Shante Wilkerson bought her first used phone in 2016, and she’ll never go back to buying new.
“I can’t justify it financially,” she says. “If a new phone isn’t free, I don’t get it.”
But carriers no longer hand out free phones in exchange for a two-year contract. Instead, customers now pay the full retail price — anywhere from $700 to $1,000 for the latest smartphone — in monthly installments over 18 to 24 months. You’re not locked into a contract like before, but you still need to pay the remaining balance on your phone if you cancel your service.
That’s a lot of money. Buying a used phone can cut your device costs in half, but the appeal of purchasing a pre-owned phone goes beyond price.
The benefits of buying used
1. You save big. A used Samsung Galaxy S7 currently sells for as little as $149 on Swappa, an online marketplace for used phones. That’s a price cut of more than $300 off the retail cost of $480. Your used phone may come with a few dings and scratches, but your savings will easily cover the cost of a case to hide those imperfections.
2. You get more storage for less. New iPhones offer a standard 32GB of storage, and you’ll have to shell out an extra $100 to bump up to 128GB. That’s not the case with pre-owned phones. A 128GB iPhone 7 on Gazelle, an online marketplace for used electronics, is currently only $40 to $50 more than the 32GB version being sold there.
3. You help the environment. Americans generate millions of tons of electronic waste every year, a large chunk of which is old cellphones. Those phones pile up in landfills in the U.S. and overseas, where they seep harmful chemicals into the soil, water and air. Purchasing a secondhand phone is a small step to reducing the flow of e-waste.
“By buying used, you’re giving second life to a device,” says Chase Freeman, a spokesperson for ecoATM Gazelle, which includes the online marketplace and physical kiosks to sell phones for cash. “And you’re keeping it out of a landfill, where it can harm the environment.”
4. You don’t sweat the cracked screen (as much). Kids now get their first smartphone as early as age 10, and the odds of your fifth-grader dropping that new smartphone is high. You can minimize your potential losses by getting your child (or a clumsy adult) a gently used phone.
» READ: Best family cellphone plans
When to buy new
Used smartphones are almost always the cheaper option, but there are a few reasons to consider buying a new device.
A promotion is too good to pass up. Major carriers often run promotions that offer steep discounts, including buy one smartphone, get one free. Deals like these can be hard to pass up, especially if the cost of two new phones is less than one used model.
You want a longer life cycle for your phone. Cellphones, like computers and other electronics, have a limited life span. When you buy a new phone, you get it at the start of its life cycle, says George Koroneos, a spokesperson for Verizon Wireless.
“There are things I buy secondhand, like guitars,” Koroneos says. “But computers, things that have an end date, that’s when I’d rather have something new to get the most out of the life of it.”
That said, many used phones still have a lot of juice left in them. You just need to ask the right questions to assess its condition before you buy.
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