iPhone Upgrade Program vs iPhone Payments: Which iPhone financing plan is right for you?

iPhone 11 Pro
iPhone 11 Pro (Image credit: iMore)

We need our new iPhones every year, like the brand new iPhone 12, but sometimes we just can't cough up that large chunk of change at once. We've tried every way of paying for a new iPhone, and this is what we think is the best.

While they look similar on the surface, there are some big differences between the iPhone Upgrade Program and the iPhone Payment Plan. Personally, I think the iPhone Upgrade Program is better if you want to have the absolute best iPhone every year, but the iPhone Payment Plan is nice if you just want an iPhone and don't necessarily care about upgrading every year.

The iPhone Upgrade Program is great for the early adopters

We are all pretty much early adopters here at iMore, and I know there are plenty of people out there who also like to get the latest and greatest every year. That's why we think the iPhone Upgrade Program is the better iPhone financing program, but there are some other benefits as well, not just upgrading every year.

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Header Cell - Column 0 iPhone Upgrade ProgramiPhone Payment Plan
CostFrom $35/mo for iPhone 12From $29/mo for iPhone 12
Credit checkYesYes
InterestZero, same as cashZero, same as cash
Loan length24-months24-months
BankCitizens OneCitizens One
AvailabilityU.S., UK, ChinaU.S.-only
Minimum age1818
UpgradeAfter 12 payments, then loan is resetNo
CarrierLocked in for 12 monthsLocked in for 24 months
Apple Card 3% Daily CashYesYes

While we think the biggest reason to go with the iPhone Upgrade Program vs. payments is definitely the yearly upgrade, there are some more benefits to it over the Payment Plan.

First, if you decide to not upgrade, you can still just pay off the rest and you'll get to keep the phone. So the upgrade part is entirely optional, but it's a huge perk. And upgrades can be done once you have made 12 payments (or even as early as six months by paying off the other six months worth of your loan), and you get a new loan once trading in the old phone and obtaining the new one.

You get extra peace of mind

iPhone 11 Pro submerged in water

iPhone 11 Pro

The iPhone Upgrade Program also includes AppleCare+, which is always good to have because hey, accidents happen. It's just a few bucks more each month, and you just get extra peace of mind. There's not much downside, especially if you usually get AppleCare+ anyways. It extends the coverage on your iPhone for another two years on top of the standard warranty.

But if you go with the Payment Plan and decide to get AppleCare+ later, you can get it separately, and Apple does offer payment plans for AppleCare+ now, which is nice.

The iPhone Upgrade Program gives you more freedom

When you're thinking about the iPhone Upgrade Program vs. payments, know that while both have you choose your carrier (in the U.S., it's the Big Four) when signing up, the iPhone Upgrade Program gives you a bit more leeway. You can switch from your current carrier after 12 months if you are not satisfied, but the Payment Plan requires you to stay with them for the entire 24 months.

The iPhone Upgrade Program has more availability as well, as it's an option in the U.S., UK, and China right now. The Payment Plan is currently only in the US. Both require a credit check, which will be a soft pull on your credit, but Citizens One can do a hard pull if more verification is required before giving you a loan. Both the iPhone Upgrade Program and iPhone Payment Plan give you 3% Daily Cash if you make your payments on Apple Card.

We simply prefer the flexibility that the iPhone Upgrade Program offers over the standard Payment Plan. It's more pros than cons, even if you don't need an upgrade every year.

Christine Chan

Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed. When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.