Whether you’re slogging through the semester or preparing to enroll, going to college is a tough exercise in financial responsibility. Cash isn’t always easy to come by, so anything you can do to increase your income is a smart move.

Unfortunately, part-time gigs, asking the ‘rents for money, and other traditional ways to get funding aren’t that sustainable. The good news is that you’re probably already sitting on a valuable economic treasure trove – your old devices. Although you’re unlikely to recoup the full sum you initially spent on that once-shiny Apple device or Android phone, trading in when you upgrade is a great way to stretch your meager budget a bit further.

How Does an Apple Trade-in Work?

If you’ve ever bought a car or watched dealership commercials, then you’ve probably noticed that these businesses offer discounts on new cars if you sell them your old one. This process, also known as trading in or selling back, lets consumers extend their purchasing power by using their outdated possessions as partial payments for upgraded versions.

Hardware companies, device resellers, and mobile carriers offer similar programs. There are various Apple sell back programs that allow you to sell your Apple devices. When you purchase a phone, you can turn in the old one to get a credit that shaves some money off of the purchase price. As with car dealerships, however, this process isn’t universal.

Exploring Your Trade-in Options

Different companies maintain unique trade-in terms. For instance, carriers like Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T all have buyback limits that cap the maximum amount you can receive. Other common trade-in restrictions with cell phone service providers include:

  • Having to be a new or current plan subscriber,
  • Only being allowed to trade in a single device per month for every active line you maintain,
  • Needing to use the company’s online trade-in value estimator to be eligible, and
  • Receiving company credit or gift cards instead of cash.

The official Apple sell back program is a prime example of this. You can only trade in specific Apple devices, and you’ll only receive Apple gift cards in return. While it’s nice that the company offers free recycling for your ineligible old hardware, its trade-ins will only get you so far. If you’re going to be stuck with a gift card, then you might as well trade in with Amazon so that you can enjoy a broader range of spending options after the fact.

To get around these problems and avoid having to jump through hoops, many college students turn to third parties – the independent tech sellers that specialize in all kinds of tablets, phones, streaming TVs, and other devices. In most cases, these are companies that specialize in recycling, refurbishing, and reselling old gear, such as SellYourMac, Gazelle, Decluttr, and It’s Worth More.

Which option is better? It all depends on what you’re in it for. If getting a lower price on your new phone is the ideal, then there’s nothing wrong with picking your favorite carrier or generic retailer and doing things that way. If, however, you want some cash that doesn’t come with any restrictions on how you spend it, then you’ll definitely need to check out resellers.

How Much Can You Get for an Android or Apple Trade-in?

The amount of money you’ll receive for trading in your old device depends on a few key factors, including

  • Which carrier and regional networks support the hardware,
  • Which versions of Android or iOS the phone or tablet works with,
  • How old the device is and how long you’ve owned it,
  • Whether you’ve included the battery and back cover,
  • Whether you’ve deregistered the device and unlocked all the passwords to make it easy to refurbish or resell,
  • Which version of the device you own and how it compared to others released at the same time, such as the Pixel versus the Pixel XL or different flavors of the iPhone,
  • The physical condition and appearance of the device, and
  • How in-demand your device is on the open consumer market.

Sadly, most companies keep their pricing formulas closely guarded secrets. What we can tell you, however, is that appearance and usability matter. If you’re anticipating making a future trade-in, then equipping your current phone with a case or screen protector now might be an effective way to increase its buyback price. Responsible ownership practices, such as keeping your device clean and not dropping it in the toilet at frat parties, are also pretty wise moves.

Another smart idea involves timing your apple trade carefully. For instance, tech reviewers like the Verge note that prices for old devices typically fall after new versions come out. Since you’ll probably be searching for good cash deals instead of trying to upgrade directly, there’s not much point in waiting until the new iPhone drops.

Simplicity of Use

Most companies with buyback programs try to make life as easy as possible. For instance, once you let them know about your device and accept their price offer, most send you information on how to print a prepaid shipping label and mail them your device. Once it’s received, you’ll typically only have to wait a short while before the company confirms the hardware runs as advertised, wipes any lingering data, and sends you your money.

Should You Sell Your Own Hardware as an Alternative to Standard Trade-ins?

One potential alternative to trading in your phone might be selling it yourself. For instance, some marketplaces let you negotiate deals with buyers directly.

The only problem with this is that selling devices can be a lot of work for a busy student, and you’re liable to get taken for a ride by consumer trends and fast-changing market forces. You’ll also have to absorb the shipping costs yourself.

Should You Trade In?

Whether you use the Apple sell back program or a third-party platform, trading in your phone is a wise choice as a college student. Not only will you receive money, but you also help the planet by keeping your electronics out of the dump and saving someone else from having to purchase all-new hardware. Just remember not to blow all of the proceeds on partying, and you’ll be better off than you started.