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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Phones

How to recycle your phone for cash

Five tips to know before selling or recycling your old electronics.

James Martin/CNET

So you're about ready to offload your old phone for a new one (our top picks here if you need some inspiration). The next step is to figure out what to do with your old phone. You could keep it as a spare, or give it to a family member or friend. Or, you could try to get cash, credit or trade-in value.

This applies to ancient, cracked, broken phones and other electronics you don't want hanging around anymore, either -- you may be able to still get a few bucks, or at least get rid of them responsibly. Don't count on raking in the big bucks, but if you're smart about it, you can get a decent deal.

Editors' note: This story was originally published on December 19, 2013, and is updated periodically.

How much can you get?

You get more money if:

It's time to let go of old phones.

CNET
  • The phone's in good condition
  • It's "new," 1 to 2 years old
  • It's a premium device (rather than budget)
  • It's popular. There's greatest demand for iPhones and Samsung phones
  • It's in a popular color (black might net more than rose gold)
  • You sell directly to a buyer

1. Raid the closet

If you're going to cash in on one phone, you might as well see which other dusty, rusty electronics you forgot you had: phones, camera, consoles and laptops, too.

2. Is it really old or broken?

You can probably make a trade even if your phone looks like this.

Josh Miller/CNET

How much money would you expect to get for a cracked or ancient handset anyway? Most websites and trade-in programs won't take them, or will recycle them responsibly without giving you a dime.

But EcoATM, which has physical kiosks at malls across America, will usually give you at least a buck for your trouble -- and it's one of the few options to pay you on the spot. Of course, you can also decline and walk away.

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 -- that way you'll be able to decide on the spot if EcoATM gives you more or less than another retailer.

3. 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 a 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. Here are current offer prices for several phones. Not every service takes every phone.

Sample smartphone trade-in values

iPhone 6S (16GB), AT&T, space gray, flawless iPhone 6S (16GB), AT&T, space gray, damaged screen Samsung Galaxy S7, Verizon (32GB), black, flawless LG G5 (32GB), Verizon, silver, flawless OnePlus 2 (64GB), black, flawless
Best Buy $250 $0 $240 $200 $5
Amazon $218 $65 $191 $83 N/A
GameStop $200 $90 $200 $120 N/A
Gazelle* $195 $75 $165 N/A N/A
EcoATM* $110 $35 $125 $60 Unknown
Apple (Brightstar) $265 $95 N/A N/A N/A

*EcoATM and Gazelle are owned by parent company Outerwall.

4. Know how you're getting paid

tarnished-coins.jpg

Sometimes you'll be paid in cash; other times, expect a gift card.

Taylor Martin/CNET

Are you getting cash, credit or a gift card? In most cases, it's that last one. Best Buy and Apple, for example, will give you gift cards to use at their stores. Carriers may deduct the trade-in value from your next phone. EcoATM and direct sales give you cash. It's good to work this out before you agree to a price.

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 authorize your payment.

A word to the wise: Read the fine print. When you give away your phone, even to a carrier buy-back program, you won't be able to get it back if something goes wrong.

5. Never throw old phones away

Get rid of them, by all means, but never in the trash -- you don't want to be responsible for toxic chemicals leaching into the land. Most resellers will take a phone for you, archaic chargers and all.

Resources: Sell or donate your cell phone

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

Gazelle
YouRenew
USell
NextWorth
Best Buy Online Trade-In
Amazon
Target
Swappa (Marketplace, more like eBay)
eBay
Craiglist
Your carrier's buy-back program

Physical sales and national recycling outlets

Best Buy (also online)
GameStop (also online)
RadioShack
Costco
EcoATM

National charities

Cell Phones for Soldiers
Hope Phones
Hope Line Phones (Verizon)

Local charities

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


Not sure which phone to pick for an upgrade? Check out our list of the best phones you can buy.