With iPhone prices climbing in prices by the year and offering more performance than the average person might need, used and refurbished iPhones are in demand more than ever.
But getting the most out of a refurbished iPhone deal is all about knowing where to look and what to look for. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know so you can buy -- and save -- with confidence.
Related Guide: What Are Refurbished Phones and Why Would You Want One?
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for 2020
Why Buy A Used or Refurbished iPhone?
For most people, the decision to buy a used phone or a refurbished phone comes down to money.
Find a good deal and you can enjoy 95% of the “new phone” experience at a savings of as much as 40% to 50% off the new phone price.
But since the latest high-end releases are pushing four-figure prices, even 15% to 20% savings can shave a nice sum off the final bill.
Worried about quality and dependability? Don’t be...
A good refurbished or used iPhone deal will include all of the accessories and a warranty, just like if you bought new.
There’s really nothing to lose as long as you’ve done the research before buying to be sure you’re using a reputable seller.
But there’s also another reason to consider used or refurbished phones -- it’s good for the environment.
Today’s cutting-edge phones are more phone than the after person will ever really use.
Top-end iPhone releases from a year (or even two) ago will offer comparable day-to-day performance. They still load apps nice and snappy, play games without breaking a sweat, and provide a great visual experience when browsing the web or streaming video despite the differences in their benchmarks and all the marketing hype.
Yet people still flock to buy the latest releases the moment they come out.
These phones require rare resources to build, energy to manufacture, and fuel to ship.
By buying used or refurbished phones, you help to offset this impact and ensure that resources spent are used for longer.
Spend less and save the planet doing so... We think that’s pretty awesome.
Used vs Refurbished: What’s the Difference?
If you’ve ever looked at the second-hand iPhone market, you’ve probably seen the slew of words used to describe phones that are not new.
If you haven’t, think about the words you see on used cars ads. The terms people use when selling used or refurbished phones are often similar.
Used, pre-owned, refurbished, renewed, like new, certified, refreshed, open box… the list goes on.
So what’s the difference?
In most cases, used iPhones haven’t been repaired or inspected in any major way. You’ll often see this from private sellers looking to sell their phone and upgrade.
Refurbished iPhones, on the other hand, are often inspected by professionals -- sometimes even the manufacturer -- and returned to like-new condition before the seller lists them.
In the case of Apple refurbishing, they even replace the battery and outer shell.
So you’re getting a nearly new phone in terms of the typical parts which take abuse or degrade.
So be sure to look at any terminology used and how the seller defines it.
For example, Amazon doesn’t use refurbished, they call their phones “renewed.” It’s all about marketing. In the end, you still get similar protections to most refurbished phone sellers -- in this case a 90-day warranty and a promise that the phone was thoroughly inspected and returned to like-new condition.
On the other hand, if you’re expecting a like-new phone and get a scuffed, scratched monstrosity, you’ll probably regret your decision.
Understanding the difference between used and refurbished -- and more importantly how sellers define the condition of their phones -- can help to set expectations and provide recourse for you should something not work out as planned during the purchase.
Buying Tips: What You Need to Know
1. Get Clear Explanations of What Was (or Wasn’t) Done to Your iPhone
If you have any doubts after looking at a phone listing, be sure to ask questions. Better still, if they’ll provide responses in writing, this can serve to help protect you should the phone arrive in a condition you don’t find fits the description provided.
If they didn’t care to clean up the phone before selling, they probably didn’t take very good care of it before selling it either…
2. Find Your Balance of Risk and Savings
Prices within the used and refurbished iPhone market vary quite a bit…
In general, you’ll find the lowest prices at places which require you to do the most work -- and assume the most risk -- such as online classifieds and auction sites.
Whereas if you walk into a local electronics retailer or your carrier store, they’re likely to charge more for a used or refurbished phone. But that also comes with added protections and often better warranties.
So finding the balance of risk and savings is important to finding the best deal for you.
If you’re fairly tech-savvy and don’t mind asking extra questions from the seller, an online auction or classified might be better.
