ways cable companies ripping you off
Updated March 03, 2023

5 Ways Cable Companies Are Ripping You Off (And What You Can Do About It)

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You may be surprised to hear this, but despite the success and popularity of streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, over 100,000,000 US households still have cable. 

Put another way: There are 100,000,000 Americans that cable companies can try to rip off. 

So I’m going to discuss five ways cable companies may try to rip you off, along with practical steps you can take to avoid this. 

Even if you don’t have cable, you may find some of these strategies useful in dealing with other utility bills such as your phone bill, internet, or credit card fees.

Way #1: Overcharging

cable company overcharging bills

Many cable companies take advantage of their customers by charging more than what the service provided is worth. 

Though this sounds obvious, there’s no easy way to calculate the value of a cable subscription, so this can only be determined on a case-by-case basis.

We’ve all heard about competition leading to lower prices, but this is only true if the company involved thinks there’s a chance they may lose your business. 

And the fact is, because of sweetheart deals with local governments, that very few Americans actually have a choice of cable companies.  

Even in competitive areas, cable companies attempt to attract customers by offering low rates to begin with, betting that you won’t leave when they raise the rates.

What you can do about it

The above being said, your cable company will only charge what they think they can get away with, so if you’re willing to push back a little, they may be forced to reconsider and offer you a better deal.

Sometimes, this can be accomplished simply by calling your cable company on your own and negotiating with the customer service representative. 

If you tell them that you’re unhappy with your current rates and are considering switching or even cancelling, the odds are they’ll be willing to lower your prices. 

Once they do that, you can accept the lower rates and then decide to leave or renegotiate when your discount expires.

However, bear in mind that this strategy can be unpredictable, and your outcome may depend on company policy or even who you’re on the phone with.

Related: Bill Negotiation Apps That Will Help You Keep Your Monthly Costs Down

Way #2: Bundling

subscription bundles

On a similar note, many cable companies often take advantage of their customers by implementing bundling — the common practice of combining a wide range of channels or platforms into a single subscription. 

This bundling isn’t exclusive to cable, and in some cases, can save you money. 

For example, bundling your home insurance and auto insurance with the same company can sometimes be cheaper than buying those products separately. 

With cable bundling, though, you could easily be paying for 100 or more channels that you never watch. 

Even though cable companies know that most customers only want a small number of channels, they continue to sell them all together because they know they will make more money by doing that than by offering individual channels at a fraction of the price.

What you can do about it

You probably already know if you have too much bundled into your cable subscription, but if you’re not sure, you can look through the listings and see what you have access to.

From there, you can make a short list of the channels that you do want, before looking for a provider that offers those channels in a smaller bundle or at a lower price.

For example, if one of the channels on your list is HBO, you could get that in a bundle from one of a variety of cable subscriptions. 

However, you could also pay HBO directly for access to their content, thus avoiding paying extra for whatever else is in your cable company’s bundle.

These strategies — taking inventory of both your needs and how much extra you’re spending — are common financial tools that can be applied to numerous areas, but they’re particularly relevant when it comes to cable, since they make a profit by selling you more than you need.

Given cable’s many competitors these days, though, you shouldn’t feel like you’re bound to cable. 

There are numerous low-cost streaming services available, including Netflix, Hulu, and Disney Plus. 

You can even get live TV for sports or news via platforms like Hulu Live TV, YouTube TV, Sling, and Philo.

This isn’t to say cable is bad, but if you’re paying more than you should be for channels you don’t even use, you may want to consider checking out alternative options.

Related: Ready to Cut Cable? 8 Cable Alternatives Worth a Look

Way #3: Early Termination Fees

early termination fees

If you’ve decided you’re unhappy with your current cable situation, you may be considering canceling your subscription. 

And if you don’t need cable, canceling it entirely (as opposed to just getting a discount) is certainly the way to go.

Unfortunately, getting out of your cable contract isn’t always easy and, in keeping with their desire to make money, some providers even charge a fee just to cancel. 

For example, Comcast typically charges $10 for each month remaining on your contract at the time of cancellation, meaning if you still have six months left, you could be charged an extra $60.

