Help my phone is in the toilet!! Guide to replacing your phone without getting fleeced by a carrier

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Hey, it happens. You’re sitting to answer nature’s call and without warning or provocation the phone you thought was securely clipped to your hip goes for a swim. Sometimes you’re lucky and can fish it out of the water fast enough and there will be minimal damage. Other times you’re not so lucky and the water shuts your phone down – forever.

Unless you’re signed up with an extended warranty company such as Squaretrade – you are out-of-luck because water damage is not covered under most carrier insurance plans (this is the first thing they check – and they know because for quite some time they carriers have used water sensitive labels hidden inside the phone to detect water damage). Luckily if you’re using a GSM carrier like AT&T or T-Mobile you have several good options for replacing the phone without paying the insane out-of-contract price that your carrier will ask.

Option #1 – Buy a prepaid phone at Walmart and stick your GSM SIM card into the phone

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Bet you didn’t know that those inexpensive prepaid phones that hang on the shelves at Walmart, Best Buy and Target and priced as little as $14.99 will work on post-paid (regular contract) SIM cards.


Yes – it’s true. Just remember that if you’re on T-Mobile that you MUST use a T-Mobile prepaid (unless the phone has been specially unlocked to accept other carrier SIM cards).

Most cell phones sold at retail are locked to a specific provider and won’t work for other carriers without spending additional money for a code that releases that lock and enables another carrier’s SIM card to function.


1. To replace your phone with a prepaid, you MUST use the same carrier type (prepaid phones from other carriers won’t work without extra cost unlocking)

2. Remove the SIM card from your waterlogged phone – insert it to the prepaid and you’re in business.

3. GSM phones (AT&T and T-Mobile) are the only two that I’ve tried this trick on — Sprint and Verizon don’t use SIM cards in the USA and would require a call to customer service to activate any prepaid – and Customer Service may or may not play along – so your mileage may vary on how this trick works for Non-GSM carriers).

Option #2 – eBay Buy it Now

If you’re after a particular model of phone, eBay can be a good way to purchase a replacement. Just be sure that the phone you purchase is from a reputable seller (I only use power sellers with 2,500 or more sales and 99% or higher feedback).

Tip: As we’ve mentioned before (and this is a trick I learned from my deal-meister college roommate) – Squaretrade WILL warranty eBay purchases.

Check to make sure that the auction clearly specifies that the phone will work on your carrier (most of the reputable sellers go overboard to provide the details of their phones because they want to retain their 99%+ satisfaction feedback).

Generally you want to search for the “unlocked” phones. This means that the phone isn’t restricted to use on any one type of carrier. Naturally you still need to purchase the right type of phone (AT&T and T-Mobile are GSM while Sprint and Verizon are CDMA).


Reputable sellers will also tell you exactly which carriers will work with the phone they are selling.

I never buy a phone on eBay from anyone who isn’t a power seller. If you bid on an auction from someone with little or no feedback then realize you’re greatly increasing the risk that what you buy may not work.

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Option #3 – Amazon Unlocked Phone Bargain Bin

It’s always worthwhile to browse the selection of unlocked phones on Amazon. Often these phones are too expensive. However you can happen across some bona fide deals:

Here’s a sweet UNLOCKED (meaning it will work on either T-Mobile or AT&T) Palm Treo 750 for $189.99.

Granted, the Palm 750 is a little “long in the tooth) – but for $189.99 you’ll have a Windows Mobile smartphone that is serviceable (and cheaper than the $280 that AT&T will want for their dainty contract-less Centro)

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Link: Amazon Unlocked Cell Phones

Option #4 – Beg

When the other options aren’t available or you prefer a genuine carrier branded device – call your cell phone provider and ask to cancel your account.

Often the mere act of threatening cancellation — while explaining that it would be cheaper for you to switch carriers and pay an early termination fee of $225 to $250 — is enough to shake a low cost phone out of the them.

If you are successful in obtaining a low cost / no cost phone from your carrier – expect to re-up your contract.

Tip: Before calling your carrier – search discussion forums such as Howardforums, Fatwallet and Slickdeals for any promotions that might be happening. Often you can simultaneously negotiate a perk like free or reduced cost text messaging, early nights and weekends or lower cost $5.99 T-Mobile data plans.

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Note: Sometimes you’ll connect to an operator who actually will close your account. If you are intent on closing – and the carrier won’t budget on any concessions and you’re going to get stuck with an early termination fee anyway – the best thing to do is tell the operator you need to think about it. Then go buy another (discounted) phone as a subscriber on a new carrier and port your number to that new phone. The number port automatically cancels your old service (assuming you only have one number) while retaining your familiar phone number on your new phone.

CONCLUSION – Replacing a phone doesn’t have to be expensive. So long as you are flexible with the replacement model there are generally deals to be had. Cell phones are commodities and as such the pricing is competitive (especially for new plans where I find that Amazon Cell Phones consistently has the lowest costs). Expect that carriers will compete for your business and don’t get forced into a rushed purchase just because you need a phone quickly. In many instances if you need a phone right away – you’ll be better off buying a $19 prepaid phone to use temporarily while you search for a permanent replacement for your water logged malfunctioning phone.

Categories: How to Do It Yourself!


4 replies

  1. I have insurance coverage from Verizon (using Asurion) for my son's phone and his just started having a problem last week – the display just showed pure white, though everything else on the phone continued to work. But, here's the thing – Asurion covers accidental damage (including water damage), but they do not cover simple malfunction – that's only covered by Verizon (in my case). Since we were outside the Verizon warranty, we had to pretend that he had dropped the phone (well, I am sure that he has, at some point) in order to get the phone replaced under the insurance policy.

    So, based on photo you show in this post, that is a phone that is lost, if that happened to me . . .

    (Also, I now realize that the insurance is a complete rip-off. $6 a month, $50 deductible – I am sure that it's better just to put aside that money instead from now on and simply buy a replacement instead.)

  2. Agreed here. Asurion covers water damage. The bad part is you will have a deductible. $130 for my G1. Thankfully it was ok when it dried out.

  3. I think the lead pic is actually a strange initiation rite for a 'men's only' club in Montana.


  1. Wayne Schulz