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Used iPhones: 5 Reasons to Buy One and 7 Reasons Not To



Buying a used iPhone might seem like an obvious way to save money, but the decision between buying a used iPhone and a new one is more complex than you might think. Used iPhones are offered by a wide array of sellers, and it can be difficult to tell if you’re getting a good deal.

To get started, it’s important to understand that the term ‘used iPhone’ most often refers to secondhand iPhones that haven’t gone through a formal refurbishment process. Used iPhones are often sold by individuals upgrading to newer iPhones. Those dealing with larger volumes of used iPhones generally buy them in bulk and make sure they meet certain standards before reselling them as refurbished iPhones. This guide focuses on used iPhones, not refurbished ones.

Above is a great video from WSJ that shows what goes into refurbishing a phone. You may want to buy a refurbished iPhone rather than a used one after watching it.

Whether a friend’s offering you a gently used iPhone or you’re looking to buy from a stranger, here are some things to consider before buying a used iPhone:

Used iPhones Cost Less

This one might sound obvious, but used iPhones are cheaper than both new and refurbished iPhones. You can often negotiate the price with the seller, whether it’s someone you know or someone that’s listed it online.

used iPhone trade in values Apple

The Maximum Prices Apple Offers for Used iPhones in 2023

Some of the best deals happen when sellers aren’t satisfied with what Apple or wireless carriers offer them for their used iPhones when trading them in for new ones. Simply meeting or slightly beating that price can make them happy. You can look up what Apple is currently offering for trade-ins to get a sense of why they may be thinking of going through the hassle of selling their old iPhone rather than trading it in.  The prices Apple and others offer for used iPhones leave room for refurbishment costs, handling expenses, and a profit margin.

Used iPhones are Better for the Environment

Buying a used iPhone keeps it in circulation longer, preventing the likelihood that it becomes eWaste. A properly cared-for iPhone can last for several years, yet there are countless people that upgrade every year or two. Let friends and family know that you’re in the market for a used iPhone, and you might be surprised by what they may have to sell you.

Used iPhones Are Often Unlocked

photo of used iPhones 11 unlocked for sale on craigslistTo make used iPhones more attractive, sellers will often sell them as unlocked, allowing you to use them on any network. That includes pre-paid networks that charge a fraction of the biggest carriers.

Almost all of the ‘free iPhone’ or deeply discounted iPhone offers aren’t really free or as cheap as they sound since you’re paying higher monthly rates to the big carriers for the privilege of spreading the cost of your new iPhone out over 24 or 36 months. Those iPhones are locked to their network per the contract during that time period or until you pay off the device.

Used iPhones Sometimes Come with AppleCare+

If you’re buying a used iPhone that’s less than a couple of years old, you may luck out and get one with AppleCare+. That’s because some people may have purchased AppleCare+ to extend the factory warranty to two years at the time of purchase. If they decide to upgrade early, they can transfer the remainder of the AppleCare+ warranty to you by contacting Apple.

Used iPhones Aren’t As Cheap As They May Seem

used iPhone pricing ebay

Savings may not be as big as they may seem at first glance. Used iPhone sellers often highlight how much cheaper it is than new, but that slants things in their favor since iPhones never really have a single ‘new’ price. While Apple sets an MSRP for new iPhones, there are so many promos, trade-in deals, etc, that it’s easy to see why those can be overstated.

One thing to watch out for when shopping for used iPhones is that advertised prices are often compared to iPhones’ original prices. That’s not much of a fair comparison considering nobody would think of paying MSRP for an iPhone that’s two or three years old.

No Payments on Used iPhones

You can get a used iPhone, such as the iPhone 11, in excellent condition, for less than $300. That’s half of what a new iPhone 12 costs.  While $300 might sound expensive compared to the ‘free’ offers the carriers push, you won’t be stuck paying for a new iPhone every month for the next two to three years. Those payments are what bind you to carriers and can have hidden costs.

Used iPhones Have Shorter Battery Life

iPhone batteries age over time, which means they can’t hold as much energy as when they’re brand new. It’s important to check a used iPhone’s battery health before buying it and making sure it’s at about 80%. That’s the standard Apple has for replacing batteries after a year of use or 500 charges. The last thing you want to do is pay for a used iPhone and then have to turn around and pay $49 to $99 for a replacement battery. 

Used iPhones Miss Out on Latest Camera Upgrades

It can be tough to tell the difference between different iPhone generations. For example, most people can’t really appreciate the difference between iPhone displays from the past few years. However, Apple’s made massive improvements with its cameras over the past couple of years are quite noticeable. If having the best cameras possible is a high priority for you, you might want to stick with the latest iPhone generation and avoid used iPhones altogether.

Used iPhones Won’t Be Worth Much When Selling

Obviously, buying a used iPhone saves money today, but what about tomorrow? While an iPhone 11 is perfectly serviceable for many people in 2023, you are going to have a tough time trading it in or selling it down the road. It’s not necessarily a dealbreaker, but you should at least consider what your long-term plans are.

Used iPhones Usually Don’t Come With a Warranty

Paying for iPhone repairs out of pocket is never any fun, but it can be especially frustrating if you are in a tough financial situation and bought a used iPhone out of necessity. Most used iPhones simply don’t have a warranty of any kind. If a new iPhone is out of your budget, consider buying a refurbished iPhone with a warranty.

Used iPhones Can Have Hidden Damage

It’s pretty easy to see any major iPhone damage, like cracked screens and dented edges, but it can be tougher to spot hidden damage. Give any used iPhone you’re considering a thorough inspection.

Turn the iPhone off and look at the display up close and from several angles to ensure there aren’t more scratches than you’re happy with. Take several photos and videos with it to make sure the cameras are in good working order.  Plug it in and make sure it charges properly. Plug an accessory like a headset into the Lightning connector to make sure it’s operating properly.

Used iPhones Can be Activation Locked

iPhone activation lock


Perhaps the biggest thing to watch out for when buying a used iPhone is that it may be Activation Locked. If you buy a used iPhone and are greeted by an Activation Locked message, then you will need to have the previous owner unlock it with their iCloud credentials. If they’re unable to do so, you may be out of luck or in possession of a stolen iPhone.

If you’re transacting in person, you should ask the seller to remove their iCloud account from the device before closing the deal. It can be difficult or impossible to confirm a used iPhone you’re buying online is not activation locked.

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