With an endless parade of new smartphones hitting the market every year, the temptation to upgrade is strong. There’s some evidence we’re starting to hang on to our smartphones a little longer than we used to, with the average American waiting 22.7 months to upgrade, according to Kantar Worldpanel. But there are still a lot of old phones lurking in dressers and closets across the country.
Around 1.5 billion smartphones were sold last year, a figure that’s set to rise, according to International Data Corporation. So the question of what to do with your old smartphone is important. Many of us sell our old smartphones or trade them in to get money toward our next purchase, but millions of devices lie forgotten, gathering dust, and steadily depreciate in value. In this guide, we’re going to help you work out what your old phone might be worth, where best to sell it, and how to prepare it to send.
Deciding what to get rid of
A spot of spring cleaning can be cathartic and profitable. It feels good to clear old stuff out, create some space, and line your pockets in the process. Your first dilemma is deciding what to sell, so dig into your closets and gather your old smartphones for inspection.
There are various sound reasons for hanging on to an old phone, rather than parting with it: You might be planning to pass it on to a child, maybe you want a backup device in case your current phone breaks, or perhaps you’ve repurposed it as a smart home gadget.
Just be aware that if you do plan to sell your smartphone one day, delaying it is only going to lower the value. The longer you hang on to an old device, the less it will be worth.
Find the box and accessories
When you have a smartphone you’ve decided to sell, it’s a good idea to locate the original box and the accessories that came with it. Hunt around and see if you can dig up the box, the original cable and charger, the earphones, and anything else that was in there when you first opened it. This will make a difference, not only to the price you can command, but also to how easy it will be to package up and ship.
How much is your old smartphone worth?
A perfect condition phone, boxed with all the original accessories, is obviously going to be worth more than a scuffed phone with no box or charger. But to get the best possible price for your old smartphone, you’re going to have to do some research.
The carrier your phone is locked to does have an impact on price.
Generally, you’ll find the best potential prices come from a private sale to another person, but that’s also the riskiest sale method. Trade-in deals are easy and straightforward, but they won’t make you as much money and payments are usually in the form of credit or money off a new device. Selling directly to companies that deal in used electronics is the easiest way to get rid of an old smartphone, but pays the least. Below, we’ll dive deeper into these three methods.
If you decide to use eBay or Craigslist, then you’ll need to do some legwork to find out what kind of price to set. Search as if you were a buyer seeking the phone you’re selling. Search the listings and collate the prices. Look for listings that are close to what you’re offering in terms of condition and accessories.
Once you have a few prices in mind, it’s time to check the trade-in and buy-back prices. Luckily, this process is much easier: Simply go to the website, answer a couple of questions about your phone, and you’ll get an estimated price.
There are a few services that aggregate offer prices from different buyers, such as Flipsy, SellCell, and uSell. They can save you a bit of time, but they don’t search every database on the internet. For example, Flipsy doesn’t search through Swappa’s catalog of used phones. They can be part of your research, but you should not solely rely on them.
Unlocked phones are worth more
The carrier your phone is locked to does have an impact on price. Unlocked phones, which can be activated and used on any carrier, will always command the highest fees, so it’s worth unlocking your smartphone before selling it. Check out our full phone unlocking guide for more details.
Choosing where to sell
There are three main options for selling. You can sell directly to another person using an online marketplace, you can trade it in for credit, or you can sell to a company.
Selling through a marketplace
You’ll get the highest prices by selling privately, but that means you’ll have to create an enticing listing, sort through offers, maybe negotiate the price, and deal with packaging up the phone or meeting someone to hand it over.
People on Craigslist seem to be willing to pay a bit more to avoid the hassle of waiting.
People on Craigslist seem to be willing to pay a bit more to avoid the hassle of waiting, but it’s not going to suit every seller. You should be prepared to take photos, write up a listing, field incoming offers, and then meet with the winning buyer to exchange your smartphone for cash. For a more in-depth look, check out our guide on how to sell on Craigslist.
