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How to save money by buying a refurbished iPhone

Apple’s iPhones are undoubtedly some of the best smartphones available on the market today. While they share the same fragile screen that most smartphones sport, they are otherwise quite durable and are repairable easily. Since the iPhone is popular and has longevity on its side, but also comes with a high price, especially when new, it’s no surprise that there is an extremely healthy market for refurbished iPhones.

Whenever Apple releases a new line of iPhones, millions of their consumers round out their smartphone life cycle by upgrading to the newest model and getting rid of their old iPhones. We have guides on how to sell your smartphone and how to sell your iPhone specifically, but what if you’re looking to buy?

You could always take your chances buying directly from another individual, but it’s less risky to buy a refurbished device that comes with a warranty. That way, if something goes wrong with it, you have some chance of getting a replacement or a refund. We’ve looked at refurbished electronics before, but today we’re going to examine how to buy a refurbished iPhone.

What is a refurbished iPhone?

Product RED iPhone 7 and 7 plus
Digital Trends

Because the term refurbished covers a lot of different scenarios, it’s important to take your time and understand what you’re buying. A refurbished iPhone is an iPhone that the manufacturer or a trader has tested and repaired where necessary. It should come with a warranty, but it may not have the original packaging or accessories, and it might have some signs of cosmetic damage.

Some refurbished iPhones will be devices owners returned because there was a fault or simply because they decided they didn’t want them. Others will have been used and then sold by the owner, perhaps to raise funds for a newer model.

To help buyers understand the difference, a grading system often is used. The precise meanings may differ from manufacturer to manufacturer or trader to trader, so read listings carefully. Here are some generally accepted definitions:

  • Grade A — Near mint condition, so the iPhone should look like new.
  • Grade B — Minor cosmetic damage, such as light scratches, or small chips.
  • Grade C — Looks used, with clear signs of wear.

Best places to buy

Trevor Mogg / DT

You can find deals on refurbished iPhones at a wide variety of retailers and carriers. Many online services also buy used iPhones and refurbish them for resale. You also can buy refurbished iPhones directly from Apple now in some countries, including the U.S.

Here are some of your top options, with our thoughts on the pros and cons.

Buying a refurbished iPhone from Apple

Where better to buy your refurbished iPhone than Apple’s own dedicated website? Every handset is fully tested and in working order using Apple’s own services, which makes it the best option if you are primarily interested in quality. They come with a new battery and a new outer shell, in a fresh white box. You get a 12-month warranty and Apple support is generally excellent if you run into any problems. You also have the option of going into an Apple Store or similar Apple certified store to find these officially refurbished models.

The downside to buying from Apple is the discounts tend to be quite shallow. You may only be saving $50 compared to a new device.

Buying a refurbished iPhone from a big retailer

Big stores such as Walmart and Best Buy offer a wide range of refurbished iPhones, and these sellers tend to offer deeper discounts than Apple. The iPhones they sell are fully tested and usually come with a cable and charger, but there’s no battery or outer shell replacement like Apple offers, so expect scratches and other signs that the device has been used. The Amazon Renewed program is another excellent place to look when purchasing online.

A 12-month warranty is standard, but it may be provided by a third-party. You can sometimes get better discounts for picking your iPhone up from a local branch. That also may prove handy if you need to return the device for any reason, but check the terms of the warranty to make sure you can take it back to the store where you bought it if something goes wrong. For example, Best Buy uses CCR Warranty and you’ll have to contact them about any issues.

Buying a refurbished phone from an online service

There are various services online like Gazelle, Decluttr, and Back Market that buy iPhones from people, refurbish them, and then resell them. You’ll often find bigger discounts here than the manufacturer or big box retailers will offer, but all iPhones are shipped and these services lack physical locations you can visit.

They all fully test iPhones and offer some details on the condition of the device you’re buying, but the specifics of their terms differ. For example, Decluttr offers a 12-month warranty and Back Market offers 6 months. With Gazelle, you get 30 days to change your mind and return postage is covered.

