Want to Trade in Your Old Phone? 5 Tips to Get More Money

John Moore/Getty Images

Source: John Moore/Getty Images

So you’re looking for a new smartphone. What do you do with your old one? The easiest and fastest way to pay for that new device is to trade in your old one. Carriers have made it super easy to do this and pay you right away, either with cash or a bill credit for turning in your old device.

But is this the best way to do a trade-in? We don’t think so, as you may be cheating yourself out of some money in the process. Skip the carrier trade-in and follow these five key tips to go over before trading in your old phone for cash.

1. Is it broken? Fix it

We’re hard on our phones, and most of us have had to deal with a shattered screen once or twice. If you’re about to trade in a busted device, you’re likely going to lose quite a bit of money.

Take for example this year’s 16GB Apple iPhone 6S. Device buyback site ePelican.com buys back your device for anywhere from $375-$395. Broken screen? It’s now worth $155 — a $240 difference! It might sound weird, but you might want to consider getting any damage repaired before attempting to sell a broken phone.

Considering screen replacement from Apple itself costs $130 — and you can get screen repairs cheaper elsewhere — you stand to actually make money fixing device issues on your own.

2. Don’t be loyal

In the game of phone trade-ins — just like cars — loyalty to a certain retailer can hurt you. We mentioned ePelican before, but that same iPhone 6S 16GB was worth $5 less at Gazelle and $10 less at USell. No trade-in company is the same, so take the extra time to check out as many buyback services as possible.

3. It’s worth it to sell an old phone yourself

A common mistake many people make with older phones is accept low trade-in values unnecessarily. Our recommendation is to consider attempting to sell the device yourself instead of opting to trade it in. Why? There’s always someone out there who might have broken their phone beyond repair and can’t afford the full price of a new one. They’ll turn to sites like eBay or Craigslist to look for a cheap fix.

Let’s compare the 2-year-old Samsung Galaxy S4 Active. Using the same sites we used above, trade-in values were between $40-60. Compare this to eBay, where we found one seller had sold nearly 1,700 S4s at a price nearly double that. While this might not be the same for every phone, it’s worth it to check and try your luck selling it on your own.

4. Timing is everything

The art of the deal (with all due respect to Donald Trump) when it comes to trade-ins is timing. Waiting too long to trade in your device could mean a significant difference in how much it’s worth. In responding to a reader’s question on this topic, CNET’s Marguerite Reardon found that the value of a used iPhone falls as much as 20% in the three weeks preceding a new iPhone launch.

If you’re looking to trade in a device, your best bet is to lock in prices as soon as possible, and outside that three week window (we’d venture to guess this is similar for just about any other phone, too). Some trade-in providers will extend their offer deadlines during these periods, but we still recommend you shop around to get the best offers.

5. Opt for popular devices

Our last tip is a suggestion on how to select a smartphone in the first place. Trade-in values are driven by consumer demand in the used phone market. Your old phone is going to be sold as quickly as possible to recoup the cash they paid you.

This means that when you choose a device, the smarter choice from the start is going to be devices that people want. Like cars, phones are a depreciating asset. If you have something that nobody wants, you’re going to have a heck of a time getting rid of it.

While it’s understandable to want to be different, unless you plan to keep your device until it breaks, it’s foolish to do when it comes to smartphones. If you’re a regular upgrader, your best bet is a popular device like Apple’s iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy S and Note series devices. They are always in demand, even older models — and at trade-in time, you stand to do a lot better.

Follow Ed on Twitter @edoswald

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