If you're reading this article, it might be that time of the year when you're looking down at your smartphone and wondering, "when can I upgrade my phone?"
I'm sure you'd agree it's exciting to get a new phone, but most of us would rather wait for an upgrade than buying one beforehand. It's usually a lot cheaper, after all.
Fortunately, figuring out when you're eligible for an upgrade and how to upgrade your phone is pretty straight forward no matter what cell phone carrier you have.
Below, I have outlined exactly how to determine when to upgrade your phone based on your network provider and phone contract. Keep in mind, you may have to pay an upgrade fee.
In This Guide
Tips on Upgrading your Phone
Before you search online or head to your nearest retail store, here are a few things you should know about upgrading your phone:
- Phone update deals tend to vary by carrier; with some available right away and others coming later.
- Phone updates/upgrades do not depend on your type of phone. Instead, they depend on your carrier and your contract. This means iPhone upgrades are no different from an Android phone or Windows phone upgrades. You'll have to call your carrier or look online for an iPhone upgrade, an Android phone upgrade, and a Windows phone upgrade.
- Upgrade programs are separate from your cell phone wireless service plan. Each month, you'll receive a bill for your service plan and a separate one for your upgrade plan or monthly installment agreement.
- You'll have access to the latest smartphones available.
- Wireless networks used to offer subsidized phone plans. Subsidized phone plans ultimately no longer exist.
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Upgrading Your Verizon Phone
Upgrading with Verizon Wireless is a fairly seamless process. Here are a few key points to keep in mind:
- You'll pay for your new phone over two years in equal monthly payments.
- If you have a Verizon family cell phone plan, each line attached to your account may have different eligibility dates.
- You can transfer eligibility from one device to another. From your My Verizon Account, you can follow the on-screen prompts to transfer upgrade eligibility. Keep in mind that when you transfer eligibility from one line to another, the original line is no longer eligible for the upgrade.
Verizon Upgrade Eligibility
On the Verizon Wireless Device Upgrade page, you can type in your cell phone number to check when you are eligible for an upgrade as per your contract. For business customers, there is a link to check eligibility for upgrades.
Another way to check is to simply log in to your Verizon account and click "upgrade device" to begin the process. You must be the owner or manager of the account to log in.
Verizon Upgrade Access Fee
Be aware, however, that you will be charged a $20 upgrade activation fee if you purchase a new cell phone at full retail price (You shell out the entire cost of the phone upfront), or through the device installment payment plan. Although cell phone contract plans are slowly disappearing, users who have a 2-year contract will be charged a $40 activation fee to upgrade their phone.
Verizon Early Upgrade
With Verizon, you can upgrade anytime you're ready, as long as you pay off the remaining balance on your current device. If you upgrade before 24 months, you must turn in your old device in good condition before getting a new phone. You may have to pay an early termination fee.
Verizon Upgrade Deals
Specific discounts for upgrading a cell phone with Verizon tend to vary by the device and the time. As a rule of thumb, you're more likely to get a better deal when upgrading a device that is not the newest and latest cell phone on the market. If you're content with staying a little bit behind the curve, you can save a lot of money.
Verizon does offer a Device Trade-In Program. With the Device Trade-in Program, you can save money on the purchase of a new Samsung Galaxy or iPhone if the old device is in good, working condition.
In case you are not yet eligible for an upgrade, you have the option to buy a new smartphone at the full retail price.
AT&T Phone Upgrade
AT&T's upgrade process is fairly straight forward but comes with a lot of rules to follow and be aware of. Here are a few things to consider:
- At the time of this writing, you can keep your old plan when upgrading to a new phone as long as it is eligible, even if the plan is no longer offered.
- At the time of this writing, AT&T has a policy that if you cancel your wireless service, your remaining device balance will be due.
- The more you pay up front, the cheaper your monthly payments will be.
- Qualified buyers may receive additional discounts dependent upon a credit approval.
- Like Verizon, you can transfer the eligibility of a device to another one. This is perfect for an AT&T family cell phone plan or if you have multiple lines.
AT&T Upgrade Eligibility
You must meet the eligibility requirements of your current plan to trade in your device for a new one, and the trade-in device must be in good condition and fully functioning.
AT&T no longer offers 2-year contracts for smartphones, so their terms and conditions for upgrading new devices have changed as well. At the moment, AT&T offers two different upgrade plans:
- AT&T Next: You'll pay off your phone over the course of 30 months (21/2 years). However, you'll become eligible for an upgrade after 24-months, or if you've paid off 80% of the total sales price. With AT&T Next, you may also make a 30% down payment at the start of the purchase of a new device.
- AT&T Next Every Year: The plan for people who need a new device as soon as they come out, this plan allows customers to be eligible to upgrade every 12 months, or after 50% of total sales price has been paid off. You'll also pay your device off over the course of 24 months. Like the AT&T Next plan, a 30% down payment be required.
Those locked into an existing 24-month wireless contract can upgrade to the AT&T Next or AT&T Next Every Year plan.
AT&T Upgrade Access Fee
When it's time to upgrade to a new phone, you may have to pay these costs at checkout:
- Sales tax on the device.
