The shiny new phones you see on TV look amazing.
Until you check the price.
$800 for the latest smartphone? Not happening this month.
But what if you could get a powerful phone without spending all your grocery money?
The good news is… you can.
And it doesn’t mean doing anything illegal.
What’s the secret?
In this guide, we’ll show you both where to find great refurbished deals and what to watch out for.
What is a Refurbished Phone Anyway?
Refurbished phones are used phones that someone has inspected and repaired to meet certain requirements.
If you’ve ever made an insurance claim on your phone, there’s a good chance you received a refurbished replacement. After all, if carriers handed out new phones after every accident, they wouldn’t make much money.
In most cases, phones are refurbished to “like new” condition. However, this will vary based on who is refurbishing the phone and who is selling it.
So Refurbished Phones are as Good as New Phones?
...It depends on who refurbishes the phone.
If you’re working with the local pawn shop or some shady corner store... probably not.
With manufacturer refurbs, however, you can usually count on them to understand the common issues with their models and to perform a thorough check of the phone’s functions before repackaging it.
A good refurb is as dependable as a new phone.
In fact, many reputable companies that sell refurbished phones offer warranties to add peace of mind and ensure you’re getting a good deal.
In most cases, if a refurbished phone lasts a month or two after you use it, you need not worry about surprises down the road.
Where Do Refurbished Phones Come From?
Typically refurbished phones are phones that people have traded back to the carrier or to a company offering cash for phones.
Sometimes, there was nothing wrong with them. The person simply wanted a new model.
The refurbisher cleans it up, buffs out any scuffs and clears the memory and it’s ready to go.
Other times, the phone was smashed, splashed or otherwise broken so the owner recycled the phone, thinking a little money was better than nothing.
The recycler then sells the phones in bulk to places who can fix them and resell them as refurbished.
Repair performed on these refurbished phones cover many things--from replacing the internal components or installing new screens to smaller fixes, like broken headphone jacks or USB ports.
Why Not Just Buy a Used Phone?
Compared to a used version of the same model on a site like eBay or Craigslist, refurbished phones are more expensive.
However, when you buy a used phone, it’s up to you to be sure everything is working right before the sale.
This is tricky to do online when the phone is halfway across the country.
Unless the site you’re using offers protection, you could find yourself out of money and without a working phone if things go wrong.
Refurbished phones help with this problem.
As long as you choose a reputable source, you’ll enjoy peace of mind that the phone works, a warranty against future issues and increased buyer protections.
Most refurbished phone sellers also ensure that the device isn’t lost or stolen before selling it. So you don’t need to worry as much about buying a phone that locks in a month or two leaving you with an expensive paperweight.
Sounds Great! How Do I Find a Good Refurbished Phone Deal?
Before we break down the options, there’s one important question to answer:
“Do you want an unlocked phone?”
If you’re not sure, be sure to check out our guide on the benefits of unlocked phones .
While unlocked phones offer added flexibility in how and where you can use your refurbished phone, it will also add to the price and reduce your options on where to buy.
Not to mention, if you buy a locked refurbished phone on contract from a carrier, they’ll unlock it once you meet the terms of your contract anyhow.
This means you can save a bit more money upfront if you don't mind having to wait before you can unlock it.
Unless you need the benefits of an unlocked phone right away, the savings are probably worth the wait.
All Right, So What Are My Options? Where Should I Buy One?
You can buy refurbished phones from several places.
Ranking one option versus another is tricky.
They all offer different levels of savings.
More savings often means more risk. But that isn’t always the case.
Here are the main sources for finding phones, along with the pros and cons of each so you can decide the best fit for you.
Refurbished Phone Retailers
With the strong demand for refurbished phones, several retailers have popped up to take the hassle out of finding a good deal.
While you won’t get prices as low as an online classified or the subsidies on offer from many carriers , you also won’t need to worry so much about getting scammed.
Some of these sites don’t actually stock the phones themselves. They find reputable sellers and work with them to bring you good deals.
You’ll typically enjoy improved protections over online classifieds or auction sites, but check the description of the phones to see what you should expect.
Best Buy offers a 14-day return policy
Many certified refurbished phones also include a 1-year limited warranty
Certified refurbished phones sold through the Amazon Renewed program include a 90-day warranty in addition to any warranties offered by the seller.
Terms vary for phones sold by third-party sellers without Amazon Renewed certification. Check individual phone listings for warranty information.
All phones sold by orchard include a 30-day warranty. You can extend this warranty for up to 1 year for an added-fee at the time of purchase.
All phones sold on RefurbMe are subject to the return policies and warranties of the individual seller. Check individual phone listings for additional information.
Most carriers offer a selection of refurbished devices. However, be sure to check their return and exchange policies. In most cases, they’ll only offer a warranty of 90 days or so.
Just like new phones, you’ll probably see two prices. One is for upfront purchase. The other is the contract or subsidy price.
