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Best Places to Buy Used Cell Phones

Save money with a used or refurbished cell phone

The best places to buy used cell phones

Does the following scenario ring any bells?

You walk into the cell phone store with every intention of holding tightly to your wallet. Yet you leave having spent way more money than you expected. Maybe this whole buying a smartphone at retail price thing wasn't such a good idea after all!

We feel your pain. Even with a phone trade-in program, getting your hands on that new iPhone or Android smartphone can be painfully expensive.

Here's the good news:

Refurbished cell phones can cost you as little as half the retail price of new cell phones. The hard part is determining where to buy one. The online marketplace offers several options. But how do you know which sites are trustworthy and that the device will be in good condition?

In this guide, I'll tell you what to look for and where to buy a used cell phone for the best price.

Used Phone Benefits

There are many benefits to checking out used smartphones for sale online instead of buying directly from your carrier. Here is what choosing to buy used can save you:

1. It can save you a lot of money

Buying a used cell phone can obviously save you a lot of money. If you are on a budget but desperate for a new phone, a used phone is definitely the way to go. You can find a used iPhone or a used Samsung Galaxy in good condition for as little as half the price of a new one.

2. It is fantastic for the environment

The United States throws away up to 9.4 million tons of e-waste annually. Buying pre-owned phones via the online marketplace supports the cell phone recycling process, which is excellent for the environment.

The EPA has recorded that for every million cell phones recycled, 35,274 lbs of copper, 772 lbs of silver, 75 lbs of gold, and 33 lbs of palladium can be saved.

If you're looking to help the cause, this article will tell you how to and what to consider before you sell used cell phones.

Best Places to Buy

Amazon Review

  • Pros
  • Option to compare with similar items

  • Numerous unlocked phones by brand

  • Expert advice offered via phone

  • Most phones qualify for Amazon's free super saver shipping

  • Product pages have features and detailed information

  • Cons
  • No inspection photos

Amazon is one of the best places to buy used cell phones out there. They are also one of the most popular. If you have Amazon Prime, you automatically get free 2-day shipping when you order a used cell phone. Otherwise, they say most phones will qualify for their free Amazon super saver shipping.

Amazon sells unlocked phones by brand, making it easy to shop for what you need. They even give you the option to compare each device with similar options available. On their site, they advertise expert advice over the phone whenever you need it.

On Amazon, used cell phones for sale list all features and detailed information about their memory and warranty. Unfortunately, there are no inspection photos.

When shopping on Amazon, make sure to pay attention to the label of each device. If it says refurbished, that means it has been tested and fixed. These labels will tell you more about what kind of product you're buying.

Gazelle Review

  • Pros
  • Shows device features and specifications

  • No contracts

  • Quality inspections and certifications

  • Pay it off monthly

  • Return policy

  • Cons
  • Smaller selection than some

Gazelle is certainly one of the best places to buy used cell phones online. Gazelle is not actually considered a used cell phone facilitator. Instead, it buys used cell phones and then resells them as certified used devices. It provides USB chargers for all certified cell phones on their site.

Their certifications include a 30-point quality inspection. You can see their Gazelle certification on each certified used cell phone displayed on their site. If you don't see the certification, I would ask for more information about the phone.

Gazelle is known to have a slightly smaller selection than other sellers with used cell phones for sale, especially for phones that are older. They do offer a 30-day return policy all on certified devices, though. If you receive a used cell phone that is more damaged than you thought, you can return it within 30-days. They also offer accidental damage coverage for a small fee.

If you receive a used cell phone that is more damaged than you thought, you can return it within 30-days. They also offer accidental damage coverage for a small fee. If you've found the perfect phone but it's a little too expensive, Gazelle offers a monthly payment option for you to pay at your convenience.

Swappa Review

  • Pros
  • No junk devices

  • Will review device if you ask

  • Makes sure device is not stolen

  • Accidental protection option

  • Cons
  • Seller can edit listing after approval

  • Absolutely no guarantees

Swappa is a no-nonsense place for you to buy used cell phones. Swappa is a facilitator who advertises no junk devices and will even re-review the product you're looking at for your peace-of-mind. Just ask them!

Since they are simply a facilitator, you will have to rely on the owner of the device to send it on time and in the state described. Fortunately, Swappa has excellent customer reviews and seems to have no problem with ensuring devices get to their customers on-time.

Another great thing about Swappa is they will make sure your device is not locked or stolen. This takes a huge risk out of buying used cell phones online. They also offer an accidental protection option, but it is more expensive than other sites.

