.

To avoid paying for charges you don't actually owe, Maher recommends keeping careful records of all your agreements and payment records, just in case you need them when you decide to switch providers.