Buying a refurbished phone from your carrier

Carriers tend to prefer the term “certified preowned” for their refurbished wares, but they amount to the same thing. They fully test used iPhones and repair them where necessary. You’ll get a charger with each one, but there could be signs of wear and tear.

The discounts aren’t generally that good unless you go for an older device. However, there might be certain incentives and discount offers for existing customers and you can potentially pick up and return devices in store. Warranties usually are limited to 90 days.

  • Refurbished phones from AT&T
  • Refurbished phones from Verizon
  • Refurbished phones from T-Mobile

Buy a refurbished phone from a third-party repair shop

All across the country are thousands of independent and franchised phone repair shops. Almost all of them count on used phone sales as part of their essential business. If you’re looking to support a small business, call your local phone repair store (check those Google or Yelp reviews) and ask about buying a refurbished iPhone. The best shops will offer a solid warranty and return period on your new device.

Best time to buy

Image used with permission by copyright holder

A wide variety of factors play into when refurbished iPhones become available, and it’s not always as cyclical as traditional new product releases. However, consider following these guidelines to make looking for a refurbished model a little easier:

  • Wait until Apple starts selling a new iPhone generation: This is the point when many users will start trading in their older iPhone models and upgrade to the latest version. That leads to a sharp market influx of refurbished models in the next few months. This phase starts soon after Apple events held in the fall, so September to December is a great time to start looking.
  • Wait until Apple starts selling its own refurbished models: If you are interested in the quality control and longer warranties offered by Apple itself, wait for several months after a new iPhone line has been dropped — this is generally when Apple starts selling the previous generation as refurbished models. The iPhone 11 lines, for example, were available as refurbished direct from Apple in February 2021.
  • Look for the right bundles: If, for example, you really want to get both an iPhone and Apple Watch, look for refurbished bundles that sell both together on sites like Amazon. Making these a priority is an easy way to save.
  • Set up alerts to learn more: Sites like allow you to set up email alerts for when a particular refurbished product goes back into stock on a variety of sites. This is a good choice if you’re playing the long game.

Warnings and warranties

iPhone 5G feat image
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

Before buying a refurbished iPhone, we recommend that you double-check that the cost is actually significantly lower than the price of a new phone and that the device has received high-quality repairs. You should also pay attention to the specifications and what the iPhone will support. For example, a refurbished model older than the iPhone 12 won’t be able to support Wi-Fi 6 or 5G, which is a big loss for some users. Likewise, models like the iPhone 7 only support 32-bit architecture and are too old to consider as refurbished models these days.

Beyond that, though, the most important thing you should look out for is a warranty for your refurbished device. Ensure that the seller offers a quality guarantee for the phone or at least states your money will be returned if you run into any issues. If possible, try to purchase a refurbished phone that has at least a one-year warranty. It’s essential to thoroughly review your warranty to figure out the extent of its coverage and to see who has the responsibility of repairing or replacing the device if problems pop up after the purchase. Make sure you also know who to contact (like the seller or manufacturer) if the refurbished phone starts acting up. Read the fine print to see if the warranty also covers theft, spills, and other common problems. 

If you’re faced with a situation where you need to return your iPhone for a replacement or refund, you’ll likely have to pay the costs for postage. To help you feel a bit better about your purchase, we strongly recommend that you check out any reviews and ratings about the seller who is offering you a refurbished phone. The reviews will detail how the seller communicates with their customers, product concerns, and more. Keep an eye out for the keyword “customer service” in those reviews to make sure they’re handling issues quickly. 

At this point, you should have a pretty strong idea of the features to look for when buying a refurbished iPhone. With this research and careful attention, you’ll find a reliable product that fits your budget and lifestyle.

Editors' Recommendations

Simon Hill
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Simon Hill is an experienced technology journalist and editor who loves all things tech. He is currently the Associate Mobile…
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