AT&T Phone Upgrade? There is a Smarter Way...

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Are you getting ready to upgrade to a new smartphone with AT&T Wireless? Hitting your upgrade eligibility point is exciting, but it's also expensive. There's got to be another way, right?

There is. First, though, we'll look at the options available through the carrier and whether an AT&T upgrade is worth it. Then I'll tell you how to break the cycle of carrying a device balance for the rest of your life.

AT&T Phone Upgrades

Let's take a look at how upgrading works with AT&T.

Monthly Installments

  • Available on basic phones (smartphones are only available under AT&T Next & Next Every Year)
  • Must sign a 20-month payment agreement
  • Must have well-qualified credit
  • Must maintain a service plan on the device

AT&T Next

Next and Next Every Year are AT&T's early upgrade plans.

  • Finance a smartphone for 30 months
  • Upgrade with trade in of financed device after 80% of your device balance is paid (24 months, earlier if you make an optional down payment)
  • Own your phone after making all payments

AT&T Next Every Year

  • Finance a smartphone for 24 months
  • Trade up after 50% is paid (after 12 months, earlier if down payment made)
  • Own your phone after making all payments

Although Next is technically a purchase plan if you keep trading in for an upgrade the plan essentially works like a lease.

There is no extra monthly charge for the Next programs, however, you must maintain a service plan that costs at least $45 per month after autopay and paperless billing discounts are applied.

AT&T Plans With Upgrade

This carrier offers two types of plans:

  • Mobile Share Flex - prices range from $45 to $120 after discounts
  • AT&T Unlimited & More - starts at $70 per line, comes with 30 TV channels

Cost example with device payment:

Samsung Galaxy S9: $26 per month

Mobile Share Flex with 5GB of data: $70 per month

$96 per month total cost, plus fees and taxes.

Cons of upgrading with AT&T Next:

  • If you have less than great credit you'll have to make a 30% down payment on your device.
  • Your device must be in good condition to qualify for trade-in.
  • You're stuck with the carrier until your phone is paid off because device financing operates like a contract.
  • It's somewhat deceptive because you're paying less per month to upgrade earlier, but that keeps you in the cycle of never owning your device unless you pay off the entire balance. This means that if you keep upgrading you're essentially leasing your phone and will never get anything out of it.

Get answers to the question "Is AT&T Next worth it?" (insert link to AT&T upgrade page)

Benefits of Buying a Used or Refurbished Phone

Want to break the cycle? Buy a used smartphone outright and switch to a cheaper cell phone plan (I'll get to those details in a minute).

More and more often people are choosing to buy a refurbished phone because of the high cost of new flagship smartphones. Additionally, the changes made from one model to the next are typically minor, making it a waste to continually shell out $1000 each year just for the privilege.

Benefits of buying used include:

  • Savings of about 50% off the retail price
  • Freedom to take your paid-off, unlocked phone to any carrier you want
  • Wide range of late-model devices available from reputable sellers
  • Typically generous return policies in the event of something wrong
  • Third-party warranties and insurance available to protect your investment

Buying a Refurbished/Used Phone

There are many sites out there that sell used/refurbished electronics, but how do you know which ones are reputable? Well, we've done the hard work for you! Check out our review of the best used phone sites.

Want the most bang for your buck? Check out our comparison tool to get the best deal on a used/refurbished phone.

Key Factors to Consider When Buying a Refurbished/Used Phone

Here's what to keep in mind while shopping for a secondhand device:

  1. Refurbished vs. used: Used cell phones are sold as-is. Refurbished devices have been repaired and restored either by the factory or a third-party. Refurbs are more likely to come with a guarantee or warranty.
  2. Warranties: Each seller site has its own system in place. Gazelle gives you a 30-day warranty while Decluttr offers 12 months. Swappa, on the other hand, connects you directly to the seller so they don't offer a warranty of their own.
  3. Return policies: Most phone seller sites offer a 30-day return period. Swappa allows you to request a return if the item was not as advertised.
  4. Shipping: Shipping is usually free.
  5. Certified phones: Some seller sites, like Decluttr and Gazelle, put their devices through a rigorous testing process.
  6. Phone insurance: There are third-party device protection companies, which can give you peace of mind when buying used.
  7. Phone financing: Gazelle is a seller with a monthly payment option. The interest is typically high on these arrangements so we recommend you pay in full if at all possible.

Now that you know what you're doing you can go ahead and compare used phone prices to find the best bargain in seconds.

Want to Save Even More Money?

Once you've got your new-to-you unlocked phone you're then free to shop around for a cheaper cell phone plan.

Consider Switching to an MNVO

MVNO stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator. All that means is that a smaller wireless company leases space on one of the big four networks and sells the service to you at a lower cost.

How can alternative carriers sell you service so cheaply? They don't have the massive overhead and marketing costs of the major providers, and they pass those savings along to their customers.

Benefits of MVNOs include:

Not sure if you'll really save money by switching carriers? Calculate your potential savings now.

AT&T MVNOs

Happy with the AT&T network but don't want to get caught up in the device payments that come with upgrading? Switch to an AT&T MVNO and keep the same service you love without the high prices.

ROK Mobile

  • All plans include unlimited talk and text, international calling, and roadside assistance
  • Plans are available with various perks like life insurance, ID theft protection, and pharmacy discounts

Red Pocket

  • Flexible plans to fit light, medium, and heavy data users
  • Great prices
  • All plans include unlimited text and international calling to over 70 countries
  • 30-day risk-free guarantee

Cost Comparison: Buying Used vs. AT&T Unlimited &More Plan

There are so many advantages to buying your cell phone outright, biggest of all being the hundreds of dollars you'll save! Let's look at one example of the money you can save by opting for a refurb or used cell phone.

iPhone 8 (64 GB) with AT&T

Refurbished iPhone 8 with MVNO

Phone Price Upfront$0$500
Activation Fee$35$0
Total Upfront Cost$35$500
Monthly installment Price with Next$23.00$0
Monthly AT&T Unlimited &More Price (one line)$70$0.00
Monthly ROK Mobile 10GB Data price on network$0$55.00
Total Monthly Cost$93.00$55.00
Total Cost for 2 years$2,232.00$1,320.00

Total Cost for 2 years + Upfront Cost

$2,267.00

$1,820.00

By purchasing your phone upfront and switching to an MVNO on the same network you can save four hundred dollars in the two years it would take for you to purchase your phone outright through the network's plan! Be sure to use our comparison tools to get the best price on a refurbished phone.

Bring your own phone and save even more money. But be sure to unlock it first.

Sell Your Old Smartphone

So you've made it through all of the steps to get a cheaper cell phone and reduce your wireless bills. There's one thing left to do to maximize the cash you put back in your wallet - sell your old cell phone.

Selling your unused device:

  • Puts cash into your pocket right away
  • Is environmentally responsible
  • Is simple and fast

You can usually use the same sites to buy and sell used phones, making it easy and efficient.

Recap

Take your new knowledge and break the upgrade cycle! The steps are simple and will save you hundreds - possibly thousands - in the long run.

  1. Compare prices to find the best deal on a refurbished phone from multiple sellers in one place.
  2. Compare cell phone plans from low-cost carriers.
  3. Sell your old phone for cash.

Pocket your savings and enjoy!

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