However, if you’re looking for the easiest option and don’t care how much you save, major phone resellers are often the best fit.
3. Beware of Stolen iPhones
While most major sites selling refurbished phones are legitimate businesses and do what they can to avoid stolen phones, online auctions and classifieds are a different story.
Even if everything seems reliable, be sure to ask to see receipts or proof of purchase. You can also ask for the phone’s IMEI or MEID number.
If a seller won’t provide this information, it could be a sign of a bad deal.
This number is unique to every phone. With it, you can call up your carrier and make sure that the phone is in good standing and compatible with your service provider.
You can also run checks online yourself if you’d prefer. You can consult our guide on IMEIs and cellphone blacklisting for step-by-step instructions for most phones.
4. Check Any Warranties
Used phone warranties will vary.
However, most refurbished phones are available with at least a 90-day warranty. Some vendors even offer a full year.
So there's almost zero reason to buy a refurbished iPhone without a warranty these days.
If the price is amazing, you might consider it. But also consider that many phones priced well below market value have flaws or could be a scam.
For most, paying a little more for warranty coverage is a good value.
5. Inspect The iPhone When Possible
While online purchasing makes inspection hard, always ask to see the phone if you're buying in person.
Give the phone's features a quick once-over to make sure things are working properly.
Features to check include:
The various physical buttons on the phone
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity
Headphone ports (where applicable)
Screen and shell condition
If everything checks out, the only other consideration is battery condition.
On older iPhones this is tricky. But phones running iOS 11.3 and newer actually include a handy battery condition check right in the software.
Just head to "Settings", then "Battery", followed by "Battery Health".
You should see a percentage listed which tells you the condition of the battery.
If it's lower than about 80%, you might need to replace the battery for long-term performance.
However, low battery health doesn't mean you shouldn't buy the phone. Apple's battery replacement makes it affordable and easy to replace the battery. Just consider that cost in the price you're paying before handing over any money.
If you're buying online, do these steps as soon as you receive the phone.
The quicker you notice any flaws or concerns, the better the chance that you'll be able to resolve the problem with the seller or use your buyer protections if they're uncooperative.
6. Note Any Return Policies
Let’s face it… anyone selling things online can say whatever they want about the product their selling.
This means what's listed as a mint condition used iPhone could, in fact, show up in rough shape or fail to work.
If you run into any troubles with your phone after purchase, return policies and warranties are often your first line of defence.
Be sure to note any return policy offered. It’s not uncommon to see returns and warranties for anywhere from 90 days to a year in the refurbished market. So if a seller doesn’t offer one, you might consider paying a bit more to buy from one who does.
NOTE: If you buy using PayPal or your credit card, you might find you have additional purchase protections available should a return or refund policy fail to fix things. We highly recommend contacting your payment method to discuss options if you run into reasonable issues a seller cannot (or will not) resolve.
5. Make Sure the Phone is Reset Before Buying
With Android phones, buying a phone with someone’s account information on it might be a little weird, but it's typically easy to fix.
On iPhones, the integration of iCloud and Apple’s various security features make things a little trickier. If you’re buying a used or refurbished iPhone, be sure that any iCloud or Apple accounts are unlinked and the phone is reset before handing over any money.
Unlocking a phone you’ve purchased with a locked iCloud or Apple account can be very tricky. More so, if the seller cannot remove the accounts before selling it to you, it could be a sign they’re trying to sell you a stolen phone.
Where to Buy Used & Refurbished iPhones
With the popularity of used and refurbished phones, there is no shortage of places you can buy one these days.
If you’re not sure where to start your search, these sites and services are some of the best around -- both in terms of pricing and reviews.
1. Direct from Apple
If you’re looking for the simplest option with a great balance of savings and reliability, buying refurbished iPhones direct from Apple is often a great bet.
Apple even replaces the outer shell and battery for their refurbished phones. So you really do get a phone that is nearly new.
