9 Things You Need to Know When Buying a Used iPhone

Use this buying guide when looking for a used or refurbished iPhone

The iPhone is a great device and everyone wants one, but they aren't cheap, and they rarely go on sale. So, if you want to get an iPhone without paying full price, buying a used iPhone may be your best bet. While a used iPhone can be a good deal, there are a few things you should watch out for.

Buying used or refurbished iPhones saves some cash, but they may come with trade-offs. If you’re considering buying a used iPhone, here are nine things you need to check before buying, along with some suggestions for where to find a bargain.

Are Refurbished iPhones Good and Reliable?

You may have some concerns about buying a used or refurbished iPhone. It's reasonable to wonder whether a used iPhone is as good and reliable as a new model. The answer is: it depends on where you're buying the iPhone. If you're buying from an established, reputable, and well-trained source—think Apple and phone companies—you can assume that a refurbished iPhone is a good iPhone. Be more skeptical of less reputable sellers.

Get the Right Phone for Your Phone Company

Every iPhone model starting with the iPhone 5 works on all phone company networks. However, it's important to know that AT&T's network uses an extra LTE signal that the others don't, which can mean faster service in some places. If you buy an iPhone that was designed for Verizon and take it to AT&T, you may not be able to access that extra LTE signal. Ask the seller for the iPhone's model number (it will be something like A1633 or A1688) and check to make sure it's compatible with your phone company.

Make Sure the Used iPhone Isn't Stolen

When buying a used iPhone, you don't want to buy a stolen phone. Apple prevents stolen iPhones from being activated by new users with Activation Lock. But you'll only know if a phone is Activation Locked after you buy it, when it's too late. That said, it's possible to find out if an iPhone is stolen before buying. You need the phone's the IMEI or MEID number (depending on the carrier). Ask the seller for it or follow these steps to get it:

  1. Tap the Settings app on the iPhone.

  2. Tap General.

  3. Tap About.

  4. Scroll down and look next to IMEI (or MEID) for the number. It is usually a 15-digit number.

    Three iOS screens showing General, About, and IMEI Settings
  5. When you have the number, go to the CTIA Stolen Phone Checker website and enter the number into the field provided.

  6. Check the box next to I'm not a robot and click Submit.

    Stolen Phone Checker website
  7. The website returns a green Not reported lost or stolen or a red notice that the phone has been reported as lost or stolen.

If the report contains anything other than the green notice, it's better to look elsewhere for a new iPhone.

Having trouble activating a used iPhone? Check out our tips for fixing it in What To Do When You Can't Activate a Used iPhone.

Confirm the Phone Isn't Carrier Locked

Even if you have the right iPhone model, it's a good idea to call your phone company before you buy to confirm it can activate the phone. To do this, ask the seller for the phone's IMEI number or MEID. Then call your carrier, explain the situation, and give the carrier the phone's IMEI or MEID number. The company should be able to tell you whether the phone is compatible.

Check the Used iPhone's Battery

Since users can't replace the iPhone's battery, be sure that any used iPhone you buy has a strong battery. A lightly used iPhone should have decent battery life, but anything more than a year old should be checked. Check the health of the battery on phones running iOS 12 and up using the Battery Health feature:

  1. Tap the Settings app.

  2. Tap Battery.

    Screenshots of the iPhone Battery Health feature
  3. Tap Battery Health.

  4. The percentage displayed in the Maximum Capacity section tells you good the battery is. A perfect, brand-new battery on a brand-new phone would have 100% capacity, so the closer you are to that, the better.

Apple installs new batteries in their iPhones for a reasonable price, so if you can't get reliable information on the condition of the battery, go to Apple.com for a price on replacing the battery before you buy.

Check for Other Hardware Damage

Every iPhone has normal wear and tear such as dings or scratches on the sides and back of the phone. However, major scratches on the screen, problems with the Touch ID, Face ID, or 3D Touch sensor, scratches on the camera lens, or other hardware damage can be big problems. Ask to inspect the phone in person if possible. Check the water damage sensor to see if the phone has ever gotten wet. Test the camera, buttons, and other hardware. If inspecting the phone isn't possible, buy a reputable, established seller who stands behind their products.

Choose the Right Storage Capacity

While the allure of a low price is strong, remember that used iPhones usually aren’t the latest models and often have less storage space than current models. The current top-of-the-line iPhones offer up to 512 GB of storage for your music, photos, apps, and other data. Some models available for low prices have as little as 16 GB. That's a huge difference. Size isn't as important as it used to be, particularly for people who use iCloud for photos and music, but you shouldn't get anything smaller than 64 GB (and the more, the better). 

Assess Features and 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 the current model (a refurbished iPhone may be $100 or more cheaper). That's fine and is a smart way to save money. Just make sure you know the features the model you're considering doesn't have and that you're OK without them.

Need more info? Compare the features of every iPhone model ever made.

If You Can, Get a Warranty

If you can get a refurbished iPhone with a 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 a warranty is a smart move.

Learn all about the standard iPhone warranty here.

Where to Buy a Used or 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 refurbished iPhones include:

  • Apple: Apple sells refurbished products on its website. While it doesn't always have iPhones, the selections change daily, so it's worth checking. Apple's refurbished iPhones are repaired by the experts with Apple parts, and they come with the same one-year warranty that new iPhones have.
  • Phone Companies: Most of the major phone companies that sell new iPhones also sell used or refurbished ones that were traded in during upgrades or returned for repairs.
  • Used resellers: Companies like NextWorth and Gazelle buy and sell used iPhones. Their prices are appealing, and they often offer a quality guarantee and protection plan. Check out a full list of companies offering these services.
  • eBay and 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.

We've compiled a full list of the best stores to buy phones, too.

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