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The best ways to sell or trade in your old iPhone in 2019

Newly updated! Here's how to get your used phone ready to sell and get the most cash for it.

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Sell your old iPhone to help cover the costs of your new iPhone.

Angela Lang/CNET

Now that the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max have arrived, it's time to start thinking about your upgrade plans. You want one of the newer models, but you've probably already sunk a lot of cash into one of the old ones. One solution: Sell your current iPhone to subsidize the new precious. Makes sense, but what's the best way to go about that? Have no fear -- I've outlined all the best practices for selling your iPhone and maximizing profit. Note that CNET may get a share of revenue from the products and services featured on this page.

How to sell your old phone, option 1: Use a service

Trading in your device for cash, store credit or gift cards is often the least profitable option, but it's also more of a "sure thing." Indeed, unless the phone isn't as you described it when you're given a quote, you should get your money without any risk of post-sale liability issues. Plus, if your iPhone is in less-than-great condition, some companies will still take the device -- even if it doesn't turn on at all. Trading in your iPhone instead of selling the device is a great option if you're willing to give up a little profit for a quick and easy process, convenience and peace of mind.

There are traditional trade-in options like those offered by Apple and Best Buy (see below), and then there are buy/sell marketplaces such as the ones listed below. Before you spend a lot of time quote-hopping, however, head to Flipsy, which compares trade-in values for around 20 buyback stores. It shows you the payment methods, price-lock duration (that's how long you have before you need to send the phone in) and price based on condition. (Unfortunately, because each buyback program and store is little different when it comes to "condition" definitions, Flipsy doesn't drill down beyond phone model, carrier and storage.) SellCell is another price-comparison service for anyone looking to score top dollar for an old phone. 

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Flipsy makes it very easy to compare buy-back rates on select iPhone models. Here, for example, you can see what an unlocked iPhone 8 Plus might net you.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

If you'd rather check out some individual marketplaces yourself, these are worth a look:

How to sell your old phone, option 2: Trade it for credit toward a new one

Want to cut out the middleman, so to speak? You can also go back to the source: Apple's iPhone trade-in program offers an easy way to better afford a new iPhone, as trades net you Apple Store credit.

For example, here are the current estimated trade-in values for select models, all of them in "good" condition: 

  • iPhone 6S Plus: $105
  • iPhone 8: $205
  • iPhone X: $400

Those rates are on the low side, especially considering that Apple doesn't even let you specify how much storage your phone has. (An iPhone 8 with 256GB should be worth a lot more than one with, say, 64GB.) Indeed, an unlocked iPhone 8 with 64GB could net you as much as $292 from a buy-back service, according to Flipsy.

Best Buy offers a trade-in program as well; at press time, the aforementioned iPhone 8 would fetch you exactly $205, the same rate offered by Apple. (Curiously, however, Best Buy doesn't appear to accept unlocked trades, only those that come from one of the Big Four carriers.)

As with Apple, your Best Buy trade-in results in a Best Buy gift card -- fine if you're a Best Buy fan, or plan to buy your next iPhone there, but not ideal if you were hoping for cash.

The key takeaway here: Shop around. There are plenty of services willing to buy your old iPhone or take it in trade, but you might do better selling it yourself.

How to sell your old phone, option 3: Sell it yourself

Selling an iPhone yourself will usually net you the most profit, but it's not without risks and hassles.

Craigslist: Craigslist is the riskiest option, but you'll receive cold, hard cash for your device. The biggest challenge here isn't finding customers -- it's getting them to show up. Be prepared for flakes.

If you do decide to use Craigslist or another in-person option, make sure you meet your buyer in a well-lit, public place (many police departments offer their parking lots as transaction sites). For the smoothest transaction, make the agreement clear prior to meeting -- your customer should know the price, condition of the phone and its wireless carrier (especially if the phone isn't unlocked) in advance.

eBay: If you don't mind putting in a little work -- listing, shipping and paying a small sales fee -- eBay is a better place than Craigslist to sell a used iPhone. Because eBay offers its buyers purchase protection, people are more comfortable buying from strangers.

The downside? Fees. eBay charges a sales fee for products that are sold through its site: 10% of the final value (selling price). If you accept payment through PayPal, it charges a fee of 2.9% (4% if sold internationally) of the final value.

To price your device, search for your model on eBay and check the "sold" listings. At the time of writing this article, these are the ballpark going rates for various used (unlocked) iPhones on eBay:

  • iPhone X (64GB): $500-$550
  • iPhone 8 Plus (64GB): $375-$450
  • iPhone 7 (64GB): $150-$220

If there's a downside to selling your iPhone on eBay, it's the potential risk of buyers' remorse. eBay offers protection to both the seller and buyer, but tends to side with the buyer in the event of a dispute. Scammers know how to take advantage of this. You can minimize your risk by documenting everything (including taking photos or screenshots of the phone's IMEI number) and making sure to get signed proof of delivery.

When to sell your old iPhone: Right now

Now that the new phones have been announced and preorders have started, your old phone is losing value by the day. In fact, it's estimated that within 24 hours of the iPhone 11's unveiling, your old phone loses up to 30% of its trade-in value, according to a recent report from phone-refurbisher Decluttr. That jibes with numbers we've seen in previous years, as well as with a similar report from MusicMagpie regarding phone depreciation.

One concern is that if you sell your old phone immediately, you'll be phone-less until the new one arrives. Thankfully, many of the aforementioned buyback and trade-in services give you a grace period (also known as a "price lock") of up 30 days after selling your phone before you have to send it in -- time enough, hopefully, to purchase and receive your new phone and get everything migrated over (including the SIM card -- don't forget that!).  

What to know before you sell your old iPhone

Whether you sell your iPhone by yourself or trade it in to a third-party company, there are a few things you should do to make sure your data is safe:

  • Back it up: Back up all of your important data -- including contact, photos, videos and apps -- using Apple's iCloud service or a third-party cloud storage service.
  • Turn off Find My iPhone: Find My iPhone (which will become simply Find My in iOS 13) is a security feature that must be turned off before you sell your phone -- or nobody else will be able to use or reset it. To turn off Find My iPhone, open the Settings app on your iPhone and go to iCloud > Find My iPhone and toggle it off.
  • Wipe it: Sign out of all apps, services and connected accounts (like your iCloud account). Then, open the Settings app and go to General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings to erase everything from your iPhone. Once this is complete, you can also go to General > Reset > Reset All Settings to restore the iPhone to factory settings, just in case.
  • Remove the SIM card: Don't forget to pop out your SIM card, which you'll likely need for the new phone to keep your existing number and service.

You'll receive the most money for your phone if it's in tip-top shape, but you can still do well if it's in "good" condition: No cracks in the screen, no big dents or scratches in the casing, no water damage, and everything working well (meaning the phone turns on, holds a charge and so forth).

If your phone is damaged, you can probably still get something for it, even if it doesn't turn on. It's not worth it to repair a cracked screen before you sell, but if your screen is only slightly damaged -- a small hairline crack in the corner, for example -- you may want to sell it on your own instead of trading it in. An individual may be willing to overlook superficial screen damage for a good price.

Have you already been through this sell-old-to-buy-new process in the past? What option did you choose, and how was the experience? Tell us about it in the comments!

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This post was published previously and has since been updated with new information.