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Buying your iPhone: an Introduction

In the United States, there are many ways to purchase new iPhones, including through Apple itself or your carrier. You can also visit a reseller like Best Buy and pick up your new handset. For 2019/2020, Apple's offering the all-new iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max, plus older models, including the iPhone XR and iPhone 8/8 Plus.

Perhaps the easiest way to purchase an iPhone is directly through Apple. Either online or through an Apple retail store, you can buy your handset and have it tied to one of the big four carriers in the U.S., including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon. You can also get a SIM-free model through Cupertino.

When making a purchase through Apple, you're given a choice of payment options, depending on the model you choose. For the newest models (in this case, the iPhone 11 series), you can get zero percent financing through Apple or your carrier, or pay for your device in full. Older models can also get financed, but typically only through the carrier.

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Making a purchase through a carrier or reseller has the added advantage of taking advantage of an occassional sale, which you'll rarely see on products sold directly through Apple. At Best Buy, for example. you'll often see discounts on iPhones, especially after a model has been on the market for a while.

There's also companies like Visible and Mint worth considering. If you're willing to pay for your handset in full, each offers low-cost service plans, such as $40 per-month for unlimited talk and cellular.

A few caveats:

Picking a carrier from the Apple Store

There are only a few places you can go shopping for a new iPhone on all the large carriers, and the Apple Store is one of those places. It just so happens to be one of the most pleasant places to buy a new iPhone as well. And if you're looking to participate in the Day 1 reverie of an iPhone launch, there's no better place to do that than an Apple Store.

AT&T financing

When you buy an iPhone 8/8 Plus or iPhone XR from the Apple Store and choose AT&T as your carrier, you have the option of paying it off in full with a one-time payment or financing it for up to 24 months through it's upgrade program.

Model 64GB 128GB
iPhone 8 $18.71/mo $20.80/mo
iPhone 8 Plus $22.88/mo $24.96/mo
Model 64GB 128GB
iPhone XR $24.96/mo $27.04/mo

The iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max are available on AT&T through Apple iPhone Payments, AT&T Installment Programs, and Apple iPhone Upgrade Program, or by a one-time payment in full. Zero percent financing is for 24 months.

Apple Payments

Model 64GB 128GB 256GB 512GB
iPhone 11 $29.12/mo $31.20/mo $35.37/mo ---
iPhone 11 Pro $41.62/mo --- $47.87/mo $56.20/mo
iPhone 11 Pro Max $45.79/mo --- $52.04/mo $60.37/mo

AT&T Installment Program

Model 64GB 128GB 256GB 512GB
iPhone 11 $29.13/mo $31.21/mo $35.38/mo ---
iPhone 11 Pro $41.63/mo --- $47.88/mo $56.21/mo
iPhone 11 Pro Max $45.80/mo --- $52.05/mo $60.38/mo

Apple iPhone Upgrade Program

Model 64GB 128GB 256GB 512GB
iPhone 11 $35.33/mo $37.41/mo $41.58/mo ---
iPhone 11 Pro $49.91/mo --- $56.16/mo $64.50/mo
iPhone 11 Pro Max $54.08/mo --- $60.33/mo $68.66/mo

Apple's iPhone Upgrade program includes 2-year Apple Care+.

Sprint financing

When you buy an iPhone 8/8 Plus or iPhone XR from the Apple Store and choose Sprint as your carrier, you can either make a one-time payment in full or apply for 24-month special financing through Apple's partner Citizens One.

The iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max are available on Sprint through the Apple iPhone Upgrade program, which you can finance for 24-months starting at $35.33, $49.91, and $54.08 per month, respectively. This includes the cost of two-year Apple Care+ coverage and does not incur any additional fees.

T-Mobile financing

When you buy an iPhone 8/8 Plus or iPhone XR from the Apple Store and choose T-Mobile as your carrier, you can either make a one-time payment in full or apply for 24-month special financing through Apple's financial partner, Citizens One.

The iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max are available on T-Mobile through the Apple iPhone Upgrade program, which you can finance for 24-months starting at $35.33, $49.91, and $54.08 per month, respectively. This includes the cost of two-year Apple Care+ coverage and does not incur any additional fees.

Verizon financing

When you buy an iPhone 8/8 Plus or XR from the Apple Store and choose Verizon as your carrier, you have the option of paying it off in full with a one-time payment or financing it for 24 months through it's installment program.

