I’ll be honest. When the time comes to swap my old phone for a newer model, I take the easy way out: my cell carrier’s trade-in offer. That’s a perfectly rational choice for consumers looking to save time and hassle and a common choice for folks adhering to the standard two-year upgrade cycle pushed by major carriers and retailers.
However, while it might feel convenient, taking your carrier’s trade-in offer is almost certainly not the best way to maximize the value of an older but perfectly functional phone. And it’s likely to make even less sense in the future as smartphone longevity improves and users hold onto their phones for longer.
For smartphone users more enterprising than I am, a whole universe of cash-raising opportunities awaits. Don’t get rid of your old phone until you’ve carefully considered each; there’s real money on the line here.
Where to Sell Your Old Phone: Online Tech Marketplaces
These online marketplaces are popular with consumers looking to offload old phones and other tech devices. Some are direct buyers, while others are third parties to peer-to-peer transactions. If it’s not immediately clear which is which, read through the site’s help desk content or FAQs to determine what you’re getting into.
Where possible, I’ve included control quotes for a hypothetical older phone: an unlocked Verizon 256GB iPhone 12 in “good condition,” meaning it has normal wear and tear with full functionality and no water damage.
These control quotes are meant to show providers’ relative price ranges only. Don’t expect to get the same price for your sale or trade, as they’re subject to change as time passes and technology advances.
SellCell is the Priceline of cell phone sales websites. SellCell simultaneously scans dozens of bulk buyers, from well-known companies (such as Decluttr) to more obscure operators with limited name recognition, and presents the prices they’ll pay for your device. It’s a quick, relatively painless way to source multiple buyback quotes at once.
Some caveats are in order. SellCell has no control over its buyers’ policies. Inspection practices and offer revision policies vary widely, for instance, and it’s your responsibility to read through the fine print before you agree to a sale.
Also, SellCell’s database doesn’t include every single bulk buyer on the market. Just as you won’t find Southwest Airlines fares on Priceline, you may need to visit some buyback sites directly to complete your due diligence.
On the bright side, SellCell appears to have special arrangements with certain marketplaces. The best SellCell quote for a Verizon 256GB iPhone 12 was $333 from GadgetGone and BuybackBoss.
Decluttr is a direct-buyer marketplace that pays a decent amount for old phones, plus a host of other tech and non-tech goods.
Decluttr’s main differentiator is their Tech Price Promise, a guarantee to pay the first price offered for devices that pass inspection. If Decluttr’s inspection materially conflicts with the information you provided during the listing, you’ll have 14 days to respond to a revised offer. Decluttr issues payment the day after you accept their final offer. Payment options include PayPal, direct deposit, and paper check.
Decluttr claims to scrub devices of personal information on users’ behalf, but don’t take their word for it; wipe before you sell.
Decluttr accepts a wide range of phones brands, including Apple, Google, LG, HTC, Nokia, and Samsung. Besides phones, it also accepts:
- A slew of Apple devices
- A smattering of devices from other manufacturers, including Kindle readers
- Video games and game consoles, CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs
- Wearables, such as smartwatches and GoPro cameras
- Old textbooks
Decluttr offered $326 for a Verizon 256GB iPhone 12.
OCBuyBack is an easy-to-use direct-buy marketplace that eliminates the risk associated with peer-to-peer transactions and still manages to pay top dollar for pre-owned phones.
Just find your device in OCBuyBack’s database, answer a few basic questions about its features and conditions, and ship it for free or take it to a nearby OCBuyBack drop-off location if one is available. There’s no limit to the number of phones you can sell through OCBuyBack.
OCBuyBack accepts iPhones, Samsung smartphones, and iPads. If you have any other type of device, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
OCBuyBack’s offers are contingent on a thorough inspection to confirm that the information you’ve provided is accurate. After inspecting your device, OCBuyBack issues payment by check or PayPal.
OCBuyBack offered $315 for a Verizon 256GB iPhone 12.
This third-party intermediary offers a seamless checkout process and impressive payouts. That’s higher than most of the other contenders on this list, according to my research, though your mileage may vary. It took me less than five minutes to list my phone and check out, though listing multiple phones — up to uSell‘s maximum of five per order — would have taken more time.