Unfortunately, none of what is offered on Swappa is guaranteed, especially because you buy directly from the owner. Swappa can ask for pictures and be as thorough as possible, but there is no way to know for sure without the item in hand. The seller can even edit their listing after its approval, potentially changing feature and damage details.

Key Considerations

Let's face it: no one wants to end up with someone's water damaged old cell phone that doesn't work right. But how do you know which site to trust? Should you go with factory refurbished, or even eBay or Craigslist? You're in luck.

In my research, I have uncovered the most vital information to consider before choosing where to buy a used cell phone online.

1. What am I looking for?

Before you even think about making a purchase on a cheap used phone, you need to know what you're looking for. Do you need a phone with a big screen to stream videos and shows? Are you on a budget, looking to filter phones for a specific price? Maybe you need a certain amount of memory storage for your pictures and videos.

Consider these things beforehand. This way, you won't end up with a phone that's completely out of your price range and does nothing to meet your needs. Most used cell phones sites will allow you to filter your options before you search. It's a good idea to use those tools.

2. What condition is the phone in?

Probably the biggest worry for anyone searching for the best place to buy a used cell phone is the condition of the device. You'll want to make sure your used phone comes with some sort of return agreement in case it's not in the condition you expected.

As soon as you receive the phone, make sure there is no water damage. You can do this by thoroughly inspecting the battery and outlets on the phone to see if they are discolored.

Most new iPhones and Android phones also have a Liquid Damage Indicator (LDI) sticker. This sticker is located inside the battery compartment and usually turns red if the inside of the device has been exposed to liquid.

3. Is the phone stolen?

Many thieves sell stolen phones online for money each year. It's important to make sure your device is not a stolen one. There are online databases available for you to do so, using the phone's serial or identification number.

In the wake of cell phone theft in the digital age, carriers have been forced to come up with solutions to prevent such theft. For instance, Apple iPhone has the Find My iPhone App. This application and programs like it allow users to lock and track their phone in the event of loss or theft.

4. Is the phone compatible with my carrier?

Certain phone companies don't activate certain types of devices. Before you make any purchase, you should call your cell phone provider. Make sure they will activate the phone and determine what kind of plan you'll be able to activate. Also, make sure there is no previous contract so you can activate right away.

Depending on whether you have a CDMA or GSM device, you may be able to simply put your existing SIM card into your new phone. If you have a provider that uses GSM phones, this allows your account information to automatically transfer to the new device, including your phone number. That's because your customer information is stored right on the SIM card.

5. Does the phone come with any warranty?

Some used cell phones for sale come with a limited warranty, but some don't. Are you okay if your device doesn't come with a warranty? Since there are no guarantees when making a purchase, a warranty might make you feel a little better about trusting your seller. I would take this into consideration before making a purchase.

6. How much cheaper is the used phone compared with MSRP?

I have seen used cell phones advertised online for around the same price as a brand new phone. This is not how it should be. No matter how like-new the phone is, it should always be considerably less than a brand new phone. Make sure to compare prices to the exact model new cell phone to determine if you're paying more money than you should.

7. Does the phone come with any accessories?

Accessories can add to the price of your used cell phone. Does it come with a charger? Chargers can cost up to $40, which is something to think about before you buy.

Used iPhone Advice

There are some specific steps to take if you decide to purchase a used iPhone 4, a used iPhone 5, a used iPhone 5s or a used iPhone 6. First, you can use Apple's Activation Lock Status tool to determine if your device has been stolen. All you have to do is type in the iPhone's serial or identification number and you will have an answer.

This is why it's important the seller provides the serial number ahead of time. If you take the proper precautions beforehand, you shouldn't have any issues with receiving a stolen phone.

You should also download Find My iPhone and sign in immediately upon activating your used cell phone. This will allow you to lock and locate it in the event of loss or theft.

Used Galaxy Advice

If you want to buy a used Samsung Galaxy - whether that's the Samsung Galaxy S7 or even the Samsung Galaxy Tab - you should know about the Android Device Manager. This program is similar to Apple's Find My iPhone application and allows its users to remotely track, wipe and lock their phone in the case of loss or theft.

The way it works is you have to give Google access to your location on your device. Then you go to the Google website given and sign in to view your location. You also need to set up remote factory reset and lock options on your phone so you can use them when you need them. The remote factory reset option is an excellent tool for preventing your personal information from being stolen in the event of theft or loss.

Questions to Ask

The number of smartphone users worldwide has been forecasted to reach 4.7 billion in 2017. As you can imagine, there are seemingly infinite amounts being traded online within this large group of users.

