How to Check iPhone Upgrade Eligibility

Making a purchase at the Apple Store
Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

If you're a current iPhone owner, or a current AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon customer, you may looking forward to the day when you can buy a new iPhone. But, if you don't check one important piece of information, that day could turn out to be much more expensive than you anticipated.

That's because the US prices advertised for the iPhone aren't the price available to everyone. That's the price for new customers and existing customers who qualify for upgrades.

The Subsidy System

Cell phone companies discount, or subsidize, the price of the phones they offer. If customers paid full price for their cell phones, they'd pay a lot more than the advertised prices — and probably a lot fewer phones would be sold. For instance, if the full price of the iPhone is over $600. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon pay Apple the difference between that price and what they charge customers — they subsidize the price, in order to boost sales of the phones and attract more customers to their services. Since the companies make the most money on their monthly calling and data plans, this is a good deal for them and for customers.

Who's Eligible?

But not every single customer or potential customer is eligible to get the lowest possible price when upgrading. If they were, then so many customers would upgrade each year that it would be hard for the phone companies to make money.

Instead, they limit the biggest subsidies — the ones that make the iPhone cost 30 – 60% of the full price — to customers who:

  • Sign a new two-year contract and don't currently have service with that company
  • Switch from another phone company and sign a two-year contract
  • Have been paying month-to-month and are willing to sign a two-year contract
  • Have been a customer of that company for a pre-determined amount of time (usually 12 – 24 months, but it varies by phone company)
  • Participate in an early-upgrade program.

Customers who don't fall into one of these categories have to pay higher prices, sometimes 20% more or the full price of the phone.

Checking iPhone Upgrade Eligibility with Apple

So, if you're an AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon customer and want to get a new iPhone — whether you already have one or this will be your first — you need to know how much you're going to pay. You might be happy to pay an upgrade price with a significant discount for a new iPhone, but not so interested if it's a full price.

To prevent any surprises in the checkout line, you can check your upgrade eligibility online. To do that, and to find out how much an upgrade to the new iPhone will cost you, use Apple's upgrade eligibility tool (this tool works for AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon customers). To use that, you'll need your phone number, billing zip code, and the last four digits of the social security number of the account holder.

Checking iPhone Upgrade Eligibility with Phone Companies

You can also check your eligibility with your phone company by doing the following:
AT&T: Dial *639#
Sprint: Visit https://manage.sprintpcs.com/specialoffers/RebateWelcome.do
Verizon: Dial #874

If you use the phone-based upgrade checker, you'll get a text message from your phone company informing you of your upgrade eligibility and pricing options.

Sprint and T-Mobile customers can also check the status of their accounts on their corresponding phone company's website.

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