It’s an Apple-centric marketplace, but it also accepts Google, LG, HTC, Motorola, Samsung, Nokia, and Blackberry phones. Other accepted devices include tablets, laptops, desktops, smartwatches, and iPods from Apple and select laptops, desktops, game consoles, and cameras from other manufacturers.
You can expect to receive payment by your choice of PayPal or check within five business days of the buyer’s receipt, contingent upon their inspection. Should a buyer disagree with your assessment, you’ll have seven days to respond to their revised offer, after which it will be accepted automatically and processed for payment.
This company wasn’t accepting iPhone 12s when I checked, but it did offer me $230 for a Verizon iPhone 11 with 256GB capacity.
Easy-to-use ecoATM operates a network of about 5,000 semi-automated kiosks in retail districts, shopping malls, and big-box stores across the United States. The front end of the process is comparable to direct-buyer marketplaces such as OCBuyBack: You enter some basic details about your phone’s type, features, and condition, then receive a buyback quote.
The difference is what happens next. Unlike most platforms, you don’t have the option to mail in your device. You must take it in person to a kiosk. For security-conscious consumers, that’s a blessing in disguise, as ecoATM kiosks are loaded with cameras, secured by thumbprint scanners, and operated by remote staffers who check IDs against live photos in real time. ecoATM also works closely with local law enforcement to track and recover stolen phones. So if you try to sell a stolen phone at an ecoATM kiosk, you’re unlikely to get away with it.
If you’re the rightful owner of the phone you’re trying to sell, you’ll receive instant cash for your trade-in right there at the ATM as soon as the remote appraisal is complete. The company claims transactions take only three to five minutes.
Instant gratification comes at a significant cost, however — namely, the lowest payouts of any provider on this list. It offered just $180 for a Verizon 256GB iPhone 12.
Swappa is a peer-to-peer sale marketplace that claims to pay out more than popular direct-buyer sites such as Gazelle. The catch is that sellers must create their own listings, which means uploading photos and writing catchy product descriptions.
It’s free to list on Swappa, but the platform takes a 3% cut of the sale price. If you list an item for $500, Swappa takes $15 before passing the rest to you.
In a quick survey of Swappa listings, Verizon iPhone 12 list prices started around $335 for devices in good condition. That’s better than most other resale platforms, though Swappa’s marketplace fees cut into the profit a bit.
The internet’s original auction site, eBay, has changed a lot since its debut in the late 1990s. It still serves as a clearinghouse for millions of peer-to-peer transactions — and, increasingly, retailer-to-consumer transactions — covering just about every legal good under the sun.
Unlike most of the sites covered so far, eBay is a DIY platform. Phone owners must create and post their own product listings, which means taking original photos, researching pricing for comparable devices, and paying applicable fees.
Its commission varies but generally comes in at 10% or less of the final sale price. Items listed on eBay aren’t guaranteed to sell, though in-demand phones are quite likely to sell at auction if priced competitively.
If you’re willing to put in the work and your merchandise sells, you’ll reap the rewards. On a glance through eBay’s mobile phone inventory, I found 256GB iPhone 12 phones with fixed list prices as high as $800, though $400 to $700 was a more typical range.
Amazon is another great DIY option. Because the platform is dominated by professional sellers, many individuals don’t realize how easy it is to list and sell valuable pre-owned items on Amazon. Amazon’s listing process is arguably easier than eBay’s.
Pricing is convoluted, however. When you sell your cell phone on Amazon, you’ll pay a small listing fee and a larger “referral” fee (between 8% and 15%) on the final sale price. You’ll also pay at least $3 in standard shipping if you’re not passing that cost on to the buyer. As a general rule, and depending on the final sale price, you should expect to lose at least 10% of your item’s gross to fees. Check Amazon’s pricing schedule for more information.
The same caveats about creating and managing your own listings apply to Amazon, but the payoff is real. On a quick spin through Amazon’s listings, I found unlocked like-new 256GB iPhone 12 devices for $500 to $700. Phones with paid-up carrier subscriptions fetched $800 or more.
Where to Sell Your Old Phone: Retail Buyers
If a retailer sells refurbished electronics, there’s a good chance it buys secondhand devices from consumers. Consider these popular options, all of which have a coast-to-coast presence in the United States.