Model 32GB 128GB
iPhone 8 $18.70/mo $20.79/mo
iPhone 8 Plus $22.87/mo $24.95/mo
Model 64GB 128GB
iPhone XR $24.95/mo $27.04/mo

The iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max are available on Verizon through Apple iPhone Payments, Verizon Installment Programs, and Apple iPhone Upgrade Program, or by a one-time payment in full. Zero percent financing is for 24 months.

Apple Payments

Model 64GB 128GB 256GB 512GB
iPhone 11 $29.12/mo $31.20/mo $35.37/mo ---
iPhone 11 Pro $41.62/mo --- $47.87/mo $56.20/mo
iPhone 11 Pro Max $45.79/mo --- $52.04/mo $60.37/mo

Verizon Installment Program

Model 64GB 128GB 256GB 512GB
iPhone 11 $29.12/mo $31.20/mo $35.37/mo ---
iPhone 11 Pro $41.62/mo --- $47.87/mo $56.20/mo
iPhone 11 Pro Max $45.79/mo --- $52.04/mo $60.37/mo

Apple iPhone Upgrade Program

Model 64GB 128GB 256GB 512GB
iPhone 11 $35.33/mo $37.41/mo $41.58/mo ---
iPhone 11 Pro $49.91/mo --- $56.16/mo $64.50/mo
iPhone 11 Pro Max $54.08/mo --- $60.33/mo $68.66/mo

Apple's iPhone Upgrade program includes 2-year Apple Care+.

SIM-Free

If you want to purchase your phone at full price without selecting a carrier, Apple will sell it to you just like that. No payment plans, no trade-in upgrades, just straight money for a phone.

Model 64GB 128GB
iPhone 8 $449 $499
iPhone 8 Plus $549 $599
Model 64GB 256GB
iPhone XR $599 $649
Model 64GB 128GB/256GB 512GB
iPhone 11 $699 $749 $849
iPhone 11 Pro $999 $1,149 $1,349
iPhone 11 Pro Max $1,099 $1,249 $1,449

iPhone Upgrade Program (unlocked, all carriers)

The Apple iPhone Upgrade Program is an easy way to get a new phone every year. In signing up you agree to pay Apple monthly installments over a 24 month period, but in exchange you'll get to trade in your current iPhone for a new iPhone every year, plus ongoing AppleCare+ coverage. If you're the type that wants a new phone every year, then you want the best new phone every year.

This program costs more per month than the monthly payment options, though it does have the cost of 2 years of AppleCare+ built in as well. In essence, it's a payment and protection plan with a free upgrade every year.

The iPhone Upgrade Program is available in stores and online.

iPhone Trade-up program

The final option for Apple is the iPhone Trade-up Program. Bring in your old functioning iPhone, trade it in, and Apple will offer you a discount on a new iPhone or a gift card. Apple has simplified the program and the value for a phone in good working condition is:

So what's the best way to get an iPhone from Apple?

If you plan on buying AppleCare+ and a new iPhone every year, the iPhone Upgrade Program is a no-brainer. You're paying half the cost of a new iPhone and half the cost of AppleCare+, and you get a brand new iPhone a year later.

  • If you plan on buying a new iPhone every year: get into the iPhone Upgrade Program. Even if you don't want AppleCare+, it'll still save you money over trying to resell or trade-in your old iPhone
  • If you plan on buying a new iPhone with AppleCare+: still get into the iPhone Upgrade Program. It costs the same, but you don't have to pay for it all upfront, and you can get a new iPhone next year.
  • You can also buy your phone outright, renewing your existing contract, or getting onto one of the many payment plans offered by the individual carriers (see your carrier section for details).
  • If you have an iPhone to trade in, go for the iPhone Trade-in program, and consider the monthly payments option there because you'll save even more.

See at Apple

Buying directly from AT&T

As of September 2019, AT&T offers two separate payment plans: a traditional installment plan and AT&T Next Up. The installment plan allows you to pay off your phone over 30 months with zero percent interest and zero percent down. For $5 more per month, you can get a AT&T Next Up plan. With this plan, you can trade-in and upgrade your handset after paying off 50 percent of your phone.

Naturally, you can also pay for your new iPhone in full through AT&T and not have to worry about long-term committments.

So what's the best way to get an iPhone from AT&T?

The answer here depends on how much you want to pay a month and how frequently you want to upgrade. If you want a new top-end iPhone every year, the aptly named Next Up payment plan is a good idea.

If you want to upgrade every two years, you should select the installment plan.

See on AT&T

Buying directly from Sprint

Sprint

Sprint offers an 18-month leasing plan called Flex for all their iPhone models. You'll make a down payment if necessary, and you pay each month for 18 months. Once the term is over, you either give the phone back or pay off the balance.

