How to sell your phone for cash (Smartphones Unlocked)

Six tips to know before converting your old electronics into cash.

by Jessica Dolcourt
(Credit: James Martin/CNET)

In last month's Smartphones Unlocked, I shared what happens to your smartphone when it ceases to be yours.

Although I listed resources for getting rid of your phone (and took a poll of what CNET readers usually do with their old handsets,) it's high time I offered up some tips for how to go about selling your phone...or any other consumer electronic, for that matter.

Don't count on a Hawaiian vacation for your efforts, but depending on how much you hoard or how savvy you sell, the dollars could really add up.

1. Raid the closet

When's the last time you've slid open desk drawers or checked under the bed? Chances are that you have at least one ancient flip phone hiding out in a closet somewhere.

Holding onto a phone you're no longer planning to use makes good sense. You never know when you or a family member or friend will need a spare, but at some point when you upgrade to the next big thing, you can turn the one you've got into cash.

When you add up the old cell phones, cameras, and laptops you have at home, you might find a nice little stash to sell.

2. Don't stress if it's broken

How much money would you expect to get for a cruddy old model? Through many Web sites and trade-in programs, the answer is: nothing. yHowever, if you're smart and don't mind a little driving, you're almost guaranteed to get at least a little pocket change through one vendor.

EcoATM is a physical kiosk where you can sell your cell phones, and soon your tablets (this is in trial.) There are currently 300 units in malls across America, with outlets continuing to mushroom.

In a nutshell, EcoATM scans your phone and compares it with a database to make an offer based on the phone's market value and current condition. If you accept -- and yes, you can also decline -- the machine spits out money on the spot.

It does require a driver's license and a thumbprint scan to use, and it also takes a picture of you as well for security measures, to help guard against theft and fraud.

Yes, couch potatoes, you will need to trudge all the way over to the mall to use EcoATM, but it's often the only option that will pay for your very old or broken phones.

3. Shop around. Really

EcoATM is a terrific new resource, but it isn't the only one. In fact, the electronics resale space is positively packed. Big box retailers like Best Buy, Radio Shack, Amazon, and Game Stop have all launched buy-back programs, and many major carriers have also launched trade-in programs of their own. Unfortunately for the lazy seller (me,) no one service is more reliable or offers a better deal than all the others. Plain and simple, you just have to shop around. EcoATM may be the only game in town for older phones, but it won't necessarily offer you the best price across the board.

Prices vary by condition and by demand -- you'll get less for water damage, and more if it's a flawless phone right out of the box. Expect to take home a larger amount for newer phones than for older ones.
Phones EcoATM Best Buy Amazon BuyMyTronics Gazelle
iPhone 4S (16GB) $160 $300 $132 $226 $205
iPhone 4S (16GB), Broken $65 $0 $0 $91 $80
Samsung Galaxy S3 (16GB) $130 $250 $195 N/A $274
Motorola Razr, 3rd ed. $55 $0 $0.5 $0 N/A

To illustrate the fluctuations, I checked the price of four phones on five different services: two iPhone 4Ses (16GB), a Samsung Galaxy S3 (16GB), and a third-edition Motorola Razr. In all cases but one, I listed the phones in good condition; that is, no water damage and they turn on. The second iPhone 4S I listed as broken. When asked, I chose AT&T as the common carrier.
Not every service takes every phone. Gazelle.com, for instance, focuses on Apple products. Amazon doesn't have offers up yet for the Samsung Galaxy S3, presumably because the phone is still so new that not enough of their customers are trying to offload it.

If you're planning to sell a bundle of phones and you don't mind putting in the research time, check three or four online spots before hitting an EcoATM, your carrier, or another brick-and-mortar store.
Armed with comparison pricing, you'll be able to decide on the spot whether to take the offer in person or take the digital sale. (I've never tried negotiating with a brick-and-mortar against online pricing, but if you have, let me know how that goes.)

4. Know how you're getting paid

Before you sell a phone or any electronic, consider how you want to receive the funds. Several online vendors may offer you a check, a cash card, or an infusion to your PayPal account. Retailers like Best Buy will more commonly hand you an in-store gift card, or cash if you have a receipt proving you bought the item there. Cell phone carriers apply the value of your trade-in to your next phone, or might assign you credit. EcoATM deals only in cash that, fittingly, is stored inside the locked-down machine, ATM-style.
One important thing to keep in mind: if you opt for an online vendor, you'll have to wait a few weeks to get paid. After you box up the good and ship them, employees will match the device to its actual condition, to keep any fibbers honest. Only then will they authorize your payment.

5. Never throw old phones away

In the event that you have electronics that nobody else will pay you for, take the high road and recycle. Almsot every resaler that takes phones will do it for you, archaic chargers and all. The benefits of donating old phones are threefold: it clears old gadgets out of your home, it could improve someone else's life, and you won't be directly responsible for throwing toxic chemicals into the dump.

6. Plan ahead

The cell phone's lifespan is typically much shorter than any other category of consumer electronics. Most of us ditch our phones after 18 months, which means that there's plenty of time to plan how you'll keep or dispose of your future phones. Resellers -- the guys who initially buy your phones from you before -- see a boom right around the winter holidays. If you opt to sell a lot of used electronics online, timing the eventual receipt of your payment with an extra-large bill or purchase could work out in your favor.

Resources: Sell or donate your cell phone

There are many ways to pass on unwanted cell phones after they've served their purpose, but here are a few resources to get you started. Online sales and trade-ins
Cash For Smartphones
Best Buy Online Trade-In
Swappa (Marketplace, more like e-Bay)
Your carrier's buy-back program
Physical sales and national recycling outlets
Best Buy
National charities
Cell Phones for Soldiers
Hope Phones
Hope Line Phones (Verizon)
Local charities
City drives - check with your city government
Local domestic violence centers


  1. It's indeed way more practical to sell your old phones than to let dirt and dust ruin them completely. Though it's as you said that having a spare is convenient, it's still better to collect cash from them that you can use for a more urgent matter. Thank you for sharing all these information with us, by the way!
    Joanna Daniels @ TechPayOut.com

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