9. Your Cellular Carrier
Every cellular carrier accepts trade-ins, usually from customers looking to upgrade to newer devices. Policies vary by phone carrier, but trade-in payouts are generally redeemable for account or store credits or general gift cards for use elsewhere in the carrier’s merchant ecosystem. You should not expect to receive cash payouts for your trade-in, though T-Mobile has in the past paid off new customers’ old-carrier balances.
Most carriers let you complete the trade-in process online and ship your trade-in device to a central hub for verification. You may want to visit a store if you need help swapping your old phone for an upgraded version or want to browse new devices in person.
Actual trade-in payouts vary by carrier, but they’re invariably lower than retail marketplaces like eBay and Amazon. For instance, Verizon offered $280 for a Verizon 256GB iPhone 12. An unlocked but otherwise identical device fetched $270 at AT&T.
10. Major Electronics Retailers
Most remaining brick-and-mortar electronics and office supply retailers offer trade-in or buyback programs of their own. You won’t get top dollar, but you’ll deal with a known quantity, and the process is invariably seamless. These three are representative of the bunch:
- Best Buy. Best Buy’s trade-in program doesn’t offer the best pricing, but it’s easy to use in a pinch. My offer: $225.
- Target. Target’s trade-in program includes some hard-to-find manufacturers, such as Alcatel and Kyocera, but its payouts are the worst of the bunch. It’s also not available online. You must visit your local Target tech department and ask if they accept trade-ins.
Where to Sell Your Old Phone: Local Options
Not sold on selling your phone through an impersonal online marketplace, trading it back to the phone company, or trying your luck with the nearest friendly corporate retailer?
Consider these local options instead. They all require more work than listing with a direct-buyer marketplace, but the potential for a higher payoff may be worth the effort.
Craigslist needs no introduction. The United States’ largest and busiest online classifieds marketplace is a great place to sell your old phone, provided you’re willing to supply high-quality photos and meet your buyers in person. You should never ship a device to a random buyer before receiving payment, and a savvy buyer almost certainly won’t pay you before receiving the device.
On a cursory glance through my local Craigslist, I found an unlocked 256GB iPhone 12 in what appeared to be excellent condition listed at $550, considerably higher than any of my trade-in offers. While I suspect the phone’s eventual buyer talked the seller down a bit, I’m willing to bet the seller still came out ahead.
Nextdoor is a localized social network where neighbors communicate about pretty much everything. Tune out the chatter and head straight to the For Sale & Free section, which features a dizzying array of cheap and free items — including, on occasion, older phones.
Nextdoor’s selection isn’t as broad or deep as Craigslist’s, but that’s partly because the buyer pool is smaller thanks to the network’s policy of limiting users’ visibility to nearby communities.
The upside is that when you sell on Nextdoor, you’re quite literally dealing with your neighbors. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take the same precautions as you would on Craigslist, of course.
13. Hold a Yard Sale
It’s probably not worth your while to hold a yard or garage sale solely to offload your old cell phone. Nor are you likely to find many of your friends and neighbors walking around with enough cash in their pockets to cover the cost of a functional smartphone, old or not — though those with P2P payment app accounts might be better prepared.
But if you’re already planning to get rid of a bunch of possessions you no longer need, adding a particularly valuable one to the pile is worth the effort. For best results, post physical flyers and digital ads on sites such as Nextdoor advertising your yard sale at least a week in advance and mentioning any highlights, such as your old cell phone.
14. Sell Direct to People You Know
When in doubt, sell to someone you already know. Your extended network — friends, friends of friends, relatives, coworkers, neighbors, social or business acquaintances — almost certainly includes people looking, right now, for reasonable deals on pre-owned smartphones.
Finding these prospective buyers is as simple as putting out a public call on appropriate social media channels — including Facebook, Instagram, and maybe Twitter and Snapchat — and asking first-degree contacts to spread the word.
Though we’ve never sold an old phone this way, my wife and I sold our last car to someone we knew in a private-party transaction, expending minimal effort and earning far more than we would have netted in a trade-in or dealer sale (while still cutting our friend a deal). The same happy outcome could await your old cell phone.
What to Do Before Selling Your Used Phone
Here’s what you need to do before listing your old phone for sale.
