Unhappy with your service? Moving to another country? Free yourself from AT&T.

Whatever your reason, it's your right to switch carriers as you please. That doesn't mean you can just leave whenever you want and expect no penalties. Believe me, there are penalties.

If you're at the end of your proverbial rope and need to leave AT&T behind pronto, we'll tell you how.

Cancellation is a bit different, depending on whether you're on a two-year contract or on an AT&T Next or month-to-month agreement.

How to cancel your two-year AT&T contract

Do I cancel my two-year contract online or over the phone?

The only way to cancel your account is over the phone or in person. AT&T will need to verify your identity and there's no way they can truly do it via some online form. This isn't like breaking up with someone over text; you have to face the music.

If you do decide to cancel with AT&T, you can call 1-800-288-2020.

You mentioned penalties. What kinda fees am I looking at?

If you're cancelling your service with AT&T, you're probably looking at a couple different fees.

Billing charges

Depending on where you are in your billing period, you'll have to pay out the rest of the month.

Early Termination Fees (ETF)

Here's where those penalties rear their ugly heads. In your contract with AT&T, you agreed pay a fee if you were to cancel your service early.

If you have a phone that requires a data plan, then the ETF is $325, minus $10 for every completed month of service. If you have a basic phone, then you're looking at $150, minus $4 for every full month of service you've completed.

If you cancel within the first 14 days of service, you won't be required to pay an ETF, and you'll have to return your phone in like-new condition.

Is there any way around the fees?

There's no guaranteed way to avoid paying any of the fees associated with cancelling AT&T, but here are a few options you can try:

Poor service

You could try explaining that the coverage or features that AT&T promised you are not being delivered. This may result in some reduced fees, but, depending on how long is left on your contract, don't expect them to be waived entirely.

New provider pays your fees

If you're switching to a new provider, you might be able to talk them into paying your fees for you. It's a bit of a long shot, but the competition is fierce and if you'll be signing up more than one line, it can definitely work in your favor.

Verizon and T-Mobile may actually pay your fees for you, so long as you trade in your phone and buy a new one on their payment plans. You might lose money on that deal, so do all the math before signing.

What's the easiest way to get out of a contract?

Plain and simple, just tell AT&T that you're switching providers. There's no need to pussyfoot around it, and AT&T might even try to sweeten the deal to keep you, especially if you're a long-time customer.

The bottom line

There are quite a few variables to consider when cancelling your service with AT&T, whether or not you're canceling early. If you really want to see what it will all cost you, you'll have to contact AT&T and have a customer service rep go through it with you.

How to cancel your AT&T Next or month-to-month agreement

Depending on the phone you bought, you get off a bit easier if you're in a Next or month-to-month agreement with AT&T.

Can I cancel my AT&T Next or month-to-month agreement online?

No, you have to either show up at an AT&T store or call their customer service line at 1-800-288-2020. They need to verify your identity.

What fees will I have to pay?

There are no early termination fees for an AT&T Next or month-to-month agreement. All you have to do is pay out the remainder of your billing month (if any amount applies) and then pay out what you owe on the phone, in full. The amount you pay will be based on the retail price of the phone, how many months are left on your agreement, and how long you initially signed up for (12, 18, or 24 months), and whether or not you signed up with a down payment on the phone.

Can I avoid paying off the phone?

Some other carriers might be willing to help you with switching to their network. You'll probably have to trade in your current phone and buy a new one.

The bottom line

AT&T Next and month-to-month agreements are way easier to break than two-year contracts. Yes, you can sign up for two years on a Next agreement, but all that does is determine how much you pay in installments for your phone everything month.

With more carriers switching to monthly agreements rather than multi-year contracts, it'll be easier for you to bounce around and find the carrier that suits you best.

How to drop lines from an AT&T family plan

Early termination fees apply to every line of service that you have. If you're on a family plan and someone wants to leave to start their own AT&T account and their own plan, don't cancel their line outright. You can request an Assumption of Liability, which simply transfers the responsibilities of that particular line to a new account. This way you avoid nasty early termination fees.

If more than one person is leaving your family plan and there are only two or three people on said plan now, you might want to look at switching to individual plans, since the shared plan might not be saving you any money at all.

Things to remember

All of the above-mentioned fees and policies are at the discretion of AT&T. Every cancellation scenario is unique, so the above are just guidelines and may vary on a case-by-case basis.