While Apple has a relatively small number of iPhone variants to choose from compared to many smartphone manufacturers, the amount of ways to buy an iPhone can be overwhelming. With most carriers in the U.S. moving away from two-year contracts and subsidized devices, full-price or installment plans are the primary ways to purchase an iPhone.
Since all installment plans or iPhone upgrade programs from the major U.S. carriers and Apple offer 0% interest, these options can be a good fit for a lot of consumers. While many of these plans are relatively similar, they all have their differences. Follow along for a detailed breakdown to find out which iPhone upgrade program is best for you.
Whether you need to buy an iPhone immediately or are planning on waiting until the fall for Apple’s 10th anniversary release, it’s useful to have a good handle on purchasing options.
If you know you’d like to stick with your current carrier no matter what, you have the option of using the carrier’s iPhone upgrade program/installment plan or using one of Apple’s options.
If you’re open to switching carriers, you’ll of course have the most choices. Overall, the Apple options provide the most flexibility. AT&T and Verizon’s options offer convenience and no extra fees for upgrading yearly (like Apple), while Sprint and T-Mobile both charge extra for yearly upgrades.
Here’s a detailed comparison of the different upgrade plans from Apple and the major U.S. carriers:
Note: While most iPhones that are activated with an installment plan with AT&T or Verizon may perform as though they are unlocked, they will often technically still have a carrier activation policy. If you’re curious about your iPhone’s unlocked/locked status and the activation policy ID, you can stop by an Apple Store or give 1-800-APL-CARE a call.
Apple definitely influenced the industry when it first made its iPhone Upgrade Program available starting with the iPhone 6s/6s Plus. With Apple’s plan having a 12-month upgrade option at no cost, AT&T and Verizon shortly followed suit. Now all the major carriers offer a yearly upgrade option (although some charge an extra fee).
Other benefits of Apple’s options are getting an unlocked device (easily using with another carrier), and having the option for AppleCare+ bundled in for about $5/month. Another use case that can be a good fit for Apple’s options are users who have a family plan with extended family, but don’t want to put hardware costs on the monthly bill.
Also, when the iPhone 7/7 Plus launched, iPhone Upgrade Program customers received a better chance at getting a device (although after initial difficulties). Keep in mind Apple’s programs require a credit card (no debit cards), although this could change in the future. One other limitation is that Apple only offers its installment plans for its newest iPhones.
AT&T and Verizon
Both AT&T and Verizon offer 0% interest, a yearly upgrade option and most of the same fine details. At first glance AT&T’s prices may seem cheaper, but that’s because they market their prices starting with a 30-month installment plan, while all the other carriers price based on 24-month payoffs.
Some benefits of choosing to go with AT&T or Verizon’s installment/upgrade plans include the convenience of the cost being added to your bill and some customers may be pre-approved.
Sprint and T-Mobile
While you may be saving some money on your service with Sprint or T-Mobile, both of these carriers charge extra fees for yearly smartphone upgrades. Sprint charges $5/month for 12-months to opt-in for yearly upgrades. T-Mobile charges between $9-$15/month for its JUMP program that provides yearly upgrade options and an extended warranty.
With the detailed comparison charts above and your personal preferences in mind you should be able to figure out which upgrade program is best for you without breaking a sweat.
For more details on how the math all works out for installment plans vs. the mostly retired subsidized device plans, read here.