Where to Sell Your Smartphone: Carrier or Buyback Company?
Ready to sell your old phone and can’t decide between carrier and online trade-in programs? Flipsy.com compares them to reveal which pays more, how they pay, and which is the most convenient so you can score the best deal for your used phone.
- Who pays more: Carriers or online trade-in companies?
- Carriers versus online trade-in companies: How they pay
- A matter of convenience: Carriers versus online trade-in companies
- Who offers the best deal: Carriers or online trade-in companies?
Who pays more: Carriers or online trade-in companies?
It’s easy to find out who will pay the most for your used cell phone. All you have to do is visit your carrier’s trade-in page and answer a few questions to view offers. Then, use Flipsy.com to instantly compare dozens of trade-in offers from online companies.
Before you do, you’ll need to know your phone’s:
- Make and model
- Storage capacity
- Current carrier (or unlocked)
- Condition (read phone condition guides)
Some carriers, like Verizon, will additionally ask for your phone’s EIN or IMEI number (device ID). Here are links to major carrier trade-in program pages:
Make sure you go through the trade-in process to get a valid offer before comparing prices. Carrier offers often fall short of advertised payouts, which are based on phones in “like new” condition. So, a carrier might advertise payouts up to $300, but only pay a fraction of that for your used phone. In addition, carriers won’t accept broken phones or those in “poor” condition, but online trade-in companies will.
Here are some real-life examples for four popular smartphone models:
iPhone 6 (16GB space gray Verizon “good” condition) Carrier VS Trade-In Company Payouts
Company (via Flipsy.com)
iPhone 5 (16GB black Verizon “good” condition) Carrier VS Trade-In Company Payouts
Company (via Flipsy.com)
Galaxy S6 (32GB black Verizon “good” condition) Carrier VS Trade-In Company Payouts
Company (via Flipsy.com)
Galaxy S5 (16GB black Verizon “good” condition) Carrier VS Trade-In Company Payouts
Company (via Flipsy.com)
As you can see, Verizon was the highest-paying carrier; however, online trade-in companies paid even more. Crunch the numbers, and you’ll find online trade-in companies offer 46% more than the average carrier payout – a significant difference if you want to get the most money for your used phone.
Carriers versus online trade-in companies: How they pay
Carriers only pay in credit, which must be spent with the carrier. Online trade-in companies typically offer a choice between credit and cash, which can be spent anywhere you’d like (including with carriers).
Here are the specific payout policies for each major carrier:
- Verizon: New customers receive an electronic gift card after Verizon inspects the device, typically within two weeks. Existing customers receive account credit within two to three billing cycles. On device upgrade programs, credit may be distributed over 24 months.
- AT&T: You will receive an AT&T promotion card via mail once your phone is inspected and its value is confirmed. Mailing times vary depending on your location, but you can generally expect to receive your promotion card a week or two after sending in your phone.
- Sprint: Credit is applied to your account within three billing cycles.
- T-Mobile: Credit is applied to your account within three billing cycles.
NOTE: In most cases you can apply your trade-in credit instantly by visiting carrier retail locations.
Online trade-in companies have varying payout timelines, but cash payments (check, money order, PayPal, etc.) are typically mailed and delivered within a few days of receiving and inspecting your device.
If you’re switching carriers and want to trade in your old phone for a new model, your new carrier will typically pay all or some of your ETF’s (Early Termination Fees) and/or your phone installment plan balance.
Carriers will ask you to send a copy of your final bill that includes the ETF; then, you will be given a pre-loaded credit card in the value of your ETF (less the trade-in value of your phone). So, you’ll pay your ETF out-of-pocket first, and your new carrier will later reimburse you. Here are the ETF policies for each major carrier:
- Verizon: Up to $650 Visa prepaid card for installment plan balance or up to $350 for ETF’s, less trade-in value. Must maintain service for six months. Prepaid card mailed within eight weeks after receipt of claim.
- AT&T: Up to $650 Visa prepaid card for installment plan balance or ETF’s, less trade-in value. Must maintain service for 45 days. Prepaid card arrives 10 to 12 weeks after claim.
- Sprint: Up to $650 Visa or American Express prepaid card for installment plan balance or ETF’s, less trade-in value. Must maintain service for 30 days. Card mailed within 15 days of claim.
- T-Mobile: Up to $650 combined MasterCard prepaid card and account credit for installment plan balance or ETF’s. Account must be in good standing. Processing takes up to eight weeks after claim.
Keep in mind your ETF payment will be reduced by the value of your trade-in, which might be applied as credit to your account. And, if you’ve had your phone for a year or more, your ETF might be relatively low – so you might never see anything close to $650 or even $350 for switching carriers.
It’s worth noting that all major carriers use third-party companies to administer their trade-in programs; essentially, middlemen who also need paid. This is likely the primary reason carrier trade-in programs do not pay as much as online trade-in companies, which administer the programs themselves.