Your next best option in terms of potential price is probably eBay, but you must remember to factor in eBay fees and your packaging and shipping costs. With eBay you can gamble and list your smartphone for auction or you can just set the price you want. To get an idea of probable auction prices, search the listings for your phone, and check the box that says Sold listings under Show only on the left-hand side of the eBay website in your browser. You will have to take photos of your smartphone, write up a detailed listing, and package up and send your smartphone to the winning bidder. Check the postage cost yourself in advance to avoid a nasty shock; we haven’t always found the postage calculator built in to eBay to be accurate. For more details, read our guide on how to sell on eBay.
There are a few other marketplaces where you can sell your smartphone, but the one we recommend is Swappa. It has several protections in place to prevent fraud, making it a safer place to buy used phones. You will have to submit a verification photo of your smartphone and provide the IMEI or ESN for a blacklist check. Every listing is also manually reviewed by a team of mobile device experts. Best of all, there are no seller fees on Swappa — the buyer pays a small sale fee. However, you should include postage costs in your price and be prepared to package and send the device when it sells.
Trade-in your smartphone
It’s very straightforward to trade-in your device and you can get an estimated price by answering a couple of questions on the relevant website. Some websites, like Amazon, give you a free pre-paid shipping label to print out and you’ll just have to package up the device and send it. With Verizon, you also have the option of taking your device into a store to have it appraised and trade it in.
Most trade-in deals will either give you credit that can only be spent with that retailer, or they’ll give you money off a new device. Be aware that the final price you get with a trade-in is only decided when they inspect the device, so if you don’t answer the questions honestly — describing a scratched phone as flawless, for example – then expect to get less than the quoted price.
Here are a few of the top options for trade-ins:
Sell to a company
The easiest way to get cash for your smartphone is to sell it to a company that buys used smartphones. Just like with the trade-in services, you can get an estimated price online by answering a few questions. That price is usually good and locked in for a fixed period (for example, Gazelle’s quote is good for 30 days). However, you’ll only be paid once the device has been received and inspected.
One of the great things about many of these services is that they will send you the packaging with prepaid postage, so all you have to do is box your phone up, drop it in, and send it off. Here are a few of the best options:
If you want to sell your device directly, then some small, independent phone stores might give you cash over the counter. There’s also a kiosk service called ecoATM — usually located inside a shopping mall — where you can place your device in a machine. The machine inspects your device, gives you a cash offer, and, if you agree, you get the cash on the spot. Note that you will need a government-issued ID to verify your identity.
The ecoATM service is part of the Gazelle brand, which is our top recommendation for selling your smartphone to a company. It’s a trustworthy service that’s very easy to use.
How to wipe your smartphone
It’s very important to make sure that you sign out of accounts on your smartphone and completely wipe it clean before you sell it. There are two things to consider: Firstly you want to back up all your precious files and make sure no one else has access to them, and secondly you need to turn off the Activation Lock or Factory Reset Protection.
Firstly you want to backup all your precious files.
We have guides on how to back up your Android smartphone and how to back up an iPhone with iCloud. You might also be interested in our advice on switching from iPhone to Android and vice versa, as it includes details on transferring photos, contacts, and other files.
When all your files are backed up, we recommend signing out of all accounts on the smartphone you’re selling before you wipe it. You should also turn it off, remove the SIM card, and remove the MicroSD card if you have one. Turn it back on and make sure that it has at least 50-percent battery life. Then, you’re ready to wipe it.
How to wipe an iPhone
On an iPhone, you need to sign out of iCloud and the iTunes & App Store.
If your iPhone is running iOS 10.3 or later, go to Settings > [your name], then scroll down and tap Sign Out. Enter your Apple ID and password and then tap Turn Off.
If you have an earlier iOS version, then go to Settings > iCloud > Sign Out. Tap Sign Out again, then tap Delete from My [device] and enter your Apple ID password. Then go to Settings > iTunes & App Store > Apple ID > Sign Out.
Now you can go to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings, enter your Apple ID and password if prompted, then tap Erase [device].
If you’re switching to an Android or another phone that’s not an iPhone, then make sure you deregister iMessage.
For more details, check our full guide on how to factory reset an iPhone.
