New iPhone season is upon us, and that means it's time to figure out what to do with your existing phone. Whether you'll be lining up to get an iPhone 13 soon, thinking of upgrading to the iPhone X or iPhone XS Max or waiting for a good price drop on the iPhone 12, the phone in your hand can be sold to help make that new iPhone that much more affordable. But with so many places out there accepting trade-ins or allowing you to list your phone for sale, it can be difficult to find the right option for you.
So let us do the work! Here's a collection of the best ways to get cash for your phone and what kind of payout you can expect.
Sell your old iPhone to help cover the costs of your new iPhone.Angela Lang/CNET
How to sell your old phone, option 1: Sell it to a buy-back service
Looking for a quick and easy option? Consider selling your old device to a buy-back service. Although it's not entirely without risk -- if the old iPhone isn't in the condition you said it was, for example if it is a broken iPhone, you may not get the full value quoted by the buyer -- it does minimize the time and hassle, especially compared with trying to sell it yourself on, say, eBay or Craigslist.
There are traditional trade-in options like those offered by Apple and Best Buy (see the next section), and then there are buy-and-sell marketplaces like those listed below. Before you spend a lot of time hopping from one to another to get quotes, head to Flipsy, which compares US trade-in values at multiple buy-back stores. It shows you the payment methods, price-lock duration (that's how long you have before you need to send the phone in) and price based on the condition of the old device. (Because each buyback program and store is little different when it comes to "condition" definitions, Flipsy doesn't drill down beyond phone model, carrier and storage.) SellCell is another price-comparison service for anyone looking to score top dollar for an old iPhone.
Flipsy makes it easy to compare buy-back rates and resale value from various services. Here, for example, you can see what an unlocked iPhone X might net you and what your options are.Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET
If you'd rather check out some individual marketplaces yourself, I've singled out some I think are worth a look. Based on what criteria? For starters, I looked for a TrustPilot "TrustScore" rating of at least 4.5 stars based on at least 500 user reviews. I also looked for speed and simplicity in obtaining a sample quote. My test subject: an unlocked 64GB Apple iPhone X in "good" condition. Note that the quotes listed here are what I received at the time of this writing; your mileage may vary.
Decluttr may have the fastest quote-generator of any buy-back site. You type the brand and model of your phone, choose it from the list that appears and presto: Instant quote. (You may have to click a few times to change the carrier and the phone's condition.) It's worth noting that Decluttr's "good" option is the best condition you can select; it might equate to "mint" or "excellent" elsewhere.
TrustPilot score: 4.5
iPhone 12 quote: $488
BuybackBoss made it easy to get a quote, with only one head-scratching moment along the way: choosing the condition of the phone. In between "mint" and "fair," you'd expect to find an option called "good." But instead, it says "used." I mean, they're all used.
TrustPilot score: 4.7
iPhone 12 quote: $445
Although GadgetGone may not have the name recognition of, say, Gazelle or Swappa, it has the highest TrustPilot score of the services I investigated for selling an Apple device, and it offered me the most cash for my iPhone model.
TrustPilot score: 4.8
iPhone 12 quote: $515
I'll give an honorable mention to Swappa, which has a sky-high TrustPilot score (4.9) but isn't really a buyback service. Rather, it's a marketplace designed to connect buyers and sellers. Think eBay, but with a focus on devices like your iPad, iPhone or other Apple product. To list your older iPhone (which doesn't guarantee a sale), you must first create a Swappa account and then connect a PayPal account. You also set your asking price, which necessarily includes a sale fee, but not any additional PayPal fees that may apply.
Worth the extra effort? Perhaps: Swappa recommended a sale price of $426 for my iPhone, while noting that the same phone had recently sold for $345 -- still higher than most buy-back services. But a marketplace is almost always going to net you a higher profit (see below).
How to sell your old phone, option 2: Trade it for credit toward a new one
Want to cut out the middleman, so to speak? You can start by going back to the source. That can be either the manufacturer or a big-box retailer, the largest of which generally offer solid trade-in options for a new device. Consider two of the biggest fish in the pond: Apple and Best Buy.
Apple's iPhone trade-in program offers an easy way to better afford a new iPhone, as phone trades net you Apple Store credit.
For example, here are the current estimated trade-in values for select models, all of them in "good" condition:iPhone 8: Up to $120
iPhone X: Up to $220iPhone 11: Up to $390
Those rates are reasonably competitive, but you should definitely shop around. Apple's trade-in program doesn't factor in how much storage your phone has, however, so an iPhone X with 64GB will net you the same trade-in value as one with 256GB -- which is very different elsewhere.
