Pink IphoneSource: Apple

This year, are four new flagship phones from Apple in the iPhone 13 lineup: iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max. While we feel that the best way to buy your new iPhone is through the iPhone Upgrade Program using the Apple Store app, we've also assembled the best alternatives for those that want or need to purchase another way.

Best overall

iPhone Upgrade Program

If you're a Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile customer looking for a quick and easy way to get your hands on the iPhone 13 or iPhone 13 Pro, then you'll want to buy it through the iPhone Upgrade Program using the Apple Store app. This is the best way to also ensure that you're getting the best iPhone every year.

The iPhone Upgrade Program lets you pay a monthly fee for an unlocked phone, rather than the full price up front, with the option to upgrade to a new phone once per year after 12 monthly payments or six months of payments. You'll only need to pay the phone's sales tax up front. What's more, AppleCare+ service is included, which covers phone support and two accidental damage incidents. Apple's latest AppleCare+ addon, Theft and Loss, is an additional $4.17 on top of your Apple Upgrade Program monthly payment.

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Use the Apple Store app

You can sign up for the iPhone Upgrade Program via the Apple Store App, which is great, because the Apple Store App is the best way to pre-order a new iPhone. Using the app, you get all of the advantages of ordering online, without having to worry about stalling pages. You can use your existing credit card information to make your purchase, buy with gift cards, and even check out with Apple Pay. It also requires very little effort on your part, which is great for those late-night pre-orders.

The Apple Store app offers access to a variety of payment plans for your phone, including a one-time purchase, the Apple iPhone Upgrade Program, Apple Card monthly payments (if you have Apple Card), and the available AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile carrier installment plans.

If you haven't already, you can download the Apple Store app from the App Store.

Apple Store App Icon

Apple Store App

Use the Apple Store app for all of your Apple shopping needs. Save your iPhone configuration and quickly complete the purchase during pre-order time.


Why you might want to skip the iPhone Upgrade Program

Despite its advantages, there are reasons you might not want to get your phone through the iPhone Upgrade Program.

The biggest reason you may want to avoid the program is the monthly cost. While a 128GB iPhone 13 mini starts at $19.45 per month through AT&T's installment plan (if you take the 36-month option), for instance, that same phone costs at least $30.37 a month through the iPhone Upgrade Program, which is through 24-months. And when all is said and done, and that iPhone 12 mini is paid off, on AT&T you'll have paid $700, while with Apple, you'll have paid $729. The price of AppleCare+ is factored into Apple's monthly installment, but if you don't feel you need the protection, why pay more for it?

Additionally, if you like owning your phone, the iPhone Upgrade Program might not your best option. While you can certainly hang on to the same phone for 24 months, the program seems geared more towards those who want to upgrade every year and don't mind parting with their older device.

Best way to buy an iPhone without a contract

Buy it outright

Of course, if you're a saver, or just have the disposable income, you can always purchase your new iPhone outright.

If you're not keen on having to make monthly payments, being forced into an upgrade schedule, or being tied to a specific carrier, this is a great option.

If you're buying outright, here's what you can expect to pay:

Model Price
iPhone 13 mini (128GB) $699
iPhone 13 mini (256GB) $799
iPhone 13 mini (512GB) $999
iPhone 13 (128GB) $799
iPhone 13 (256GB) $899
iPhone 13 (512GB) $1,099
iPhone 13 Pro (128GB) $999
iPhone 13 Pro (256GB) $1,099
iPhone 13 Pro (512GB) $1,299
iPhone 13 Pro (1TB) $1,499
iPhone 13 Pro Max (128GB) $1,099
iPhone 13 Pro Max (256GB) $1,199
iPhone 13 Pro Max (512GB) $1,399
iPhone 13 Pro Max (1TB) $1,599

You have a number of options for purchasing your iPhone at the full retail price and without a contract:

  • Apple: As you might expect, Apple lets you purchase the iPhone at full price for all of the major carriers. There's even a SIM-free option that lets you take your new iPhone to any carrier that you want.
  • Carriers: Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T all give you the option to purchase your iPhone at the full price up front, though naturally that option is often emphasized less than their own installment plans.
  • Third-party retailers: Best Buy, Target, and Walmart also offer the iPhone at full price, though these retailers don't offer SIM-free options. So while you can purchase your iPhone outright and without a contract, you'll still come out of the purchasing experience as a customer of one of the carriers.

Best on a budget

Installment plan

If you'd rather not pay all of that money at once, you can spread it out over multiple months with an installment plan. It's exactly what it sounds like: You take the full price of the phone and divide it up over 12, 24, or 36 monthly payments (usually with 0% interest).

This is the best option for those on a budget, because you can increase or decrease your monthly payments depending on how soon you'd like to pay off your device and upgrade to a new one.

Apple iPhone Payments

Apple iPhone Payments share similarities with the iPhone Upgrade Program, with a couple of major differences. With this payment plan, you pay the full retail cost of the phone over 24 months, but your monthly payments are cheaper than those of the iPhone Upgrade Program because AppleCare+ isn't included in the price. You also don't have a built-in upgrade path. After you've completed your payments, the iPhone is entirely yours, so if you plan to keep your iPhone longer than a year, and particularly, longer than two years, this is an excellent option. But if you want to be able to upgrade every year, there are better options for you.

Apple Card Monthly Installments

If you have an Apple Card, then you can use that to pay in monthly installments, similar to the regular Apple iPhone Payments. The full amount of the iPhone that you're purchasing will be taken out of your total credit line on the Apple Card, so you'll need to first make sure that you have enough credit on your line to make the purchase. Then, you'll be making a payment every month for the next 24 months. Like the Apple iPhone Payments, there won't be AppleCare+ in the monthly payment price, so it is also cheaper than the iPhone Upgrade Program.

But one of the advantages of the Apple Card Monthly Installments over the standard Apple iPhone Payments is the fact that you will get the full amount of 3% Daily Cash upfront from the iPhone purchase, which is a nice bonus. If you use the Apple Card for your iPhone Upgrade Program payments, you will get 3% Daily Cash on each payment, but you won't get it up front since it's financed through Citizens One.

Best with a carrier

Carrier payment plan

If you're tied to your carrier (i.e. you've already started an installment plan on Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc.), the carrier payment plan might be best for you.

Most carriers have moved away from the subsidized two-year contract option instead of offering you the option to pay a monthly installment plan alongside your monthly fees for data, text, etc.

  • AT&T offers an AT&T Next plan that lets you upgrade your phone every one or two years.
  • Verizon offers an Annual Upgrade Program that lets you upgrade your phone each year provided you've paid off at least 50% of your installment plan.
  • T-Mobile offers T-Mobile Jump!, which gives you the option to upgrade your phone provided you've paid off at least 50% of your installment plan.

Not the best

Trade up

If you're not tied into any upgrade or carrier plans, you may want to trade in your current iPhone for credit toward your next one. You can visit an Apple Store with the phone you want to trade in to get instant credit or fill out an online form and mail in your phone — you'll get a gift card via email.

This option isn't the worst, especially if you prefer to buy outright. Depending on which iPhone you're trading in and its condition, you'll be getting up to $600 in credit. So while you're not necessarily walking away with the new iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro in hand, you could still save a hefty chuck of change on the full price of your iPhone.

Conclusion

The iPhone Upgrade Program is a solid option for most people looking to get their hands on a new iPhone, and using the Apple Store app makes buying through the program even easier. With AppleCare+ included in the monthly cost, it also gives you extra peace of mind about your brand new phone.

Update September 2021: Added information about the iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max.

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