Phone Trade-In vs. Selling: Which One Pays Off?

Should you sell your old phone or trade it in?

A man considers selling his phone.
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Hill Street Studios / Getty Images

For many people, a cellphone is the most important device they own. So, the prospect of upgrading your phone to a newer (or simply a different) model can be exciting. 

Many people trade in or sell their old phones to get some cash to help pay for their new device. There are advantages and disadvantages to trading in your phone or selling. Learn how to decide which is the better approach for you. 

How Does Trading in Your Phone Work?

If you're buying your new phone through the manufacturer or your wireless carrier, the simpler option may be to do a trade-in. 

Typically, you'll get an estimate of how much the phone is worth, and the carrier will provide a prepaid return kit or a shipping label so you don't have to pay to ship the device.

Once the carrier or manufacturer receives your phone, they'll provide a final value based on the condition of the phone. Then, depending on the company, you may receive the credit for the trade-in in the form of a refund to your credit card, credit toward your new device, or a gift card.

Trade-in programs may not include older phones. Apple’s trade-in program goes as far back as the iPhone 6 and iPhone SE (1st generation), but doesn’t include anything earlier than an iPhone 5.

For example, let's say you want to upgrade your iPhone 11, replacing it with an iPhone 12. You'd start by visiting Apple's trade-in page on its website, where you can see that the estimated trade-in value is up to $380.

You'll answer a few questions about the device's condition, year, and configuration. Apple will offer you an estimated trade-in price, along with several redemption options.

If you trade in your phone at an Apple brick-and-mortar location, you can choose an instant credit for an in-store purchase or a gift card. If you do the trade-in online, you can choose a gift card or a credit toward an Apple purchase that Apple gives you after they receive your phone and inspect it.

The company will send you a prepaid shipping label or trade-in kit, which you'll use to send the device. Once Apple receives the device, it'll evaluate it, and you may get a revised estimate offer if the condition is different than what you described. At that point, you'll have the chance to accept or reject the new offer.

If you accept, Apple will charge or credit the difference to your credit or debit card. If you reject, the company will return the phone to you at no charge.

Pros and Cons of Trading in Your Phone

Pros
  • Simple and convenient

  • You don't have to figure out pricing and where to sell your phone

  • No logistics hassles like shipping or meeting up with interested buyers.

Cons
  • Older phones may not be eligible for trade-in

  • Prices aren't as high as what you'd get from selling your phone

How Does Selling Your Phone Work?

Selling your phone instead of trading it in requires more legwork, but it could result in more cash in your pocket, which you can put toward your new phone or recoup some of its cost if you already purchased it.

There are several places where you can sell your iPhone or Android device, including:

  • eBay
  • Craigslist
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • OfferUp
  • Nextdoor
  • Local classifieds

eBay will take a 10.2% fee out of your final sale price, but it provides shipping discounts and puts your item in front of a big audience.

Try searching for the same model phone by providing some information about your device, including the manufacturer, unlocked status, storage capacity, color, condition, and accessories. Once you enter all of the relevant information, you can see what other eBay sellers are listing their items for and where they have sold.

Let's say you have the same iPhone 11 as above. It's unlocked, has the maximum storage capacity, and is in good condition, which means it has some scratches, chips, or dents. According to eBay, the trending price is $580, a full $200 more than the maximum Apple would offer if you were to do a trade-in.

In contrast, the other platforms are usually free and reach a local audience that won’t require the hassle and cost of shipping, but the local scope limits the number of buyers you can reach. 

The decision whether trade in your old phone or to sell can depend on a few factors, which means neither is inherently better than the other. As a result, it's important to consider the situation, as well as your budget and preferences, to make the right choice for you.

Pros and Cons of Selling Your Phone

Pros
  • Can earn more money than a trade-in

Cons
  • Finding a buyer can be tedious especially if you're dealing with local buyers who may express interest, then disappear or don’t show up to a meet

  • It can take several days or weeks to sell the phone

  • May require shipping (buying postage, a box, and packing material)

How to Decide to Trade-In or Sell

The decision whether trade in your old phone or to sell can depend on a few factors, which means neither is inherently better than the other. As a result, it's important to consider the situation, as well as your budget and preferences, to make the right choice for you.

If you're thinking about trading in your phone, consider spending a few minutes researching how much you could earn by selling the device. This can give you an idea of the trade-off you'd make by opting for the convenience of a trade-in over the work it might take to sell the phone. 

For example, if your particular phone is worth $100 more if you sell it instead of trading it in, it may still be worth doing a trade-in if you don't have a lot of free time to go through the whole selling process, and you can afford to lose the difference.

However, if your budget is tight, spending a little extra time selling the phone may be well worth the additional cash.