Remember how great it felt to have that new cellphone in your hand for the first time? Even jaded users experience that rush that comes with taking your phone out of the package and playing around with its new features. The case is all shiny, the screen un-cracked and pristine, the memory lightning fast and uncluttered by (way-too-many) songs, apps and photos.
But, like the object of many a wispy summer romance, our affections wane over time. It doesn’t help that our phone carriers are always enticing us with the newest models, tantalizing us with their new-and-improved features so they can start the cycle anew. With every new iPhone release, crowds curl around the block, salivating with anticipation at being one of the first to own the “latest” model. Billions are spent annually on marketing to increase demand for new releases.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the average life of a cellphone this year is about 29 months. Interestingly, that number has been trending upward in the past two years, as many phone carriers have shifted their strategy from providing us with discounted prices on the latest new phones in exchange for us signing onerous contracts. Now, the trend is for providers to make us pay full price (albeit in installments), with the incentive being that we won’t have to sign up for a contract.
Logically, there is no really good reason to ditch a current phone as long as it keeps functioning, its batteries take a decent charge, you take it out of your pants pocket before washing (a lesson I learned the hard way) and you don’t care about having the latest features. Phones are actually pretty well-designed (notwithstanding the occasional new models that suddenly burst into flames, as with the Galaxy Note 7). With proper care, most phones can last well beyond the release of their successor models.
But if and when you do get ready to break up with your current phone, there are some good (and bad) ways to go. Just last week, after thousands of complaints, the Federal Trade Commission busted a Georgia company that allegedly baited consumers with great prices to buy back their old devices, only to dash customers’ hopes with lower-than-promised prices, making it nearly impossible to get their phones back if they rejected the lower offer, and incentivizing their employees to minimize prices paid to consumers.
So, how do you avoid getting ripped off when trying to get a little cash for your old phone? While it might be tempting to just chuck an old device into the trash, that’s bad for the environment. Most electronics contain harmful chemicals that could leach into the soil. You could recycle it. If you don’t care about whether your old phone might be worth a buck or two, there are many places (such as Best Buy stores) that have receptacles for your old electronics. You could donate it to a charity (such as Verizon’s HopeLine, Cell Phones for Soldiers or many others).
But if you’re willing to spend a few minutes to see if that old phone (or tablet, or mp3 player) is worth a few bucks, you have many options. There is a big secondary market out there for used devices. Here are a few options to consider:
- Trade it in for a new model with your carrier. Many cell service carriers will allow you to trade in your old device for credit against your account. But if you do, be sure about what you’re agreeing to; you might be signing up for a new contract in the process.
- Sell it online through a service. Many services have popped up in recent years, such as Gazelle, which will quote you a price for your device, then will pay you (by PayPal, direct deposit or check) when you’ve sent them the device and they’ve checked it out. If you choose this route, tread carefully; by sending the device, you lose all hope of getting it back if the company turns out to be disreputable. In many cases, these companies will even pay for devices that have minor damage.
- Sell it online yourself. By going through auction sites like Ebay, you can negotiate directly with the seller. You might get better prices this way, but there’s more work involved, and buyers usually want a near-perfect device if they’re paying top dollar.
- Trade it at a kiosk. At many retailers (such as Wal-Mart) are kiosks operated by a company called EcoATM. At these kiosks, you can get a quote for your device and actually get cash on the spot. The kiosk will examine your device (after you provide some valid ID and a fingerprint to verify your identity), and make you an offer if there’s a demand. If you accept, you’ll take home some green.
- Trade it through a retailer. Many online (as well as bricks-and-mortar) retailers, such as Amazon, Best Buy and GameStop, have buyback programs that might be worth investigating.
For some excellent advice on this topic, including contact info for many of the options above, check out Jessica Dolcourt’s great article at CNET.com.