America’s junk drawers are overflowing with old smartphones, sitting right next to all of the old charging cords. But unlike those cables, the phones are worth money.
If you’re buying a new smartphone, the best thing to do with the old one could be to sell it or trade it in. If you have an iPhone, you can do this through the Apple website. And you can trade in any type of used smartphone at retailers, including Best Buy, or through the carrier where you’re buying a new phone.
Here’s what you need to know. (Check out our advice on buying a used smartphone.)
Selling to a Retailer
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A number of retailers and websites buy used phones, with the price you'll get varying widely.
For instance, Gazelle.com quoted me $160 for my iPhone 6 Plus, and BestBuy.com’s Trade-In program estimated I'd get $200.
In the end, it costs nothing to price a phone, and it’s certainly educational, so approach a few potential buyers. Other retailers with trade-in programs include Amazon and Apple. Additionally, ecoATM kiosks around the country will scan your used smartphone and buy it on the spot.
Finding an Individual Buyer
You might be able to squeeze an additional $50 or $100 out of a used smartphone by selling it yourself on eBay or a similar site. But a smartphone is more complicated to list for sale than most of the other used items you see on such sites.
You’ll have to post quite a bit of information. In addition to the model name, list the carrier you used the phone with, storage capacities, camera resolution, display size, and other common specs. Also include the manufacturer part number (usually a string of letters and numbers, such as MG4W2LL/A for an AT&T iPhone 6).
Also, make sure the phone is unlocked. Most phones are locked to the carrier’s network and to the account of the first owner. The carrier needs to unlock the phone, but it will do that only if you've met the terms of the contract or paid off the phone. Carriers won't unlock any phone that has been reported lost or stolen.
Deleting Your Data
It's important to wipe the slate clean. Whether you're selling a used smartphone or trading it in, you should first clear off all your personal information. A factory data reset should remove photos, email, apps, and so on that you don’t want to fall into other hands.
On Android phones, you'll usually find the Reset option under Backup in the Settings menu. (Android features vary somewhat from one phone brand and carrier to the next.)
On an iPhone, open Settings, then General to find the Reset control. You'll also have an additional task. Most iPhones (those running iOS 7 or later) have an anti-theft feature called Activation Lock that ties the phone to a specific Apple ID. To release your iPhone so that another person can use it, log into your iCloud account, select All Devices, then choose the phone to be removed. From there, simply follow the prompts.
Trading In Your Phone
Cellular providers often take trade-ins to lure phone customers away from one another.
Just don’t expect to get anything close to what you originally paid. For example, Verizon recently offered me $165 toward a new phone in exchange for my gold-colored, 64GB iPhone 6 Plus from AT&T, which originally cost me $700. Sprint offered just $75.
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