It probably won’t bankrupt you to pay that extra $60, but at the same time, the more fees you can avoid, the better.

What you can do about it

In my opinion, the best way to avoid paying this fee is simply to make a note of when your contract ends and then set an annual reminder in case you ever want to cancel or look for a better deal. 

That being said, it’s never a good idea to keep your cable subscription just to avoid the cancellation penalty. 

Your reluctance to pay $60 could cost you much more in monthly fees — especially if you eventually forget to cancel.

Therefore, if you’re not using your cable and are ready to switch, it’s almost always best to cancel immediately regardless of any fees.

On the other hand, though, there’s nothing to lose by negotiating these charges, so if you want to cancel early but are concerned about the fee, you can call your provider directly in order to get it waived. 

The cable company itself doesn’t have much of an incentive to waive this fee, but the human on the other end of the line may be sympathetic and offer a reduction or even a complete waiver.

One more tip: if you’re looking to cancel because you’re moving, you can ask the new tenant or owner if they want to take over your plan so that you don’t have to cancel and they don’t have to set up a new account.

Related: Cheap Moving Tips That Will Keep Your Budget In Check

Way #4: Late Fees

late fees

Like any other business, cable companies are out to make money, so they’ll try their best to charge as many fees as possible. 

Just as you may be charged for early termination, you may also find yourself charged with a late fee if you don’t make your monthly payment by the due date.

These fees can be frustrating, especially considering that you usually make late payments when you’re having trouble paying the bills, meaning you’re essentially being charged extra for not being able to pay.

What you can do about it

If you’re charged a late fee, you can always call and ask for the fee to be waived. 

This won’t always work, but under certain circumstances, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting out of a late fee, especially if you’ve generally been a good customer or have a good reason for missing the payment.

For instance, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Comcast announced they would be waiving late fees for any customers with difficulties paying who contacted Comcast directly.

Of course, Comcast is probably relying on the fact that only a few customers will know about this policy, and other companies may have different policies on the matter. 

Nevertheless, there’s a good chance that your cable company will work with you if you reach out about late fees or other charges and are willing to advocate for yourself.

Related: How to Remove Late Payments From Your Credit Report

Way #5: Other Charges and Hidden Fees

hidden fees cable companies charge
While early termination fees and late fees are the most common additional fees charged by cable companies, they’re not the only ways you can get overcharged by your provider. 

I’ve seen a vast array of hidden fees and unreasonable charges that cable companies hope that customers won’t fight or even be aware of.

In fact, a 2016 report by U.S. senators Rob Portman (R) and Claire McCaskill (D) found evidence of widespread overcharging on the part of cable providers. 

For example, they found that Time Warner overcharged customers a total of about $2,000,000 per year.

As one would expect, all companies involved attempted to distance themselves from these findings by discussing changes in their practices. 

It’s been a few years since then, but while some of the problems may have been dealt with, it’s still an open secret that cable companies aren’t exactly trying to help customers save money.

What you can do about it

Again, the exact fees will vary depending on your provider, but it’s critical to be vigilant about extra charges when you’re trying to budget. 

And, as before, if you find you’re being overcharged, it’s extremely important that you advocate for yourself; in my experience, a little bit of pushing back goes a long way when you’re dealing with a company who wants to keep your business.

Related: Things You Should Always Negotiate

Beware: Who Knows What They’ll Come Up With Next

I’ve discussed the most common ways cable companies rip you off, but there’s almost no end to the ways cable companies will try to part you from your money. 

Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong way to approach cable; some of you may be happy with your current plan, and that’s great. 

Over the years, though, I’ve learned that it’s extremely easy for someone to lose track of how much they’re spending on various items unless they make a conscious effort to monitor their budget. 

And if you’ve had a cable subscription for a long time, then you probably aren’t thinking about your subscription that much.

Therefore, I highly recommend going through your statements, looking at your current plan, and researching alternatives in order to see if there’s a way to get what you want for less.



Logan Allec, CPA

Logan is a practicing CPA and founder of Choice Tax Relief and Money Done Right. After spending nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money, he launched his blog with the goal of helping everyday Americans earn, save, and invest more money. Learn more about Logan.

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