A matter of convenience: Carriers versus online trade-in companies
The final consideration to make is convenience. If time is money it makes sense to eliminate as many inconveniences as possible. That said, the processes for selling your phone to carriers and online trade-in companies are rather similar.
You can either visit your local carrier retail store and, if eligible, get instant credit for your used phone; or, you can trade your phone in via the carrier’s website. If you’re ready to buy a new phone and want to browse in person, the first option is the most convenient since you’re going to the store anyway and you can use your credit right away.
If you go the online route, all you have to do is accept the offer to initiate your trade-in. Verizon and AT&T will send you a free pre-paid shipping kit (complete with box or envelope), while Sprint and T-Mobile will generate a printable pre-paid shipping label (you’ll need to provide your own packaging).
Be sure to send in your phone as soon as possible or it will be subject to revaluation (and used devices typically lose value over time). Here’s how many days you have to send your phone to each respective carrier:
- Verizon: 25 days
- AT&T: 30 days
- Sprint: 45 days (they recommend sending it within 15 days so it can be processed by the 45-day deadline)
- T-Mobile: You will be given an “offer expiration date” when you initiate your trade-in
Online trade-in companies
You can visit each online trade-in company’s page individually; or, for the ultimate in convenience you can instantly compare offers from dozens of Trust Verified buyers using Flipsy.com’s free phone trade-in price comparison service.
Once you find an offer you like, you can click “See Offer” to complete your trade-in on the buyer’s site. From there, the process is nearly identical to carrier trade-ins. Like carriers, all online trade-in companies provide prepaid shipping labels (and some additionally provide packaging). You’ll also be given a deadline for shipping your phone to the buyer.
Many online trade-in companies offer price locks, which let you lock in your payout now yet keep your phone for an extended period of time (typically 14 to 30 days). Price locks are useful just before and after a new flagship launch, since values for old phones drop precipitously when new models are released. By taking advantage of price locks, you won’t go without a phone because you can sell your phone for the most money now and keep it until you’re able to buy the latest and greatest model.
Both carriers and online trade-in companies will inspect your phone to ensure it’s in the condition you described. If their technicians feel the condition is different from what you originally stated, they’ll contact you with a revaluation – a new offer that reflects the proper condition. This is typically a lower price. You have the option to accept the new offer; or, you can reject it and, in most cases, have your phone sent back at no cost to you.
Search online and it won’t take long to find complaints lobbied against all major carrier trade-in programs. Like all online reviews, these complaints should be taken with a grain of salt: some are frivolous, others are made by people with unrealistic expectations. Still, there are some legitimate grievances. Notable examples include:
- Zach Epstein at BGR reports that an iPhone 6 he sent to AT&T never arrived, and the carrier charged him for its value. He was able to get the charge reversed after “almost a dozen stressful phone calls over the course of nearly three months.” Epstein notes: “You will never – never, ever – get as much value out of your old phone from your wireless carrier as you will elsewhere.”
- Verizon’s forum includes complaints from customers who feel scammed when the company doesn’t cover full ETF fees. This can happen when the phone still has high value and the trade-in credit approaches the carrier’s stated ETF/installment play payout cap. Though these caps are clearly stated, the terms and conditions can be confusing and in-store sales personnel can be misleading.
- The Verge’s Jacob Kastrenakes charges that the free iPhone 7 trade-in programs offered by major carriers lock customers into archaic two-year contracts. If you cancel, you’ll have to return the iPhone 7 or pay full price – and you still lose your old phone.
Online trade-in companies aren’t immune from complaints, either. However, Flipsy.com seeks to increase the rate of customer satisfaction by only listing offers from Trust Verified vendors – those who have passed Flipsy’s rigorous vetting process.
Trust Verified vendors:
- Have recent good feedback on multiple review sites
- Respond to questions within one business day or less
- Send payment within one business day of receiving your phone
Who offers the best deal: Carriers or online trade-in companies?
If you’re switching carriers, trading in to a new carrier can help you negate ETF’s; however, you’ll likely be locked into a contract that carries its own fees. You’ll also wait several weeks or even months to receive your prepaid card; and your account credit could either be applied instantly toward new purchases or distributed over the life of your contract. If you experience issues with your trade-in, the carrier might not be able to help since the program is operated by a third-party.
Online trade-in companies, on the other hand, offer higher payouts, price locks, and direct seller-to-buyer interaction (no middlemen). Cash payments can be spent anywhere – including with carriers – and, if you use Flipsy.com, you can be certain you’re dealing with reputable vendors who send payment within one day of receiving your phone.
Compared to carrier trade-in programs, online trade-in companies pay more money, in cash, fast. For those reasons, most people would probably consider online trade-in the better deal.
Check current trade-in offers for your phone on Flipsy.com.
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