How To: Get the Most Value from Your iPhone Trade-In

Get the Most Value from Your iPhone Trade-In

Phones these days are expensive. The iPhone 11 Pro is presumed to start at $999, following the iPhone XS and iPhone X's leads. One way to bring down that cost is to trade in your old iPhone, but there isn't one clear-cut way to do that. You could trade your iPhone into a participating website or put yourself out there and sell the iPhone on your own. It's all about what's best for you.

But why start thinking about trade-ins now? After all, Apple hasn't released or even announced the new iPhones yet. Shouldn't you wait until you buy a new phone to sell the old one? Here's the thing — if you want the best deal on your iPhone, you'll want to plan ahead. Based on data provided by BankMyCell, we've seen iPhones lose up to 26.9% of their value in the three months following a new iPhone release. If you want to avoid that depreciation, you need to get into the trade-in game early.

Getting Started

Right off the bat, you should know that your iPhone's current condition is going to have a significant impact on its value no matter where you go to sell it. BankMyCell states the average iPhone can lose 23% of its value due to scratches, with percentages ranging from 11.1% to 34.9% based on your given model. That's not to mention more serious cosmetic damage, like a broken display. While some of the quoted prices below might seem fantastic, know it's all contingent on how well you've taken care of your iPhone.

To snag the best price, you might want to consider carrier-unlocking your device. A locked device is often worth less than an unlocked one since a locked device will only work with a specific carrier. According to BankMyCell, you can lose up to 24.5% of your iPhone's resale value by keeping it locked to AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint, and up to 51.9% on smaller carriers. That said, Verizon's trade-in values are usually well matched with unlocked quotes, so keep that in mind when comparing prices.

Image via BankMyCell

Before continuing, look into the iPhone Upgrade Program from Apple and see if it's a good match for you. If you use one of the four major US carriers, you can trade your current iPhone into Apple, then sign up for a zero-percent loan for the new iPhone. The benefit of that is that AppleCare+ is included, it's a fair monthly payment with no interest, and you can trade in your new iPhone after a year's worth of payments to get the next iPhone model more easily with the same deal.

Option 1: Sell It Yourself

There's no doubt that using a trade-in website saves time and hassle, as we'll dive into below. But there are real benefits to rolling up your sleeves and selling your iPhone yourself using sites like eBay or Swappa.

Pros

On these sites, you set your own price, meaning you can ask for more than trade-in sites will give you. While you can't just charge anything and expect to sell an old iPhone, you will see iPhone models selling for more than notable resellers offer you. For example, as of this publication, an iPhone 8 Plus will net you well over $400 on eBay, in some cases reaching nearly $500. On Swappa, the average price sold for a 256 GB model in July was $509. That'll cut a brand new iPhone 11 Pro's cost in half.

You can see how iPhone 8 Plus prices on Swappa have changed since February of this year. Image via Swappa

These sites will also pay out in cash, not credit. That means you can take your money and spend it on the new iPhone wherever you'd like. If one outlet is offering a better deal on the 11 Pro, you can buy it there. If you had in-store credit for your trade-in, you'd be tied to that specific store to spend your money.

Cons

Here's the problem — to take full advantage of these higher prices, you'll need to sell your iPhone before the new ones drop. Once Apple releases this year's batch of iOS devices, your device's value will instantly decrease, so selling ahead of time ensures the price you see today is the price you'll get. The iPhone X lost $138 in value in the three months following last year's iPhones were released, compared to the $62 it lost in the previous nine months.

Image via BankMyCell

BankMyCell predicts you could lose up to $218 by waiting until December to trade-in your current iPhone. The newest iPhone models see the biggest depreciation, while older ones see a smaller drop. Still, the forecast shows why selling your iPhone before the new ones come out is essential for maximizing its value.

Image via BankMyCell

Selling your iPhone before the new model you're after is available may range from inconvenient to impossible depending on your access to a secondary device.

Option 2: Trade in to Apple with One of Two Methods

Apple currently offers two ways to make money on your old iPhone — you can either trade in your old iPhone for a new iPhone or for a fixed price (in-store credit). What makes these options different? Let's take a look:

1. Trade in for a New iPhone

To take advantage of this deal, you'll need to trade in your old iPhone when you buy a new one. Apple accepts these trade-ins both online and in stores, so you can use this method whether you prefer to shop online or in person.

Pros

Apple actually gives you a bit more money for your old iPhone if you trade it in for a new one versus trading it in for a fixed price. For example, you currently get $60 more for trading in an iPhone 8 Plus for a new iPhone rather than taking an in-store credit. You just hand over your iPhone, pay the remainder, and poof — new iPhone in return.

Cons

Because you need to buy an iPhone with this trade-in method, you won't be able to take advantage of this plan until after the new iPhones come out. We already know that iPhone values tank when new ones release, so you won't get as much for your iPhone as you would today.