Best Buy offers a trade-in program as well; at press time, a 64GB iPhone 12 in good condition would fetch you $520. (Taking an unfortunate cue from Apple, the 256GB model doesn't raise the value.) Curiously, the Best Buy trade-in program doesn't accept unlocked-iPhone trades, only those that come from one of the Big Four carriers. I selected AT&T for my quotes.
As with Apple, your Best Buy phone trade-in results in a Best Buy gift card -- fine if you're a Best Buy fan, or plan to buy your next iPhone there. There will occasionally be additional promotional offers from Best Buy, which can add value to the trade-in.
The key takeaway here: Shop around. There are plenty of services with program options that will buy your old iPhone or take it in trade, but you might do better selling it yourself.
How to sell your old phone, option 3: Sell it yourself
Selling an iPhone yourself will usually net you the most profit, but it's not without risks and hassles.
Craigslist is probably the riskiest option, but buyers will pay cold, hard cash for iOS and Android devices. The biggest challenge here isn't finding customers -- it's getting them to show up. Be prepared for flakes.
If you do decide to use Craigslist or another in-person option to sell an iOS device, make sure you meet your buyer in a well-lit, public place (many police departments offer their parking lots as transaction sites). For the smoothest transaction, make the agreement clear prior to meeting -- your customer should know the price, the condition of the phone and its wireless carrier (especially if the phone isn't unlocked) in advance.
I consider this a big step up from Craigslist, because not only are your listings free, but Facebook removes much of the anonymity from the transaction of your Apple gadget. You can check the profile of any interested buyer. You can also control where your listing is seen and by whom. I've sold lots of items this way, and while I've had my share of last-minute no-shows, most of the transactions worked out well.
If you don't mind putting in a little work -- listing, shipping and paying a small sales fee -- eBay is arguably a better place to sell a used phone than either Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. That's because it offers purchase protection, which makes people more comfortable buying from strangers.
The downside? Fees. eBay charges a sales fee for products that are sold through its site: 10% of the final selling price.
To figure out a ballpark selling price for your device, search for your model and check the "sold" listings.
If there's a downside to selling your iPhone on eBay, it's the potential risk of buyer's remorse. eBay offers protection to both the seller and buyer, but customer service tends to side with the buyer in the event of a dispute. Scammers know how to take advantage of this. You can minimize your risk by documenting everything (including taking photos or screenshots of the phone's IMEI number) and making sure to get signed proof of delivery.
When to sell your old iPhone: Right now
Your old phone is losing value by the day. In fact, it's estimated that within 24 hours of a new iPhone's unveiling, your old phone loses up to 30% of its trade-in value.
One concern is that if you sell your old smartphone immediately, you'll be phoneless until the new one arrives. Thankfully, many of the aforementioned buy-back and trade-in services give you a grace period (also known as a "price lock") of up 30 days after selling your phone before you have to send it in -- time enough, hopefully, to purchase and receive your new phone and get everything migrated over (including the SIM card -- don't forget that!).
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What to know before you sell your old iPhone
Whether you sell by yourself or trade to a third-party company, make sure you prep your iPhone properly before selling it. Here are some tips:Back it up: Back up all of your important data -- including contact, photos, videos and apps -- using Apple's iCloud service or a third-party cloud storage service.Turn off Find My: Apple's Find My app (formerly known as Find My iPhone) is a security feature that must be turned off before you sell your phone -- or nobody else will be able to use or reset it. To turn off Find My, open the Settings app on your iPhone and go to Settings > [Your username] > Find My and turn it off.Wipe it: Sign out of all apps, services and connected accounts (like your iCloud account). Then, open the Settings app and go to General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings to erase everything from your iPhone. Once this is complete, you can also go to General > Reset > Reset All Settings to restore the iPhone to factory settings, just in case.Remove the SIM card: Don't forget to pop out your SIM card, which you'll likely need for the new phone to keep your existing number and service.
You'll receive the most money for your phone if it's in tip-top shape, but you can still do well if it's in "good" condition: No cracked screen, no big dents or scratches in the casing, no water damage, and everything working well (meaning the phone turns on, holds a charge and so forth).
If your phone is damaged, you can probably still get something for it, even if the device doesn't turn on. It's not worth it to repair a cracked phone screen before you sell, but if your screen is only slightly damaged -- a small hairline crack in the corner, for example -- you may want to sell it on your own instead of trading it in. An individual may be willing to overlook superficial screen damage for a good price.
Have you already been through this sell-old-to-buy-new process with a past phone or device? What option did you choose, and how was the experience? Tell us about it in the comments!
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This post was published previously and has been updated with new information.
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