Be sure you understand the terms before pushing the buy button to ensure you’re not locked into a contract you don’t want.
Major carriers offering refurbished phones in CA include:
Don’t see your favorite carrier listed? Check our carrier summaries for site information and explore their options.
You can also check your local carrier store location. Some offer deals on refurbs you won't find on the main carrier site.
Local Phone Shops
So you’d rather get a refurbished phone you can touch and test first before you lay down your hard-earned money?
Just keep in mind, while you can test out a device when you buy local, you probably won’t find the guarantees you get online unless you’re buying from a big chain store.
Checking with local electronics stores, thrift stores, and pawn shops can turn up great deals. But research the business on social media, Google, Yelp, Foursquare or the Better Business Bureau before you go.
Once you’ve found a phone you like, be sure to ask about what they have done to recondition the phone, return policies and warranties.
If they offer a return policy or warranty, get something in writing.
You can never be too safe. If anything seems suspicious, DON’T BUY! You’ll probably end up regretting it.
Online Classifieds and Auction Sites
The last set of options are where you’ll often find the best deals.
Private sellers and merchants often post phones they’ve refurbished on online classified sites.
Popular sites include:
But these sites come with increased risk.
Let’s face it—anyone can say anything on the Internet. You don’t always have a way to disprove it.
Here's What You Should Know Before Buying a Used Cell Phone
While they might claim an awesome warranty and decades of experience refurbishing phones, you might find they did nothing to the phone and vanish when you have a problem.
As with the local option, do your research!
Look at seller profiles, check descriptions and don’t hesitate to ask the seller questions.
Even if you have the cash to pay for a refurbished phone upfront, it might be best to put it on a credit card instead. Why? Because most major credit card providers offer extended protections against bad purchases.
Even with research, things go wrong sometimes. If so, your credit card will back you up and help to get your money back.
Just be sure to pay off the purchase soon or you’ll rack up interest. Depending on your card, this might steal any savings you realized from going refurbished.
Great! Anything Else to Consider?
Like we said above, refurbished doesn’t always mean the same thing from one seller to the next.
For a quality seller, refurbished should always mean the phone functions “like new.”
Looks are a different matter and will depend on the seller...
You’ll find phones ranging from “like new” to “has scratches and dents, but it still works.”
For sellers that break down condition into multiple tiers, you’ll usually get a better discount on phones that run great but look used.
Be sure to check all of their criteria so you know exactly what you’re buying.
Taking a look through their return policy will also let you know how to proceed if you don’t feel like the phone you received is in acceptable condition.
Finally, see how they handle shipping.
It doesn’t matter how well they inspected or repaired the phone if you never receive it or it’s damaged during shipping.
What Are Some Common Red Flags to Watch For?
No Warranty: It’s standard to offer a warranty, even if it’s only a month. If not, take your money elsewhere.
No boxes or accessories: While it’s not a deal breaker if the boxes or accessories are missing, this might be a clue to double-check the seller’s reputation. Sometimes, these are missing because the phone is stolen.
No sales history: When you’re spending a few hundred dollars, you want to know you can trust the seller. If the price looks too good and there’s no seller history, it’s probably a scam.
Poor communication: Don’t be afraid to ask the seller or site questions. If they don’t get back to you with a simple answer or treat your questions rudely, imagine the treatment you’ll receive if you have an issue with your phone.
Data left on device: If you receive your phone and find it still has pictures, apps, contacts or other information from the previous owner, return it immediately. If they couldn’t bother to wipe the memory, who knows what else they forgot. Even worse, who knows what they might have installed!
What Time of Year is Best for Buying Refurbished Phones?
In most cases, the best time of year to hunt for refurbished phone deals is before the release of a new model
This is particularly true for flagship phones.
When new models are released, people scramble to get the latest and greatest. To help pay the expense, they’ll often trade-in their phone. These phones then go back to the manufacturer or out to a reputable refurbisher and pop back up on the market.
There’s a good chance there wasn’t anything wrong with the phone. It just wasn’t new anymore.
For example, if you’re looking to snag a refurbished iPhone, find out when the next model going to be released. Then, start checking for deals a week or two in advance.
Other times of year to look for the best refurbished phone prices are the holiday shopping and back-to-school seasons.
What about Laptops, Tablets or Handheld Games? Can I Find Those Refurbished Too?
Yes! In fact, many of the sites listed above in the Refurbished Phone Retailers section also sell other electronics such as tablets.
The rules are the same.
You can even use release cycles to find the best prices!
Refurbished phones can work and look as good as a new phone.
They save you money compared to a new phone.
If you don’t mind a few dings or scratches, you can save even more money.
Go with a manufacturer refurb or a reliable third-party service, such as Orchard when possible.
Always note the return terms and warranty before buying.
P.S. Not sure what refurbished phone model to choose? Check out our phone reviews.