In fact, 120 million used smartphones are predicted to generate about $17 million in sales at an estimated $140 per device in 2016. But there are some things you should know before you even consider deciding on where to buy a used phone.

1. What is a serial number?

Think of your phone's serial number as its social security number. It is also known as an ESN, MEID, or IMEI. This identification number can allow you to check if the device has been named lost or stolen or has a warranty. You should always check or ask for the serial number when buying a used smartphone online. If the seller won't provide it, I wouldn't do business with them.

2. What is the condition of the phone?

A used phone is one that has some wear but is still fully functional. They are usually a little beat up but work just fine. They have also usually not been tested, certified or worked on.

3. What does certified pre-owned phone mean?

Certified pre-owned phones are those which have been inspected to determine any problems they have had since leaving the factory. This is definitely something you should look at when deciding on where to buy used cell phones.

If your phone has been inspected, you'll be able to tell exactly what's right and wrong with it. You should also be able to tell if it was stolen. This will increase the chances of receiving exactly what you paid for. Certified pre-owned cell phones are usually well taken care of compared to used or refurbished phones.

4. What does refurbished mean?

If your used cell phone is labeled refurbished, it has been returned because it is not working properly or it is used. Either way, it has been tested for any damage and malfunctions, fixed, cleaned, and restored.

The difference between a refurbished device and a certified pre-owned device is simple. A refurbished one has been tested and worked on while a certified pre-owned device has simply been inspected. This is important to note when choosing the best place to buy used cell phones.

5. What are locked and unlocked cell phones?

A locked cell phone is locked to a specific carrier. When you are locked in, you cannot use your cell phone with another carrier. An unlocked cell phone is not locked in with any carrier; therefore, it can be activated by any carrier at any time, as long as it matches the provider's network type - CDMA or GSM. It's best to contact customer service to ensure that you can use it on your carrier's network.

This is what you want when looking for a used cell phone online. Make sure the phone is unlocked so you can activate it immediately. You can learn more about how to unlock cell phones with this guide.

6. Are there any guarantees?

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees when shopping for used phones online. You won't have the benefit of being able to access your carrier's customer service if you have a problem with your device. Refurbished/used/pre-owned cell phones are hit or miss, which is why you need to take the steps to ensure you get the perfect device at the right price.

7. How does used phone pricing work?

Figuring out how much a used cell phone is really worth is difficult. After all, how are you really supposed to tell if the seller is giving you a fair price?

Fortunately, there are sites out there who will calculate the numbers for you. I suggest checking one out to understand where the price comes from and if the site of your choice is offering legitimate price options. Also, make sure the price of the used phone is significantly less than the price of a brand new model from your local cell phone store.

Remember, prices on newer phone models go down over time. If you really want an iPhone 6s but it's too expensive right now (even used), just wait it out. It may go down a significant amount in just a couple of months.

120 million used smartphones are predicted to generate about $17 million in sales at an estimated $140 per device in 2016.

Sell Your Old Phone

You may now be wondering: where can I sell my iPhone or Android smartphone? Start with our guide on where to sell your used cell phone.

You could also bring your device into your local Best Buy or contact customer service on one of the sites I reviewed here to determine if they'll pay you for your old cell phone. If not, you can help the environment out by turning it in any way for recycling.


I put a lot of time and effort into choosing the top five best places to buy used cell phones. I researched and compared customer reviews, company details, and industry statistics to determine the best way to go about buying and where to do it.

Ultimately, I have found that buying used, refurbished and pre-owned cell phones online is an excellent way to save money and support the environment. After researching the process, I have no doubt you will find exactly what you're looking for at a great price. Just make sure to follow my tips and get to know your device as best you can before you buy it.


What's the bottom line? You definitely have to be careful when buying cheap used cell phones online because there are no guarantees. If you do it the right way, however, you can save hundreds of dollars. The internet makes it easy to buy and sell almost anything, and electronic devices are no different.

Whether you're looking for an Android smartphone, an Apple iPhone, or even just a basic Android phone, you can find refurbished unlocked cell phones at a great price on any of these websites.

Now that you've become an expert on finding the best place to buy used cell phones, you can go out and get a great device for a decent price. We've taken the first step for you and compared the most popular used smartphones on the market.

Rob Webber
Rob Webber

Rob has 15+ years experience in the US and UK running price comparison sites for cell phone plans, smartphone deals, TV, and internet. He loves thinking outside of the box to build tools that empower consumers to make more informed decisions.