It's tough to say exactly how much Apple drops its trade-in prices, but consider this — you could snag $290 for an iPhone 7 Plus in August of last year. Now, you get $210 with a fixed-price trade-in. If this depreciation is consistent, Apple could drop its trade-in prices by $80 next year. It's not a guarantee, but something to keep in mind.

2. Trade in for a Fixed Price

Apple's other trade-in plan offers you a fixed price for your iPhone, without the need to buy an iPhone to claim the reward. Again, Apple accepts this plan in stores and online, so it's just as easy to use as its other plan.

Pros

Unlike Apple's other trade-in method, you can open Apple's trade-in site right now and get money for your current iPhone's value. An iPhone 8 Plus is valued at $290 with this method. That's $290 in your pocket today. Compare that to trading in your iPhone for a new one next month — you have no idea what Apple will offer you.

Cons

There's no denying other methods on this list can get you more money for your iPhone. When you compare the best-case scenario for an iPhone 8 Plus on Swappa ($509) to Apple's offer here ($290), it's a bit hard to stomach.

On top of that, this offer results in an Apple Store Gift Card, not cash. That means you'll need to buy your next iPhone through Apple. If you prefer to buy your iPhones through Apple, great. Just know if you find a better deal elsewhere, you won't be able to take advantage of it with your Apple Store Gift Card.

Option 3: Trade in with Your Carrier

In the US, the four main carriers — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile — are always vying for your iPhone business. As such, you might find trading in with your carrier to be the best deal for you.

Pros

Sometimes, carriers have great trade-in deals that offer more than just discounts on a new phone. You might find a promotion that offers a free iPhone in exchange for your old one, a discounted cellular plan, etc. It all depends on what your carrier is offering, so it's always good to check with them.

Verizon's various offers when trading-in an old iPhone.

Cons

Like Apple, carriers don't offer the best prices around for your used iPhone. BankMyCell's research shows that an iPhone X (256 GB) will lose an average of 30% by going through the carriers. Here's what each carrier offers as a maximum for a used iPhone X (256 GB):

  • AT&T: $370
  • Verizon: $360
  • Sprint: $360
  • T-Mobile: $360

For context, Apple offers $400, while a third-party site like Decluttr offers $482. In addition, those prices go towards in-store credit, not cash. In that case, if you want to use your trade-in money to buy a new iPhone, you'll need to do so with your carrier.

Option 4: Trade in with a Third-Party Site

Third-party trade-in sites can be valuable tools for selling your used iPhones. They're a bit of a happy medium between the freedom and wildness of eBay and the organization of Apple. Let's see if these sites could be right for you:

Pros

A third-party site like Gazelle can offer you more money for your iPhone than Apple or the carriers. Right now, you can get up to $357 for your iPhone 8 Plus on Gazelle. Apple will only give you $290. And that's $357 in cash, not in Gazelle credit. So you can spend your old iPhone earnings wherever you find the best deal on a new one.

Alternatively, a site like BankMyCell will connect you with resellers like Decluttr to sell your iPhone. Like Gazelle, BankMyCell presents you with a quote and, if satisfied, you can ship your iPhone to the seller of your choosing. Right now, you can get up to $372 on an iPhone 8 Plus.

Whichever option you choose, know it's worth shopping around. Prices for iPhones vary wildly across the internet, so you never know where you're going to find the best deal. There's currently a $140 quote disparity for iPhone XS Max between BankMyCell's list of resellers, with the average iPhone losing up to 26.5% in value.

Image via BankMyCell

Cons

The major drawback here is the same one that we've seen from resale sites — iPhone values go down, so you need to act now to secure the best deal. That, of course, means going iPhone-less while you wait for the new iPhone to come out. Or does it?

Pro Tip: Lock in Your iPhone's Current Value Now

The real issue here is balancing the highest value you can get for your iPhone, while also still having an iPhone while you wait for your new one. Gazelle actually bridges that gap — its new promotion lets you lock in your iPhone's current value, even if it drops down the line. Not only that, you're able to wait until you get your new iPhone before mailing out your old one.

Gazelle's promotion starts Sept. 3 and runs until Sept. 17. All you need to do is get a trade-in quote through Gazelle during this timeframe, then ship out your iPhone by Oct. 18. The delay gives you time to get your new iPhone before parting with your old one.

Locate your iPhone model in our list below, then simply answer Gazelle's questions about your device to receive a quote. If you're happy with the quote, you can click or tap "Get Paid," then enter your email address to begin the process.

BankMyCell offers a similar deal. If you find a deal you like, you can lock-in that price as well. However, while BankMyCell advertises a 30-day lock-in policy, that isn't really the case. Thirty days is the average offer across the stores BankMyCell partners with. For example, Decluttr offers 28-day lock-ins, which you'd only know by heading to Decluttr's site and doing the research yourself. Just make sure you're checking up on your seller's policy instead of relying on the 30-day average.

In all likelihood, you won't need that long anyway. If you lock in a price today, you'll have plenty of time to ship out your old iPhone by the time the iPhone 11 comes out on Sept. 20.

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Cover image by Apple/YouTube

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