The iPhone has become an incredibly popular device, and the iPhone 12 is our top pick for a smartphone. It’s not cheap, though, whether you’re upgrading to a new one or aiming to replace one that is broken.
If you don’t have Apple Care or the budget to fix a broken iPhone — or worse, replace a lost or stolen one — that makes the situation worse. The iPhone 12 family starts at $699 for the 12 Mini, $799 for the 12, $999 for the 12 Pro and $1,099 for the 12 Pro Max. The affordable and feature-filled iPhone SE starts at $399.
Luckily, though, there are a few ways to get a new iPhone for less. If you still have your older model, you can trade it in to get cash or a credit to put toward a new iPhone. That’s an especially keen option if you’re looking to score the much-anticipated iPhone 13. Or you can opt to replace a broken or lost iPhone with a used or refurbished model.
Used vs. refurbished
Whatever your reason for needing a new iPhone, you may wonder what the difference is between used and refurbished.
A used iPhone is essentially being sold as is, with a restored software experience. It generally falls to the seller to provide images of the device so you can see if it has any scratches or cosmetic issues. The listing should also say if there’s a feature that doesn’t work, like a cracked screen or foggy front-facing camera.
A refurbished iPhone has gone through diagnostic tests to make sure it meets the standards for sellable condition. In some cases, these might be returned iPhones or ones that were broken and have been repaired. An additional factory-refurbished warranty might be included, depending on where you get it.
Whether you go for used or refurbished, you need to be sure you know what you’re getting. If you plan on purchasing from Decluttr, It’s Worth More, certain eBay sellers, a wireless carrier or even Apple, this is less of a concern. These select eBay users would be wireless carriers and big-box electronic retailers, such as Verizon, that operate stores on the site. Buying from a true third-party seller, like an individual on eBay or Swappa, will require some due diligence.
Know what you’re getting
Results will undoubtedly vary with used iPhones on eBay, but you can increase your chances of a positive experience by performing a few checks. On any bidding site, you’ll want to steer away from listings that use promo photos. With these, you have no idea what the actual phone you’re bidding on looks like. The seller will still likely list a condition, but you have to be a bit wary of these. It’s worth a shot to ping the seller and ask for a photo, but looking for alternatives is an equally wise move.
Knowing the network bands is as important as seeing the device. There are many iPhone models under each generation (6, 6s, 7, 8), and you’ll want to make sure a particular phone will work on your network. Most sellers will list this and make it clear in the title, and when searching on eBay, typing, for example, “iPhone 7 AT&T” should bring up the right results.
Some iPhones might be listed as CDMA or GSM only, and these are just fancy terms for the type of antenna bands inside. In the United States, AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM, while Verizon and Sprint use CDMA. It’s how your phone talks and uses the network.
The third option is unlocked, and these iPhones will work just fine across all the major US networks. Keep in mind that the iPhone 12 family all feature the proper bands, but in some cases a carrier will lock the phone to a specific network.
Now that you have your checklist, you’re ready to find your new-to-you used iPhone. Here are a few places to start:
If you want to knock out two birds with one stone, Decluttr might be the best option. Not only can you trade in an iPhone or other used smartphone, the site also sells refurbished devices. Decluttr has a proprietary check for testing the devices and ensuring they work, plus you can choose from a variety of conditions they might be in, along with storage size, screen size and color. And if you have unwanted CDs, DVDs, other electronics and even Legos around the house, you can send them in for cash. Decluttr doesn’t provide a box, but you will get a prepaid shipping label so they can evaluate the goods.
Not the wild animal, but the site to buy and sell used electronics. Gazelle has a large number of certified devices, since it buys used models from consumers. Before these iPhones go on sale, they pass a proprietary 30-point inspection to ensure they’re in good condition. Each iPhone listing clearly says which carriers it will work on, the condition, storage size and color. Big thumbs-up to Gazelle for putting this info front and center, plus the site includes customer reviews. You can of course trade in your current iPhone to Gazelle to get cash for the device, making the iPhone 12 a bit more affordable.
Across the online auction site, you’ll find thousands of iPhones in a range of conditions, dating back to the original model (yep, the one from 2007). We’d advise going a little more recent, like a device that can handle 4G to set you up for the future. Luckily, the site has a dedicated page where you can quickly start your search by clicking on the iPhone model you’d like.
It starts with a simple search that can be as wide as “iPhone” or as precise as “T-Mobile 64GB iPhone 7 Plus jet black.” Whatever it might be, triple check the photo to see the condition and the network bands. Unless it’s being sold from a carrier’s eBay store, you likely won’t get a warranty on the device.
Wireless carriers routinely offer refurbished iPhones. Similar to Gazelle, these go through a testing process by the carrier to ensure proper functioning. The stock supply from carriers can be limited; for instance, when the XS and XS Max launched, there was a bit of a rush for refurbished iPhone Xs, since that model was discontinued.
The iPhone 6 is still in somewhat hot demand since it has a headphone jack. For instance, AT&T’s online store has a solid selection. But if none are listed, it can’t hurt to call telesales or visit a store.
If you’re looking for a new iPhone and don’t want to break the bank, the iPhone SE deserves a look. Most importantly, it would be a brand-new unit. For $399, you get the same processor as the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, a single lens that can shoot portrait mode and all-day battery life.
If you want the 12 Mini, 12, 12 Pro or 12 Pro Max, your best bet is trading in your current iPhone. Carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are all offering incentives on older models that are eligible for trade-in. You can also trade in your iPhone to a service like Decluttr or Gazelle. Currently, you can score an additional 10% (up to $30) on your trade-in at Decluttr with code CNNJAN10.
And if you want an 11 or 11 Pro, but not at full price, you can visit Apple’s refurbished phone store. It offers a minimal selection that includes only the iPhone X, XS and XS Max. However, these devices have all been checked by Apple, are unlocked and come with a one-year warranty. The savings vary from $80 to a maximum $220 off.
What about trade-ins?
Whether you want to sell an older iPhone that’s collecting dust or want to put some cash toward a new device, you can easily do it through many of the retailers above. Services like Decluttr and It’s Worth More will send you a label and look over your phone. It generally takes just a day or two, and then you’ll get paid. Before even receiving the label, you’ll see an estimate as well.
This way, you can have some extra cash in your pocket or put it toward purchasing an iPhone. We’d also recommend checking with your cellular carrier to trade in and put that amount directly towards your new device payment. Similarly, when ordering directly through Apple, you’ll have the option to trade in a device.
Looking for more ways to save? Be sure to to check out CNN Coupons to find the latest deals.