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Considering joining Apple's new iPhone Upgrade Program when you pick up a new iPhone? Here's everything you need to know before signing up.
What exactly is the iPhone Upgrade Program?
This is Apple's response to carrier deals that allow you to finance your phone for a set amount each month. The iPhone Upgrade Program lets you buy a new iPhone over the course of 24 payments; after 12 of those payments, you can automatically upgrade to the new iPhone—no hassle or extra fees required.
Previously, carriers offered you a set subsidy on your phone—somewhere between $300-$400 off—in return for signing a two-year contract; now, those subsidies are disappearing, being replaced instead with monthly plans from those carriers for paying off that expensive new iPhone. It makes sense that Apple got into the game.
For more information on the different options and ways to buy your iPhone in the U.S., check out our carrier guide:
Wait, why does it make sense that Apple would get into this game?
In part, it frees users from having to be locked to a single carrier for two years: When you sign up for the Upgrade Program, you choose your new carrier (or continue with your current carrier plan); if, after twelve months, you dislike the plan, you can leave it and switch to a different carrier without the hassle of getting out of a carrier-specific two-year plan.
It also gets more people to buy iPhones every year, which, for Apple, is always a good thing, and to buy them through the Apple Store or online Apple Store.
What iPhone models are available?
Currently, you can only sign up for the iPhone Upgrade Program if you want to purchase an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus. If it's an iPhone SE or older iPhone model you want, Apple is currently only offering a trade-in program.
Is it only available in the U.S.?
According to Apple, you'll be able to sign up for the program in the U.S., U.K., and China. The website currently requires you to have a U.S.-based credit card to sign up at present, though we expect this to change at pre-order time.
Oooh, AppleCare+ too? What does that cover and cost?
AppleCare+ is the company's iPhone-specific version of their popular AppleCare support service: It covers all the awesome telephone support and software advice that a regular AppleCare subscription does, and tacks on coverage for two accidental damage incidents.
Now, when I say "coverage," that really just means "option to pay $100 for a new iPhone after you drown your old one or $29 for a cracked screen." It's not a cheap repair—but it's much cheaper than if you broke your screen sans AppleCare+. (Take it from someone who had to pony up after shattering her AppleCare-less iPhone 6 on concrete. Not fun.)
Normally, AppleCare+ costs $129 for two years when you purchase your device; with the iPhone Upgrade Program, you get AppleCare+ as part of your monthly fee.
Okay! So how much is the program going to cost me per month?
Not too much! You won't be paying more than $46/month if you get the high-end iPhone 7 Plus, and 32GB iPhone 7 plans start at just $33/month. Here's how it shakes out:
iPhone 7 with AppleCare+
- 32GB: $32.41 ($777.84 in full)
- 128GB: $36.58 ($877.92 in ful
- 256GB: $40.75 ($978 in full)
iPhone 7 Plus with AppleCare+
- 32GB: $37.41 ($897.84 in full)
- 128GB: $41.58 ($997.92 in full)
- 256GB: $45.75 ($1,098 in full)
How long do I pay this monthly fee?
When you sign up, you're contracted with Apple (and its loan partner, Citizens Bank) for 24 months (two years). You can upgrade to the next-generation iPhone after only 12 months of payment; when you do so, you're essentially renewing your 24-month hardware contract with Apple (and Citizens).
If you decide before the 24 months are up that you want out of the iPhone Upgrade Program, you will be required to pay the remainder of the cost of the iPhone and AppleCare+ and then the device is yours. AppleCare+ will be good for two years from the date you originally signed the iPhone Upgrade Program contract.
What do I need to sign up for it?
You'll need to have a valid U.S. credit card, (presumably) decent credit, and whomever is paying for it needs to be over the age of 18. This is because technically you're signing up for a 24-month interest-free loan from Citizens Bank—via Apple's retail stores—so you need all the bits and bobs a company would usually require for a financing deal.
Do I still have to sign a two-year carrier contract?
Nope! While you'll be required to choose a carrier when you sign up for the Upgrade Program, you're not locked in for two years with that carrier as you would be in the traditional subsidy program. And, if after twelve months you don't like the carrier you're with, you can ditch them and choose a new carrier with your new iPhone.