- If you're required to make a down payment on your device then you'll do that at this step. This is also optional for those with good credit. You may make a down payment to lower your monthly costs.
- If you're upgrading early, you may have to pay off the remaining balance of the device and an early termination fee.
AT&T Early Upgrade
Early upgrades are available by paying either 80 or 50 percent of the phone's value (depending on plan) as a lump sum, prior to upgrading.
Users are eligible to upgrade at any time if they do not have an annual contract month-to-month installment agreement and have brought their own phone to use with AT&T service.
AT&T Upgrade Deals
AT&T customers with credit approval can get a selection of the latest smartphones at $0 down on a monthly installment plan, although you must pay the sales tax upfront. Customers with less than great credit may need to make a downpayment.
Sprint Phone Upgrade
While Sprint makes it easy to upgrade to a new device when you're ready, it does come with a few caveats. Here's what you should know:
- If you cancel your service with Sprint, you'll be required to pay off the remaining balance of your device.
- Sprint offers a 14-day Satisfaction Guarantee period if you're unhappy with your upgrade.
- Only certain plans are eligible for upgrading.
- All upgrades require you to turn in your old device.
Sprint Upgrade Eligibility
You can check with Sprint to see if you are eligible for an upgrade.
Upgrades are available to those buying a phone via Sprint Easy Pay over 2 years, or customers on a Sprint Lease. Sprint levies an extra monthly fee of $5 to be part of the upgrade programs. Keep in mind you must pay your bill 12 months in a row to remain eligible. You'll sign a new Easy Pay or lease to get your next phone.
Users are required to turn in their current fully functioning phone in good condition to sign the lease or installment payment agreement for an upgraded device.
Sprint Early Upgrade
Some Sprint plans let users upgrade their smartphone before completing their current contract with any of Sprint's cell phone plans. Those who sign up for a trade-in option within 30 days of smartphone or monthly rate plan activation are eligible for the Sprint device upgrade program.
Also, you'll need to turn in your existing, good-functioning device and enter into a new lease or installment payment agreement.
Sprint Upgrade Access Fee
An upgrade fee of up to $30 may apply dependent upon your plan and the device.
T-Mobile Phone Upgrade
When T-Mobile introduced JUMP!, wireless phone users were no longer required to keep the same phone for two years. This much-needed change to the wireless industry was especially useful to those stuck with a broken phone. The upgrade service also provides the option to insure your new device against breakage and other problems.
Here are some important features regarding the JUMP! program that you should know about:
- JUMP! On Demand allows users to get a new eligible device whenever they want, up to three times per year.
- Like Sprint, monthly payments may vary dependent upon your credit.
- JUMP! is also available for tablets.
- When using either JUMP! program to upgrade, you must return the old device in working condition.
T-Mobile Upgrade Eligibility
T-Mobile offers their JUMP! And JUMP! On Demand phone upgrade programs. The T-Mobile phone upgrade programs have evolved to keep pace with the competition as the other major carriers jumped on the early upgrade bandwagon. For a more in-depth look regarding T-Mobile's JUMP! service, you can check out our article on "What is T-Mobile Jump?"
With T-Mobile Jump, a customer on their Simply Prepaid plans can enroll in JUMP! or JUMP! On Demand to upgrade to a new device. Eligible phones include the latest iPhone and Android devices, and more are constantly being added (including the Samsung Galaxy S8).
Be aware, though, that both JUMP! programs cannot be used to upgrade from a phone to tablet, or vice-versa.
T-Mobile Upgrade Access Fee
With JUMP!, users sign up for a 2-year equipment installment plan, then add JUMP! to the plan at an extra fee of $10 per month. The extra monthly fee includes insurance, delivering peace of mind. You can upgrade to a new device when you like, as long as you've paid for 50 percent of your current phone.
Upgrade your Tracfone or Virgin Mobile phone
Tracfone Wireless Upgrade
If you want to upgrade your prepaid Tracfone wireless phone, you'll simply have to buy a new or used phone and get it activated on the network. According to the Tracfone Wireless website, you can transfer your minutes and data into your new smartphone easily. Just go to the Tracfone main page and click the Activate/Reactivate Phone button. Then select either phone, SIM, or Bring Your Own Phone CDMA depending on your phone. Call 1-800-867-7183 if you have any issues.
Virgin Mobile Upgrade
To upgrade with Virgin Mobile, you'll need to visit the Virgin Media website. The Virgin Media website details how to upgrade your phone with Virgin Mobile. Basically, you'll need to sign into your account and check your balance. If you can pay off your phone balance, you can be eligible for an upgrade. The only catch is that you may have to pay a $15 upgrade process free.
Now that you know the answer to the question, "when can I upgrade my phone," go out and do it. No matter what cell phone carrier you follow, you'll be in good hands when you are ready to upgrade to a new device. If you're still on the fence about what device you want, we lay out all the latest smartphones on the market so you can compare cell phones at your leisure.
If you're looking to take a step further and switch to a new plan, you can check out our analysis of the best cell phone plans.