What to Watch Out For When Buying a Used iPhone

Buying used iPhone
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Everyone wants an iPhone, but they aren't cheap. If you want an iPhone but don't want to pay full retail price you can buy another phone or go without. Neither option is very appealing.

But there’s a third choice: buying a used iPhone.

Used or refurbished iPhones will save you some cash, but are the tradeoffs worth it? If you’re considering buying a used iPhone, here are the things you need to take into account and some suggestions for where to find a bargain.

What to Watch Out for with Refurbished iPhones

While a used iPhone can be a good deal, there are a few things you should watch out for to make sure you don't end up a penny wise but a pound foolish.

Get the Right Phone For Your Carrier—Generally speaking, every iPhone model starting with the iPhone 5 will work on all phone company networks. It's important to know, though, that AT&T's network uses an LTE signal that the others don't. So, if you buy an iPhone that was designed for use with Verizon and bring it to AT&T, you may not be able to access that other LTE signal. Ask the seller for the iPhone's model number and check it to make sure it's well-suited to your carrier.

Check out Apple's website on model numbers and LTE networks for more information.

Make Sure The Phone Isn't Stolen—When buying a used iPhone you definitely don't want to buy a stolen phone. You can check the status of the phone you're considering by using Apple's Activation Lock Status tool.

Activation Lock is a security feature that blocks thieves from activating stolen iPhones. Just visit the site and enter the phone's IMEI or serial number. While this won't cover every single phone or possible theft scenario, it's useful information.

Visit the Activation Lock Status website

Contact Your Carrier to Confirm—Even if you've got the right iPhone model, it's a good idea to call your phone company before you buy to confirm it can activate the phone.

In order to do this, ask the seller for the phone's IMEI number (for AT&T and T-Mobile phones) or the MEID number (for Verizon and Sprint). Then call your carrier, explain the situation, and give them the IMEI or MEID. They should be able to tell you whether there will be a problem.

Check the Battery—Since users can't replace the iPhone's battery, you want to be sure that any used iPhone has a strong battery. A lightly used iPhone should have decent battery life, but anything more than a year old should be checked. Ask the seller for as much detail about the battery life as possible or see if they’ll install a new battery before you buy. Also be sure to confirm return policies in case the battery turns out not to be as lively as they claim.

Check the Other Hardware—Every iPhone has normal wear and tear like dings or scratches on the sides and back of the phone. These won't cause problems. But major scratches on the screen, problems with the Touch ID sensor, scratches on the camera lens, or other hardware damage can be big issues. Ask to inspect the phone in person if you can. Check the water damage sensor to see if the phone has gotten wet. If inspecting it isn't possible, buy from a reputable, established seller who stands behind their products.

Buy the Right Storage Capacity—While the allure of a lower price is strong, remember that used iPhones usually aren’t the latest models and have less storage space. The current top-of-the-line iPhones offer up to 128GB of storage for your music, photos, apps, and other data. Some recent models that are available for low prices used have as little as 16GB of space. That's a big difference. If you've got a ton of music, that can really affect your enjoyment of the phone. Buy as much storage as you can. You probably shouldn't get anything less than 32GB.

Assess Features & Price—Be sure you know what features you're sacrificing when you buy a used iPhone. Most likely, you're buying at least one generation behind. That's fine, and a smart way to save money. Just make sure you know what features the model you're considering buying doesn't have and that you're OK with that. A used iPhone may be $50-$100 cheaper, but make sure saving that money is worth not getting the latest features before you buy.

RELATED: Compare all iPhone models in this chart

If You Can, Get a Warranty—If you can get a refurbished iPhone with a warranty—even an extended warranty—do it. The most reputable sellers stand behind their products. A phone that's had a previous repair won't necessarily be trouble in the future, but it might, so consider spending the extra money for an extended warranty.

RELATED: Six Reasons You Should Never Buy iPhone Insurance

Where to Buy a Refurbished iPhone

If a used iPhone is right for you, you need to decide where to pick up your new toy. Some good options for finding lower-cost iPhones include:

  • Apple—Apple sells refurbished products on its website. While it doesn't always have iPhones available, it's worth checking. This is especially true because Apple's refurbished iPhones have been repaired by the experts and come with a limited warranty.
  • Phone Companies—Most of the major phone companies that sell new iPhones also sell used or refurbished ones (which have generally been traded in during upgrades or returned for repairs). Because the iPhone is a hot product, you may not see these too often, but it's worth looking.
  • Used resellers—Companies like NextWorth and Gazelle both buy and sell used iPhones. Their prices are appealing and they often offer some kind of quality guarantee and protection plan. Check out a full list of companies offering these services.
  • eBay/Craigslist—eBay and Craigslist are hotbeds of online bargains, but buyer beware. A scammer could stick you with a broken iPhone or a phone that doesn’t have the specs you thought you were getting. Try to stick with reputable, high-rated sellers.

What To Do If You Can't Activate a Used iPhone

The worst-case scenario is buying a used iPhone and finding you can't activate it. If you're facing this situation, you haven't necessarily wasted your money. Check out this article for instructions on what to do in that situation: What To Do When You Can't Activate a Used iPhone.

Selling Your Old iPhone

If you’re buying a used or refurbished iPhone, you may have an older model you want to get rid of. Get the most money you can for it by assessing all your options. Your best bet is probably to sell to one of the many resale companies like NextWorth and Gazelle (check out the link above for a full list of these companies). They offer a good combination of price and assurance that you won't get scammed.

RELATED: What To Do Before Selling Your iPhone

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