During the spring and fall, companies announce their new electronics, including smartphones. A few months later, the rush for preorders begins.

If you want a new phone but are short on money for it, you have likely started strategizing ways to afford a new device. Many people sell their old phones, so they have a few hundred dollars to put toward a new phone. Others trade in their old phones to the manufacturer or their cellphone carrier and then get a new device. There are many benefits to both approaches, but which option has the best financial value?

  • Trading in your old phone: If your older phone is in good shape and works, you can easily trade the device back to your phone carrier or sometimes to the manufacturer for credit toward a new device. Sometimes, you can take the device to a third-party seller and get store credit, which can be put toward the purchase of a new model smartphone.

    The simplest way to trade in your old phone is to go into the store, in person. You can sometimes ship the device back to your phone carrier or the device manufacturer. With the mail-in trade, you will be responsible for shipping costs.

  • Selling your old phone: Depending on how old your current phone is, you may get more money by selling it outright, either yourself or with the help of a third party. This is a great option if you want to switch phone carriers or get a model of phone that is not supplied by your cellphone provider.

    You will have to make sure all your important contacts and messages are backed up and that any personal information is wiped clean off the phone. You might also need to factory reset the device before selling it. This requires some time and effort on your part, while trading the device in means that your phone carrier will do this for you, which might be safer and more effective.

Trading in Your Phone Is Very Convenient

If you’re curious whether your phone is worth enough money to be worth trading in instead of selling, there is an easy way to find out. Many phone companies offer device appraisal pages, in which they ask you questions about the condition of your phone. These questions will start with the manufacturer of your device, how old it is, and if there are any scratches or software problems.

All major phone service providers want your business, so they offer great incentives to trade in your phone rather than selling it outright. For example, phone carriers love new customers, so many will offer good deals on trading in your old phone for a new one when you switch over. They can even help port your data off your SIM card or from your phone’s hard drive to a new device. You do not have to worry about transferring any data yourself or about important information like photos or phone numbers getting lost.

So, if you have an old LG smartphone and you want the Samsung Galaxy S9, but your current carrier does not offer this device, you can easily switch to a new carrier that has the latest Samsung Android phone. You can likely get a discount on your phone bill too.

Customers who are loyal to their phone carriers can get good deals on upgrade plans. For example, if you love iPhones, your carrier may offer to automatically upgrade you to the next device as soon as it is available for a small addition to your regular monthly phone bill. Like other trade-ins, your personal information is easily ported over to the new device. These plans are so convenient for people who love new technology that you don’t even have to keep up with the latest electronics news.

There are downsides to trade-ins. If you do not want to go into the store and opt to send your phone back through the mail, it could get lost. Your carrier may charge you when they do not receive the phone, and it could take several calls to customer service to have charges dropped or reversed. You will have to prove that you mailed the phone and are not attempting to defraud the company.

Selling Your Phone Is the Best Financial Value

Trading in your phone does not get you cash in hand. As long as you own your phone outright and do not have monthly payments left, you can probably sell your old, good-condition phone to another person directly or through a third party for more money than a trade-in.

While phone carriers want you to stick with them, they provide convenience, but not good financial value. They are likely to value a trade-in phone $100 to $300 less than it might be worth to someone who will purchase it from you through a third-party website.

You may have to remove all information from your phone yourself. You may also have to live without a smartphone or with a borrowed phone for a few weeks as you wait for your new phone, but you can get as much as $500 for a two-year-old phone.

If you want to make the most from selling your phone, follow these steps:

  • Unlock your phone.
  • Make sure it is like-new.
  • Only sell phones that are no more than two years old.
  • Remove any personalization on the device.

Value can depend on the time of year you sell. When you hear that the new Google Pixel will be released soon, for example, you and everyone else will be excited about this new device, which makes selling an old Android phone much harder. When iPhone releases information about their new smartphones, values of older iPhones go down. Don’t sell your phone quickly as a reaction to new technology news. Get the right information about when and how to sell your phone so you get the most value.

If you choose to sell your phone directly to another customer, you may have to unlock the phone. This allows anyone to put in their own SIM card for their phone carrier rather than using a specific phone service. When you trade in your device, you do not have to worry about technical details like this. An unlocked phone can sell for nearly $500, depending on its age, condition, and manufacturer, while the trade-in value is likely to be about half of that.

If your phone is in bad condition or has too many personalized aftermarket pieces on it, no one will accept it unless you sell it for parts. This may be a good option for phones that are more than two years old too. Almost no one wants to purchase, or take as a trade-in, a phone that has been used for more than two years.

Which Approach Is Better for Me?

You will not get the amount of money you paid for your phone at first since all phones begin to lose value as soon as they are used. You can get about 53 percent of the cost of your old phone if you sell it yourself, while you may get as much as 41 percent of the value when you trade it in.

Ultimately, the decision to trade in your phone versus selling it yourself depends on how much money you want compared to how much convenience you need.

Trading the device in for a new one and staying with your current phone carrier or shopping for a good deal with a new carrier makes sense. You do not have to worry about personal information, everything is ported over for you, and all you have to do is sign a few documents. But you will never get a lot of financial value for your phone in these situations, no matter how good the new customer deal.

You can also choose a site that handles the whole process for you. Some sites that sell refurbished phones will wipe the data for you so you don’t have to. They can give good value for your phone with the convenience of handling the process for you.

If you want as much of the original cost of your phone as possible, refurbishing and selling it is the best bet.


Trade in Your Device. T-Mobile Support.

iPhone Trade In: The Best Ways to Sell or Trade In Your Old iPhone. (September 11, 2018). CNET.

How to Sell Your Old Phone Safely. (May 1, 2018). The New York Times.

The Math They Don’t Want You to See: iPhone Carrier Trade-Ins Are Always a Bad Idea. (January 21, 2016). BGR.

How to Sell Your Phone for the Most Money. (March 21, 2016). Techlicious.