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Sell your phone for cash: Tips to maximize your profit

When it's time to sell or trade in your old phone, you don't want to leave money on the table. These tips could help you get more cash from your carrier or other seller when you're ready to make a deal.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Expertise Content strategy | Team leadership | Audience engagement | Tips and FAQs | iPhone | Samsung | Android | iOS
Jessica Dolcourt
7 min read
Sarah Tew/CNET

So you want to sell your old Android phone or iPhone now or perhaps in the future? Maybe you're eyeing a new device, like the iPhone SE, Galaxy Note 20, Note 20 Ultra or OnePlus 8 and want to recoup some of the costs. Or perhaps you have older phones lying around that you don't really use and haven't repurposed. Or you could be simplifying by moving from a pricier model, like the Galaxy S20 Plus or iPhone 11, to a cheaper phone and you just want a little more cash in your pocket.

Whatever the reason, it's important to know how to get the most money for your device and what your options for selling or trading in your phone to a carrier or using a peer-to-peer marketplace like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. While you can't control the rate of phone depreciation, selling a device in good condition could mean a difference of hundreds of dollars. The key is to think about these things now, not days before you're ready to move on. Here's what you need to look out for.

Read more: Best places to sell your used electronics in 2020

Whatever you do, don't skip the case

Yes, it's ugly. Yes, you need one: You probably already use a case to keep your phone's delicate glass screen and back from breaking. We know, we know, it ruins the appeal of a particularly slick gradient color or design, but if you want to keep your phone free of dents and cracks for when you sell it, a case is the way to go.

Smart tip: Buy the case before you start using your phone. Phones can and do drop and shatter within minutes of coming out of the box.

What to look for: Complete coverage all around the edges and some sort of rise -- even a small one -- between the screen and the lip of the case.

Read more: 7 used items to never buy or sell

Buy a screen protector. Now.

Why you need it: Screen protectors are sacrificial screens that you layer on top of the phone's original display. Buy a glass one, not plastic. There are oodles of them in your carrier store and online. A good one can cost you, but a $30 screen protector is worth it in the long run if it helps you nab hundreds of dollars more for your phone when it comes time to sell it or trade it in.

Keep a spare: Screen protectors can break when you drop the phone -- that's what they're for. It's not a bad idea to keep a spare on hand in case yours breaks, so you won't have a gap in protection if you do need to switch it out. If you don't need it and you sell your phone on the open market, you can bundle in the screen protector as part of the price.

Keep the box and all the parts

Yes, really: Carriers will prefer to have your original charger, but may not care about the box when you trade in a phone. But if you sell the phone through Craigslist or Swappa, for example, your buyer might care. Reboxing the phone in its original condition -- or as close as you can get to it -- will make your device more appealing, which translates into more bucks.

What about the case? You can sell that, too.

Read more: The best ways to sell or trade in your old iPhone for 2020

How much can you get when you sell an old phone?

The amount of cash or credit you can get for a phone varies widely by the model, age and condition. Trade-ins usually top out at around $300 or $400 for a top-of-the-line device, but a brand-new iPhone 11 (in preparation for the upcoming iPhone 12, perhaps?) could go for considerably more. That's between you and your buyer.

Thoroughly clean your phone before you sell it

Cleanliness means money: This one's important, whether you sell your phone to a stranger, through a third-party reseller like Decluttr or back to the carrier or manufacturer. You'll get more for a phone that looks and works like new than you will for a crusty handset that's merely limping along.

Since you won't get paid until the buyer inspects your device, you may not wind up with your asking price if the used phone doesn't match up to expectations. Cleaning your phone the right way before sending it in is well worth the effort.

What about the parts? Wipe down the box and case with a lightly damp cloth or paper towel, too. Nobody's buying your grime.

Repairing a cracked screen could be worth it

Work the math: You might wind up with more in your pocket if you repair a broken phone (e.g., through U Break I Fix or Apple stores) before trying to sell it to a third-party reseller or trading it in.

Why even bother? Broken phones still retain some value because they can be refurbished or stripped for parts in order to recycle or repair other phones for resale.

How to tell: Go on a third-party reseller site or your carrier's trade-in site to see how much they estimate the value to be for your screen-cracked or water-damaged phone compared to the value of a phone with no damage. Then compare that to the cost of a repair. If there's enough of a difference (especially if your phone is fairly new or in high demand), it might be worth the hassle.

Read more: Best cell phone trade-in options for iPhones and Android phones

6 things that fetch the most cash

You get more money if the phone is:

  • In good condition
  • "New," about one to two years old
  • A premium device (rather than budget)
  • Popular: iPhones and Samsung phones are in high demand
  • In a popular color (black or silver might net more than gold)
  • Sold directly to a buyer, like through Craigslist 

You won't be able to trade in phones that are still being financed through your carrier.

Factory reset to protect your privacy

In all cases, you'll need to back up your phone and return it to factory settings before handing it off. This will help protect your identity and make sure you keep all the photos and other data you need to switch over to a new device.

Decide: Cash, credit or trade-in

Before you start researching which vendor gives you the best deal, you can narrow down your options. Can you wait for a gift card or payment to arrive in a few weeks or do you need cash now? Best Buy and Apple will give you gift cards to use at their retail stores. Carriers will deduct the trade-in value from your next phone. Trading in the phone with your current carrier or with the vendor won't work if you're switching to an unlocked device like the OnePlus 8.

If it's cash on the spot you need, your options are limited to direct sales, to GameStop or to EcoATM, which has physical kiosks at malls across America. 

It used to be that EcoATM would give you at least a buck for your trouble. That doesn't appear to be the case anymore, though it still accepts popular phones, albeit for significantly less than many online offers.

For security and antifraud reasons, EcoATM does require a driver's license and a thumbprint scan before spitting out cash. And since you do have to drive to a mall, I recommend doing this only after you research other options online. Then you'll be able to decide on the spot if EcoATM gives you more or less than another retailer. If you opt for an online vendor, you'll have to wait a few weeks to get paid. After you box up the goods and ship them, employees will match the device to its actual condition, to keep any fibbers honest. Only then will they make good on their offer.

Shop around. Really.

You'll almost always get more money selling a phone directly to a buyer through Craigslist or eBay, but it takes more time and there's higher risk of buyers changing their mind. It also helps if you have the original packaging and all included cables and cords.

Good news: It takes less time than you think to hit up a few websites for trade-ins and credits. You'll get less for a handset with water damage, and more if it's a flawless phone right out of the box (this is one reason why screen protectors and cases are so important).

Prices change depending on the phone, carrier and condition. Not every service takes every phone.

Never throw old phones away: Recycle or donate your old phone

Don't want to go through the hassle of selling? Get rid of your old phones by all means, but never in the trash can -- you don't want to be responsible for toxic chemicals leaching into the land. Most resellers will take old electronics off your hands, archaic chargers and all.

There are many ways to pass on unwanted cell phones after they've served their purpose, but here are a few resources to get you started.

Online sales and trade-ins

Physical sales and national recycling outlets

National charities

Local charities

  • City drives -- check with your city government
  • Local domestic violence help centers
  • Local homeless shelters