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BLOG: Breaking down the iPhone 5s upgrade math

Tony Bradley | Sept. 16, 2013
The simplest thing is to just get an iPhone 5S with a new 2-year contract, but how much will it cost you if you're not eligible for an upgrade?

iphone 5s

Now that Apple has pulled back the curtain and shared the details on the new iPhones, it's decision time. If you decide you want one, though, the next question is whether or not you're locked in to the smartphone you have now and whether or not there is anything you can do about it.

To be fair, there is nothing groundbreaking about the new iPhones. If you already have an iPhone 5 or some other premier smartphone like a Samsung Galaxy S4 or a Nokia Lumia 928, there may not be much to compel you to run out and get an iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c.

The truth is that most of the cool stuff is actually a function of iOS 7 rather than the specific iPhone model, but some iPhone models will not be able to use all of the new features of iOS 7. From a business perspective, though, the fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5s is intriguing, and might be a reason to make the switch.

If you already have a smartphone, and your contract isn't up yet, and it's not new enough for you to be enrolled in a program like T-Mobile Jump or Verizon Edge that allow you to upgrade more frequently, then what?

You have a few options.

1. Pay full price
The only reason you need to concern yourself at all with whether or not you're "eligible" to upgrade is because you can't take advantage of the subsidized pricing. If you're willing to pay full price for the device, though, there is nothing stopping you.

You can offset the cost of buying a new iPhone by selling the smartphone you already have. Depending on what kind of device it is, you may be able to get $200, $300, or even $400 for it by listing it on Craigslist, eBay or some similar online classified service. With $400 cash for your old smartphone, a $650 iPhone 5s will only cost you $250 out of pocket, which is only $50 more than getting it on contract.

2. Pay early termination fee
If you don't mind switching phone numbers, you can just cancel the contract on your existing smartphone and start fresh with a new iPhone on a subsidized two-year contract.

The amount of the early termination fee, and the fine print behind how it works will vary from one wireless provider to the next. I spoke with Verizon customer service, and they explained that their ETF is $350, and it goes down by $10 each month.

Using my own case as the example, my early termination fee with Verizon is currently at $80. I could sell my current iPhone for $300 or $400, pay the $80 ETF, and go get a new iPhone 5s for $200 with a new two-year agreement. In the end—at least in my case—I can actually pay the ETF, get a new line, and end up making money on the deal.


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