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The iPhone Upgrade Program Doesn’t Work with Prepaid Plans

Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program makes for an extremely easy and hassle-free method for upgrading your iPhone every year, but, as you might expect, there’s a carrier-sized catch attached.

The iPhone Upgrade Program was introduced in 2015, and while it’s likely a better deal to buy your devices outright and sell the old ones yourself, there’s no denying that this program is a convenient way to go—you essentially pay a monthly fee, trade in your old iPhone once a year, and—boom—you get a brand new updated iPhone. Of course, it’s a bit more than that, as you’re essentially financing the phone, but you get the gist.

However, there’s one huge caveat that not a lot of shoppers know about, and it’s not really directly apparent until you go to sign up for the program: You must have a plan with one of the four major US carriers, and it can’t be a prepaid plan.

Granted, most smartphone users probably already have plans with either AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile. After all, they’re not called the four major US carriers for nothing.

However, prepaid plans are becoming more and more popular, especially since it’s been proved time and time again that prepaid plans are significantly cheaper than the plans touted by the major carriers.

Unfortunately, those on prepaid plans (including prepaid plans with the major carriers) are not eligible to sign up for the iPhone Upgrade Program. When you go to sign up for the program, you have to first confirm that you have an eligible cellular plan with either AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile. So you simply can’t just sign up for the program and get your new iPhone.

Technically, though, there is a bit of a workaround for this, but it’s pretty involved and probably not worth it:

  1. Sign up for a new plan at one of the major carriers.
  2. Sign up for the iPhone Upgrade Program and use the new plan to confirm your carrier status.
  3. Once you have your iPhone in hand, insert your prepaid plan’s SIM card and you’re good to go.
  4. Cancel the new plan that you signed up for within 14 days for a full refund (or whatever the return period is for that carrier).

This sounds pretty easy on paper, but it’s going to be a hassle because you’ll have to do this every year when you want to upgrade iPhones. However, this is the only way to sign up for the iPhone Upgrade Program if you have a prepaid plan.

The alternative is to simply take advantage of Apple’s 0% financing through Barclaycard. Your monthly payment will be significantly higher since the term is 12 or 18 months—you have to spend $999 or more to get the 18 month option—rather than 24 months, but you won’t pay interest and you’ll at least be able to resell your old iPhone yourself a get a bit more money for it than you would otherwise.

Craig Lloyd Craig Lloyd
Craig Lloyd is a gadget expert with nearly ten years of professional writing experience. His work has been published by iFixit, Lifehacker, Digital Trends, SlashGear, and GottaBeMobile. Read Full Bio »