1. Gather All the Old Phones & Electronic Devices You Can Find
If you’re like me — the dupe who dutifully trades in his old phone every two years like clockwork — you don’t have any unneeded old devices stuffed in a box in your basement or hall closet. Everyone else, listen up: It’s better to sell all your old devices at once than to sell them piecemeal over months or years.
Spend a few hours combing through your closets, attic, basement, garage, storage shed, car — anywhere there’s even a remote possibility of finding a forgotten old device. Of course, older, poorly maintained devices won’t fetch primo trade-in offers, but they’re still worth something, and you owe it to the planet not to junk them.
2. Figure Out What Your Phone Is Worth
Next, do some basic market research to figure out what each of your phones is worth. It’s as simple as visiting the buyback marketplaces on the list below and accurately entering your phone’s details: make, model, storage, condition, and perhaps color.
Don’t forget to check with your cellular carrier as well. In some cases, your phone may be worth more in account credits than hard cash.
Soon enough, you’ll have a rough sense of what bulk buyers are willing to pay for your phone. To find out what your fellow cell phone consumers will pay, look up identical devices on eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, and lesser-known peer-to-peer marketplaces such as Swappa. All of these are described in detail below.
3. Research Your Payout Options
Now that you know about how much your device is worth, think about what you’d like to get out of the transaction. Are you hoping to get cash on the spot as fast as possible? Are you OK with waiting a week or two for a mailed check or PayPal deposit? Would you prefer to keep things simple with a credit against future purchases on your cell carrier’s account?
Every platform has its own compensation policies. Once they confirm that your device is as you described it, direct-buyer platforms generally issue payment within a few days, but precise timeframes vary. If the buyer disagrees with your assessment of your phone’s features and condition, it may reduce its payout offer or refuse the device altogether.
Most buyers return phones for free when the seller refuses the revised offer, but you’ll want to confirm that this is the case before you send off your phone. Generally, sellers must affirmatively respond to revised offers within a week or two. Otherwise, the buyer assumes they’ve accepted the offer and issues payment at the reduced rate.
4. Understand What’s Involved in Listing & Selling
Next, ask yourself how much work you’re willing to do to get cash for your phone.
Are you willing to go through the trouble of creating an auction page or classified listing for your phone, and perhaps meeting buyers in person if you’re selling on a classified site such as Craigslist or Nextdoor? Or would you prefer to answer a few simple questions about your phone and be done with it?
The more effort you expend, the more you stand to gain. E-commerce sites such as eBay and Amazon consistently offer higher payouts than direct-buyer marketplaces such as Gazelle, but those e-commerce sites also demand more effort.
As in so many other endeavors, this comes down to the value of your time. If you’re willing to put in the time necessary to earn a premium payout, then you know what you need to do.
5. Wipe or Reset Your Phone
If you do nothing else before disposing of your old cell phone, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to reset your phone to factory settings. Every manufacturer allows phone users to do this; simply search the manufacturer’s website for detailed instructions.
Some buyers won’t even accept older devices that haven’t been wiped according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Others issue lower payouts for devices bearing traces of the previous user.
The occasional buyer might offer to wipe devices so that sellers don’t have to, but don’t take their word for it. All it takes is one rogue employee to play fast and loose with your personal data — and whatever else happens to be stored on your phone. Accept nothing less than a factory reset.
Of course, don’t reset your phone without first backing up your phone’s files, including contacts, to a secure cloud storage account or external storage device, and then migrating those files to your new device as soon as it’s in your possession. If you have an Android phone, the free Android File Transfer app expedites this essential exercise.
You have no shortage of options to sell your old phone for cash. Even if you’re willing to expend just the bare minimum effort to offload that obsolete device, you’ll get something for your trouble.
In fact, it’s so easy to sell your old phone for cash that you should never, ever need to junk it. Electronic devices contain a host of harmful compounds that leach into the soil, water, and air over time. If your municipality incinerates trash, you’re probably breathing in trace amounts of harmful e-waste right now.
If your phone is broken beyond repair, your municipality’s hazardous materials recycling program is your best fallback, but you can probably find a local or national charity that takes e-waste off consumers’ hands for free. If you itemize your tax deductions, you may be able to write off the phone’s fair market value in the tax year during which you donate it. Double-check that with your tax professional.