Be honest: How many old iPhones do you have stashed in drawers or closets around your home? For some of us, the answer is "far too many."
There are so many reasons we all hang on to our old cell phones, including not wanting to take the time to wipe them clean of personal data—and fear of losing all those treasured photos you haven't uploaded to the Cloud or saved on a hard drive yet.
The thing is, if you can bear to part with your old phone, then trading it in can be a pretty smart financial move. There are a variety of trade-in programs that provide cash, gift cards, or credit toward a new phone. The most well-known route is Apple's own trade-in program, but that's hardly the only choice. Here are some of the trade-in options for your old iPhone—and a closer look at how each approach can save you money.
Apple's trade-in program
Though Apple's trade-in program may be the most familiar or widely recognized, it's not necessarily the most lucrative approach for offloading an old phone.
Apple gives customers credit toward another purchase, or an Apple gift card that can be used anytime. The amount of money you'll receive depends on the device and its condition. As the Apple website explains, an iPhone 12 Pro Max trade-in can fetch as much as $790 toward a new purchase or gift card, while an iPhone 12 Pro will earn you as much as $640. As you would expect, the estimated trade-in value decreases with older models. The iPhone 11 Pro Max has an estimated trade-in value of $500, while the iPhone X is worth about $200 and the iPhone 8 Plus, just $180.
Apple's trade-in program appears to draw the line after iPhone 6s and does not publicly list trade-in prices for older phones. (And the iPhone 6s, by the way, only amounts to about $30 toward a new purchase or gift card.)
"When trading your phone in with Apple, you may not necessarily get the highest amount of money, but for some people, it can be the easiest approach," says Shara Tibken, a senior reporter for CNET News.
Trading your phone in with a cell phone service provider appears to be a downright bonanza at the moment, because these companies (especially AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile) want—and are competing fiercely—for your business.
"Carriers are offering extremely aggressive trade-in deals this year," says Tibken. "If you're trading in an iPhone 11, you can basically get an iPhone 13 for free, for example."
As CNET explains in its own recent article on carrier trade-ins AT&T appears to have started the trade-in wars: "AT&T came out of the gate with the best trade-in offer of the season, essentially giving away the iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 13 Mini for a starting price that can go as low as 'free' to new and existing customers."
Not long after, Verizon followed suit, essentially matching the AT&T deal. There are, of course, various conditions to qualifying for such a deal, Tibken cautions. For instance, AT&T customers must have an unlimited phone plan with the provider to qualify. The condition of your trade-in also matters. It must be in good, working condition.
Tibken also explains that you will not get the full value of the new phone immediately. In the case of AT&T once again, you will get a credit on your monthly bill for the next three years. (This is the carrier's way of keeping you among their customer base for the long haul.) Changing carriers early will require paying off the remaining balance of the phone.
There's one more reason why carriers are willing to go above and beyond right now with their trade-in offers, says Tibken: They've spent a fortune on building 5G networks, and they need all of us to have newer phones that will make the most of the new network.
"The trade-in deals are far more aggressive than in the past, and that's a reflection of the fact that the carriers want everyone on 5G because they invested a lot of money building out the network," says Tibken. "The trade-in deals are a way to entice customers who maybe weren't planning to upgrade, and when you do, the carriers lock you in with an extended contract."
Apple's trade-in program and the carrier trade-in offers are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to getting some value out of your old phone. There's a variety of third-party trade-in options as well. These include places like Best Buy, GameStop, and online services like uSell or Decluttr, says Steven Winkelman, mobile analyst for PCMag.
Best Buy, for instance, allows you to trade the phone in at one of its store locations or mail it in. In exchange, Best Buy will provide a digital gift card.
Using Decluttr, meanwhile, you provide information about the make, model and condition of your phone, and the site gives you an instant price. That price is locked in for 28 days, giving you time to find a new phone. uSell is another online option. The site promises immediate offers for your device. But in the case of uSell, the offers come from a network of trusted, professional buyers.
With all the different types of trade-in programs, it takes a little legwork to find one that offers the best deal for you, says Winkelman.
"Your best bet is to start your research online and see how much each company will offer," suggests Winkelman. "Once you have an idea of what's being offered, keep the top two or three prospects in mind and make a [game] plan."
Pro tips for getting the most out of your trade-in
If you live in a region where it is possible to do an in-store trade-in of your old phone (as opposed to online trade-in services), that may be your best bet.
"If you trade your phone through an online service, you're often at the mercy of a single inspector," explains Winkelman. "If you do so in-store, you can often ask the representative how they would classify your iPhone's condition before they start running diagnostics."
If the in-store representative does not give you what you feel is a fair assessment of the phone's condition, you can always try a different store location, or even come back to the same store on a different day.
"More times than not, two different people will provide much different assessments of the same device," says Winkelman.
And here's another valuable tip from Winkelman: If your phone is old or damaged, you're more likely to get the best deal for it through a cell phone service carrier.
"Carriers are willing to lose a little money if it means tying you into a multi-year service agreement," says Winkelman.
"For example, a 64GB Pixel 3a cost $399 when it was released in 2019. If you trade it in through one of the large online companies, you'll get about $15 to $25. Verizon offers $400 for the same phone," adds Winkelman.
Finally, says Winkelman, if you have more than one old phone sitting in a drawer, try trading in all of them to see which one offers the best deal. In some states, Verizon and other carriers allow you to stack trade-in offers to save even more money.
Whatever option you choose, be sure to prepare your phone properly before handing it over to someone else, including wiping it clean of all personal information and data.