Of course, in theory, the iPhone's Apple SIM should let you swap between networks at any time, but U.S. carriers have instantly locked that SIM in the past when you signed up for service so that you couldn't do so. Lame, carriers. Very lame. Worst-case, I suppose you may be able to switch by swapping out the iPhone's activated Apple SIM card with a different carrier's SIM.
Will the carriers punish me for getting a phone not through them?
Nope: To them, your iPhone looks just like an unlocked, prepaid phone on their network; that means you should get charged non-subsidy pricing, same as you would if you signed up with AT&T Next, Verizon's upgrade program, or any of those plans.
Okay, so how do I sign up?
You can either buy your iPhone online or make a reservation to buy your iPhone in-store. To make an in-store reservation, visit Apple's website, choose the iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus model (if available) and go from there.
When and how exactly do I get a new iPhone after I start the Upgrade Program?
After you've been paying installments for 12 months, you can trade in your old iPhone for the next version by making a reservation and visiting a U.S. Apple Store. You won't be able to trade in your current iPhone for a new one online. You have to be able to show your current iPhone, in-person, to an Apple trade-in specialist.
That said, there is a fun little loophole here, if you're the type that likes paying for things in advance. Once you've been part of the program for six months, you're eligible to upgrade as long as you pre-pay the next six payments (for a total of 12) before doing so. That means, if you wait to sign up for the iPhone Upgrade Program any time from October to March, you can still get a new iPhone 7s in September 2017 if you pre-pay six of those payments.
But I can't sign up next June when my current carrier contract runs out and get the next iPhone when it arrives in September, right?
Right. If you signed up in June 2017, the earliest you could get a new phone would be December of 2017 if you pre-paid for six months, or June of 2018—best to wait until you're on the right hardware cycle.
What kind of condition does my old iPhone have to be in when I trade in?
Apple's terms and conditions state the following:
For a Financed iPhone to be considered in good physical and operational condition, the Financed iPhone must:
- Power on and hold a charge;
- Have an intact and functioning display;
- Have no breaks or cracks; and
- Have Activation Lock disabled (you may be asked to disable at the time of upgrade).
If you've broken or otherwise shattered your iPhone, you'll need to pay the $99 AppleCare+ fee to fix it; if you're out of AppleCare+ incidents, you're required to pay the Apple Authorized Service charge (something in the realm of $200 the last time I had my phone fixed).
What if I lose my iPhone or it gets stolen?
Apple asks that you contact AppleCare at (800) 275-2273.
Does the 24-month contract reset when you get a new iPhone?
Yep! When you upgrade 12 payments in, you'll sign a new 24-month contract.
Can I use this as a way to finance a new iPhone even if I don't want a new phone after a year?
Yup! You have the option to get a new iPhone after 12 payments, but you're not required to upgrade if you don't want to. After 24 months, you've essentially paid the full price of the device and AppleCare+, and it's yours to keep.
I pre-ordered a full-priced phone but now I want to go the Upgrade Program route! Can I do that on launch day?
Possibly, but it depends on Apple Store stock. I'm not sure at present whether you'll be able to sign up for the Upgrade Program with your current reservation; most likely, you'll need to return the phone you signed up for and get one from Apple's Upgrade Program stock (which may or may not be available on launch day).
I couldn't preorder through the iPhone Upgrade Program properly. What do I do?
If you tried pre-ordering your iPhone 7 or iPhone7 Plus through the iPhone Upgrade Program at 12:01 a.m. on September 9 and were thwarted by limited stock right away, or even told you can't make a reservation at all until after September 16, you might still be able to get your desired model, color, and storage size after all.
As noted by MacRumors, Apple has added a footnote to the upgrade reservation page asking customers to call 1-800-APPLE and mention the iPhone Upgrade Program in order to be connected with a support operator that will "help you find the model you want."
Even if you, disappointedly, went ahead and preordered an iPhone that wasn't your first choice, you should call. You might be able to change your order to get the model, color, or storage size you want.
Other questions about the Upgrade Program?
Let us know and we'll try and sleuth them out.
Updated on 9/8/2016 to add information about the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.
Updated on 5/05/2016 to add information about the iPhone Upgrade Plan online.
Updated on 3/28/2016 to add information about the iPhone SE and older iPhone models.
Updated at 1:45 p.m. ET to clarify carrier contracts and to add information about damaged iPhone models.