Some iPhone models are part of the iPhone Forever program. After 12 months you can trade in your current phone for a brand new model. For iPhones not covered under the iPhone Forever program, you can add the feature for $5 per month.

So what's the best way to get an iPhone from Sprint?

If you buy through the Apple store, or visit Sprint in person you can still get a two-year contract plan for your new iPhone as listed above. While signing a contract may not be the cheapest way to get your phone overall, zero or low payments up-front and the monthly charge added to your bill can be enticing. If you can avoid doing it though, skip the contract.

On the 18-month Flex program, don't pay the extra $5 per month to enroll in the iPhone Forever program. You'll be able to sell your phone (if it's in good condition) and cover the payoff once the lease is finished and probably have a few dollars left for the downpayment on your new iPhone. And it didn't cost you an extra $60.00.

See on Sprint

Buying directly from T-Mobile

T-Mobile, the Uncarrier of brash and bravado fame, has a blessedly simple price structure. Either you can buy the phone at full price, or you can pay for it over 24 months. But the also offer several JUMP! plans that muddy the water a bit.

  • JUMP! On Demand lets you change your phone every month if you like. Not all phones are part of the JUMP! On Demand program, and not all plans (including the T-Mobile ONE unlimited plan) are eligible.
  • JUMP! lets you upgrade your phone once you've paid at least 50% of the total. Every phone and every plan can use JUMP!, but there's a $9 - $12 monthly fee.
  • JUMP! PLUS is the standard program with added device protection and customer support. It costs $12 - $15 per month.

So what's the best way to get an iPhone from T-Mobile?

T-Mobile keeps it simple. Pay over 24 months or pay for it all now. That makes it easy for us to make our recommendations too.

  • Regardless of how you intend to get a new iPhone from T-Mobile, you'll pay the full price for it. So it's up to you: pay it all upfront and maybe trade it in later, or pay for it all now and sell it later for a higher return. Your call.
  • T-Mobile's financing offers (if you have good credit) are 0% APR. It might make sense to finance through T-Mobile rather than put the purchase on a credit card.
  • The JUMP! programs aren't a great deal if you like the phone you bought and plan to keep it for a while. You can't use the ONE unlimited plan with JUMP! On Demand, and the standard program costs upwards of $10 per month. That's money you're paying so that you can give back your phone, get a new one, and keep making payments forever.

See on T-Mobile

Buying directly from Verizon

Verizon, long the bastion of overly complicated plans that charged far too much for a phone, is no longer that monster of terrible pricing. At least on the device front — whether or not their data charges work for you is 100% your call. Verizon offers two options for new customers: monthly payments or full price.

So what's the best way to get an iPhone from Verizon?

There is no best way to get an iPhone from Verizon. Either you pay the full price up front, or you pay the full price over 24 months. Either way, you're paying the full price. The only difference is in the flexibility granted by having the device paid off: Verizon's legally required to unlock paid-off phones.

Verizon also offers 0% APR on device financing so it's cheaper to go through them than most credit cards. Still, this is for well qualified customers only.

See on Verizon

Buying directly from Visible

Visible offers unlimited data, messages, and minutes on Verizon's 4G LTE Network for just $40 per month. For a limited time, this comes without a speed cap for as long as you're with the company. When buying an iPhone through Visible, you can either pay for the handset in full or finance it through Affirm. Either way, you're phone is unlocked from Day 1.

Like Mint (see below), Visible's biggest appeal is that you're not tied down. You can use its service on a monthly basis and can cancel at any time. Better still, you can bring your existing phone to Visible to begin saving on the cost of service.

Buying directly from Mint

Mint Mobile is nearly identical to Visible in that it offers low-cost cell phone services. In this case, you receive data, messages, and minutes on T-Mobile's 4G LTE network. The company requires that you prepay for your plan three, six, or 12 months ahead. Price is based the amount of GB of 4G LTE data per month you select; data speeds reduce after monthly allowance but data is unlimited.

You can purchase new unlocked iPhones through Mint either in full or monthly through Affirm.

So what's the best way to get an iPhone from Visible or Mint?

Though you will sometimes see discounts offered on phones purchases through Visible or Mint, the biggest perk is the one you'll receive on services. To buy new iPhones, you'll want to visit each company's website.

So what's the best iPhone deal?

We've always been advocates of picking your carrier first, and we'll continue to be. If your phone doesn't get a signal where you spend your time, it's of no use, so always pick the right carrier for your location. Therefore, look at the prices, and select the best deal for your situaiton.

Updated Sept. 2019: Updated with the current pricing plans for 2019.

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