Upgrade every year
The iPhone Upgrade Program is designed for those who upgrade every year. It's like you're just leasing the new iPhone. It includes AppleCare+ in the cost and there is no interest, plus you can upgrade just after 12 months (or six, if you make another six months worth of payment at the time). While you need to pick one of the four major carriers when signing up, you're not obligated to stay with them after 12 months. Making payments also rewards you that 3% Daily Cash on Apple Card.
- Includes AppleCare+ in the monthly payments
- No interest
- Upgrade after 12 payments, resets loan
- Qualifies for 3% Daily Cash with Apple Card
- Can switch carriers after 12 months
- Available in U.S., UK, and China
- AppleCare+ not optional
- Requires credit check (usually soft pull)
- Loss or theft not covered with standard AppleCare+
- Only great if you plan on upgrading every year
Just one and done
The iPhone Payment Plan is great for those who don't need a new iPhone every year and don't plan to switch carriers within the next 24 months. While it doesn't include AppleCare+, you can always buy that separately if needed (Apple also offer payment plans for AppleCare+). However, you will need to pay off the entire loan in-full before you can trade it in or switch carriers.
- Easier to manage than one large payment for most people
- AppleCare+ is optional
- Zero interest, like paying cash
- Gets 3% Daily Cash with Apple Card
- Great for those who don't need to upgrade every year
- Can't upgrade every year
- Must pay off entire loan
- Only available in U.S.
- Requires credit check
- Locked in carrier plan for two years
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.
|iPhone Upgrade Program||iPhone Payment Plan|
|Cost||From $35/mo for iPhone 12||From $29/mo for iPhone 12|
|Interest||Zero, same as cash||Zero, same as cash|
|Bank||Citizens One||Citizens One|
|Availability||U.S., UK, China||U.S.-only|
|Upgrade||After 12 payments, then loan is reset||No|
|Carrier||Locked in for 12 months||Locked in for 24 months|
|Apple Card 3% Daily Cash||Yes||Yes|
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
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.
A new iPhone every year
The iPhone Upgrade Program is our preferred iPhone financing program. You can upgrade every year or not, and it includes AppleCare+, you can switch carriers early, and get 3% Daily Cash with Apple Card. There is no interest, and it's available in the US, UK, and China.
Just one iPhone
One iPhone and nothing more
If you just want an iPhone without anything extra and you're satisfied with your carrier, then the iPhone Payment Plan is just fine. It also has zero interest, but is only available in the US.
Christine Romero-Chan has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently the iMore lead on all things iPhone, 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.
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