How to wipe an Android
On an Android device, the instructions differ depending on the manufacturer.
If you have a Samsung phone, then go to Settings > Lock screen and security > Screen lock type and choose None. On a Google Pixel, go to Settings > Personal > Security > Screen lock and choose None.
Now you need to remove your Google account. On a Samsung Galaxy, go to Settings > Cloud & accounts > Accounts and tap on Google, then tap the three vertical dots in the upper right or More > Remove account. On a Google Pixel, go to Settings > Accounts & sync > Google and tap the three vertical dots in the upper right, then tap Remove account.
If you have a Samsung Galaxy, you should also remove your Samsung account. To do this, go to Settings > Lock screen and security > Find My Mobile. Then, enter your password, tap on your account at the top, and select More > Remove account.
You’re ready to factory reset the phone now. Go to Settings > Backup & reset > Factory data reset and then tap Reset phone or Reset device. On a Samsung Galaxy go to Settings > General Management > Reset > Factory data reset and then tap Reset device.
For more details, read our guide on how to wipe your Android phone.
How to list your smartphone
Once you have factory reset your smartphone, you should clean it up gently with a soft microfiber cloth. If you’re going for a trade-in, buyback service, or selling to a company like Gazelle, then you can skip to the next section.
If you’re selling through a marketplace like eBay, then you need to prepare your listing. Take several photographs of your smartphone in good light. Consider also photographing the box and any original accessories you managed to track down. If there’s any damage to the phone, it’s best to mention it in your listing and photograph it to avoid disputes later.
You should never post your IMEI number in a public listing.
For a marketplace like Swappa, you’ll need to provide your IMEI. Opening up your dialer and typing *#06# is the easiest way to find it, but we have a guide on how to check your IMEI number on any phone that also has some alternative methods.
Sometimes buyers on sites like eBay will ask for your IMEI number because they want to check that the phone isn’t blocked after being reported lost or stolen. You should use your own judgement about whether to share it or not, but you should never post your IMEI number in a public listing. For more detailed information about IMEI numbers, read our article on the used phone scam.
When you write up your listing, include as much information as possible. You should be honest about the condition of your phone, list any extras that come with it, and mention whether it’s locked to a specific carrier or not.
What to do with cases and accessories you bought
There’s a good chance you picked a good case for your phone, maybe even a couple. Perhaps you bought a dock, wireless charger, portable battery, or some other accessory to go with it. Check if your accessory is compatible with your new phone. If it is, then you might want to keep it. If not, then you might consider selling it or giving it away.
If you’re selling on eBay, then throwing in a case might entice more buyers. Sadly, there isn’t much of a market for second-hand cases, so you’re unlikely to be able to sell it on its own unless it’s really desirable and in great condition.
For things you don’t want to keep and can’t sell, try something like Freecycle to see if you can find someone else who can use it. As a last resort, you can recycle a lot of things at Best Buy. For batteries, it’s also worth checking Call2Recycle.
How to package and send your smartphone
Before you send your smartphone, we recommend charging it and then holding down the power button and turning it off. For trade-in deals and when selling to companies where they need to review the device before releasing payment, sending a charged phone will expedite the process.
The safest way to package up your smartphone is to find the original box and put it in there. Most smartphones boxes are designed to be sturdy and protect the phone in transit. A smartphone box inside a padded envelope should be perfectly safe to send. If you can’t find the original box, then we suggest finding an alternative, sturdy box. Make sure the phone is tightly packed and wrapped so that it can’t move around and get damaged in transit.
You should make sure the smartphone is tracked. Choose a postal service that provides a tracking number and share it with your buyer. If he or she doesn’t receive the smartphone and you didn’t provide a tracking number, then you’ll have no proof that it arrived and will be held responsible. The buyer will be refunded, and you will have difficulty recouping your money.
It’s also vital to choose a postal service that provides the appropriate level of insurance. If the phone is damaged or lost in transit, the seller is usually held responsible and the buyer will be refunded. Though you may be able to put in a claim with the postal service, it will take time and it’ll only pay out a maximum of the insured amount your chosen postage covers.