Best of all, Apple refurbished iPhones come with a one-year limited warranty and 90 days of technical support. If you’re worried about longevity, you can even add an AppleCare policy to your phone at the time of purchase.
It really is most of the perks of new with a lower price tag.
2. Amazon Renewed
Amazon was a great place to find used phones already. But their Amazon Renewed program now makes them awesome for buying refurbished products as well.
Options vary based on inventory available. So you never quite know what you will find. The best way to check your options is to search for “Amazon Renewed iPhones” and see what’s available.
Most Amazon Renewed products feature at least a 90-day return policy with some offering coverage for up to a year. As always, returns are covered by Amazon, so if you run into a problem it’s as simple as printing a shipping label and sending it back.
3. Refurbished Resellers
These companies built an entire business around selling used phones. So you know they have a reputation to uphold. They are generally well-reviewed and all offer respectable refund policies and warranties -- though exact terms vary between sites. Some also sell used phones alongside refurbished ones, so be sure you know exactly what you’re buying before you commit.
Popular options include:
4. Carrier & Electronics Stores
While you’ll probably save the least amount of money using these stores, you have the peace of mind and convenience of knowing you have a physical location nearby to pop in and ask questions should anything happen.
In most cases, carriers allow returns for a short time and provide warranties of at least 90 days to ensure everything is working as described.
You can also swing by your local major electronics retailer and check what options they have available. While most of the phones on display are likely new, they might offer a selection of refurbished phones if you speak to the sales representative.
For example, Best Buy’s open-box phones are an amazing way to get a nice discount on something that might have never even be used before. In many cases, open box items are simply returns that can’t be sold as new but were returned without any physical damage or other flaws.
But you can’t really search for them on the website, you just have to pop in to your local store and see what they offer at the time.
5. Online Classifieds & Auction Sites
While these sites often come with the greatest risk, the savings can be substantial as well. Be sure to check listings thoroughly for any tricky details and always ask questions if you have any.
Popular choices include:
Look for listings with real pictures of the phone for sale -- not just stock images -- and be sure they show the phone in functioning order, not just turned off sitting on a table.
Finally, check seller feedback to be sure you’re dealing with a reputable seller. If they are running scams or selling stolen equipment, reviews will pile up fast.
Our guide on buying a used phone covers additional pitfalls you might encounter and offers tips to help you verify the phone you’re looking at is exactly what the seller says it is. Many of these tips also apply to refurbished phones on online auction sites.
While buying a refurbished or used iPhone is a great way to save money, it’s not without its risks. But by researching the seller -- or choosing a major refurbishing service -- you can choose the optimal balance of savings and risk for you.
But it’s not just about saving money, you’re also helping the environment -- both by keeping electronics out of landfills and by getting that much more out of the resources used to manufacture the phone in the first place.
While you’ve probably seen horror stories of broken or stolen phones sold online, it’s easy to avoid these problems and find a high-quality, reliable phone that will serve you well for years to come.
P.S. If you're looking at used or refurbished phones to upgrade your existing phone and you're not sure what to do with your old one, our guides on phone recycling and repurposing your old phone can help you get rid of your old phone responsibly or put it to good use.
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 Washington Post: Not All iPhones Are the Same. These Cost Less and Are Better for the Earth.
 Expert Reviews UK: Refurbished iPhones: Everything You Need to Know about Buying a Secondhand iPhone
 Lifewire: 9 Things You Need to Know When Buying a Used iPhone
 Gotta Be Mobile: 8 Best Places to Buy a Used or Refurbished Phone
 Know Your Mobile: Thinking about Buying a Refurbished iPhone? Read This First
 Make Use Of: The 3 Best Places to Buy a Used or Refurbished iPhone
 CNN: Used iPhones: A Guide on Where and How to Buy One
 Mac Rumors: Apple Refurbished Products: Should You Buy Them?
 Macworld UK: Where to Buy a Second-Hand iPhone
 Forbes: Apple Expands Certified Refurbished iPhone Program to Back Market