Should You Buy a Refurbished Cellphone?

There are many good reasons to, and a few reasons not to

The idea of buying a used or refurbished cellphone may turn off people concerned about old or outdated equipment. But refurbished phones may be barely used or include the latest tech. Consider these simple facts when deciding whether or not to buy a used or refurbished device.

Refurbished Versus Used

It's important to differentiate between "refurbished" and "used." These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are by no means the same.

Refurbished phones generally have gone through a professional reconditioning process, either by the manufacturer or a qualified retailer. These phones are checked for defects and cosmetic damage and are reset to a factory default status. Refurbished phones may come with an offer of a limited warranty against defects to encourage confidence in buyers who may be hesitant to buy a refurbished product.



A used phone usually refers to a phone that is resold as is, perhaps by the previous owner. Buying a used phone may offer the opportunity for a fantastic deal, but it also comes with added risk. These devices don't come with new warranties that refurbished phones sometimes offer.

There's also a certain amount of trust you place in the seller of a used device—that they have told you everything you should know about the phone, such as past damage or repairs, changes that void manufacturer warranties (such as jailbreaking), or any scratches or cosmetic defects. Check for these blemishes, as they may not be visible in pictures when buying online from sources like eBay.

Used phones are worth looking into, but you should plan to be more diligent and thorough when shopping.

Cost Savings With Refurbished and Used Phones

The primary benefit of buying a used or refurbished cellphone is cost savings. It's standard practice today for cellphone carriers to guarantee their products with 30-day return policies with no questions asked. However, by law, a device cannot be classified as a new phone when it's returned for any reason within that time window.

Returns of this type are often the result of buyer's remorse and represent an excellent opportunity for the savvy value shopper to save money while still getting an excellent device.

Environmental Benefits of Refurbished and Used Phones

It's become a common practice these days to get a new cellphone every couple of years—and in some cases every year—but what happens to all of those abandoned cellphones? Invariably, they or their parts make their way to landfills. Though companies have become increasingly sensitive to the planet-damaging nature of millions of their products ending up in landfills, and often offer cellphone recycling options, this alone can't solve the problem.

Buying a refurbished phone, however, can have a beneficial effect on the environment. This eco-friendly decision, combined with the savings, makes the choice to go with a refurbished phone more compelling.

When the Newest Isn't Always the Best

Generally, we expect new phone models to improve on past models. That's not always the case, and sometimes the new models come with flaws or changes that you may not like.

As the phone market has matured, progress has leveled off in many ways. Newer devices don't always make large improvements in terms of speed or functionality. So the latest and greatest is no longer the wise shopping choice it once was.

If your phone quits working and you have to get a new one, you can look for your previous device among refurbished or used phones for sale. Refurbished phones are a great choice if you find the rush to adapt to new technology more of a headache than a benefit. You get a "new" phone that's the same as the one you know well while putting off that process of learning new features and functionality for the latest cellphones.

When You Shouldn’t Buy a Used Phone

If you prefer to replace your cellphone every year to have the latest tech, then buying refurbished is likely not for you. There's something satisfying about having a sparkling new device that you can unbox, use, and show off.

Another reason choosing a reconditioned device may not be the right fit has to do with the manufacturer's warranty. A refurbished cellphone is typically returned to a manufacturer within 30 days of use. Refurbished cellphones may come with limited guarantees that the phone has been restored to new condition. The quality of the restoration depends on who is refurbishing the device and why it was returned in the first place.

If this uncertainty is not something you want to worry about, or you need your phone to function flawlessly, the risk may not be worth the benefit for you.

Red Flags to Look for When Shopping Refurbished Cellphones

Start by looking at who refurbished the phone. Is it a reputable company? Do they have a favorable track record? Have other customers been pleased or displeased with their products? Just like buying a used car, don't be afraid to do a bit of homework here.

The vendor you're buying from should be able to convince you why the device will last well into the future, even at such a low price. If they won't disclose their process for professionally restoring the phone, look elsewhere.

Also, look for warranties offered by the refurbishing vendor. New phones come with warranties and so should professionally refurbished phones. While you'll likely find the warranties on a refurbished cellphone to be more limited and shorter in duration, make sure you are covered for a reasonable period of time.

For example, new phones may come with a one-year warranty whereas a refurbished phone may only have 90 days on its warranty. If there is no warranty offered, this is a signal that the vendor doing the refurbishing has no confidence in their reconditioning work—and so you should likewise have no confidence in that phone or vendor.

Where to Buy Refurbished Cellphones

Many wireless carriers offer refurbished phones as a way to offload older inventory and recoup the costs of returned devices. For example, AT&T offers refurb discounts on a variety of phones, sometimes from $40 to $150 off the new-phone prices. Look for refurbished offerings at other carriers as well.

In addition to buying refurbished phones at wireless carriers, retailers like Amazon and Best Buy offer refurbished products that buyers may feel confident purchasing.

Independent vendors are also good places to do some shopping., for example, offers quality pre-owned phones for various cellphone networks, but be aware that they only offer 30-day warranties.

If you feel more adventurous, try eBay. There are plenty of reputable vendors selling refurbished devices there, but do your research to sort the good deals from the less than reputable sellers.

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