Before you throw your old phone in a box in your closet – sell it. You will never get more money for it by waiting, and the moment you stop using it is the best time to sell it for top dollar. Like a car, it doesn't matter what make or model it is, the value drops every day.
Where do you go to sell it? There are many vendors that will buy your phone and most will give you an online quote. For this article, we'll compare the prices for a white Apple iPhone 4S 16GB from AT&T to give you a better idea of what you can expect to get for your phone. All prices are quoted as of early January 2014.
As one of the largest retailers in the world, Amazon has a robust trade-in program where you can trade in electronics, among other items, and receive Amazon.com store credit. For cellphones, there are three condition categories: Like New, Good and Acceptable.
Like New means it's in perfect working condition with the original manufacturer packaging and accessories. There must be no visible wear, such as scratches or scuffs, or personalization. A Like New iPhone 4S 16GB in white fetches $140.
The next category, Good, must only have wear from normal use, be in good condition with working buttons, wheel and audio, have a flawless display (no scratches) and only light scratches on the body. The phone doesn't need the original packaging, but it must include the battery, charging adapter and USB cable. Good can get you $126.
The lowest category, Acceptable, covers almost everything else short of a cracked screen. It can be fairly worn with scratches and dents in the case and have minor scratches and personalization. Acceptable trades in at $95.50.
How does this compare with other companies – such as Best Buy, Gazelle and BuyMyTronics – that will buy your used electronics and pay you cash for them? It's comparable, at least for the iPhone 4S 16GB. Here's what you can get for your old phone based on prices on their websites:
Your best option will depend on the condition of your phone. If it's broken, your only choices are Gazelle and BuyMyTronics, as Best Buy and Amazon will not accept broken phones. If it's flawless, Amazon is the clear winner as long as you accept Amazon credit as a cash equivalent.
These are not the only trade-in services available, so be sure to do due diligence to find the best price.
Selling on eBay and Craigslist
If you aren't satisfied with the values for a trade-in, you can always turn to eBay or Craigslist to sell your device. You'll often find that prices are better than the trade-in services, but it requires more work on your part. With a trade-in service, the company mails you an envelope and you send in your device.
With eBay or Craigslist, you'll need to post a listing and negotiate a price with the buyer. If you're comfortable selling online, this might not be an issue. If it's your first time, you may find the hassle of selling it yourself online not worth the money. Recent eBay auctions showed completed listings for an iPhone 4S 16GB in the $170 to $180 range, which is about 25 percent more than Amazon.
If it's too old to sell, donate it
Sometimes your phone is simply too old, broken or damaged to sell. If it's just too old, consider donating it to a worthy cause.
If it's no longer working, recycle it. The Environmental Protection Agency has a database of stores that will recycle or accept donated cellphones and other electronics.
Finally, before you send in your phone, remember to delete all of your personal data. Many trade-in services, like Amazon, will automatically wipe the device once they receive it, but you'll sleep better at night if you clear it yourself.
The last thing you want is for your personal data in the wrong hands.
Jim Wang is an entrepreneur, who founded microblogger.com. For actionable advice on how to build your own business, join his free newsletter.