How to Make Money Selling Used Cell Phones

The used cell phone market is quite large, but still comes up short of new phone sales. According to Toni Sacconaghi of Sanford C. Bernstein, “By 2018, we estimate that used phones will cannibalize 8 percent of total new smartphone sales, up from 3 percent in 2012.”  This market has provided opportunities for people and entrepreneurs to make good money selling used cell phones. I’ve bought a couple of them before when I went through testing cell phone providers. I’ve also sold a few of my phones on Craigslist and eBay.

In light of this money making venture, I asked Stephen, the owner of the blog CellSolo, to come up with a great post on how you can sell your old cell phones for cash.  His blog is a great resource for those looking to learn more about buying and selling used phones, so take some time to check him out if you want to learn more.

A few years ago, I incurred just under $10,000 of credit card debt from financing a web startup. Unfortunately that web startup never gained enough traction to become profitable and I had to shut it down. The revenues from when the startup was in business never generated enough money to fully pay off that credit card debt leaving me in the red for a few thousand dollars. I had the cash in my personal bank account to pay off the debt; however I was determined to pay it back entirely from making extra money outside of my everyday work salary.

I transferred the debt to a 0% credit card that would be interest-free for 18 months. This would buy me some time to figure out how to make extra money to repay it. I created a handful of blogs that would each make a handful of advertising money every month but they became very time consuming in return for minimal cash flow. I needed to figure out a side hustle that would make more money in relation to how much time I put in.

I had recently upgraded to a new iPhone and I no longer had use for my previous phone. I decided I would sell the old phone since it wasn’t more than 18 months old. I figured I would put the cash towards the credit card debt and it would be a nice little chunk off the balance. I hadn’t previously sold a used cell phone but I was very familiar with selling stuff on eBay. In fact, I had sold a ton of crap I didn’t use anymore to help repay the credit card debt.

The Selling Options

When selling your used phone, there are many options available to you. With each different option, you should consider the value, risk, time, and difficulty of the process. I wanted to get the most value for my used phone, while minimizing the risk. I was willing to put extra time and effort into selling my phone if it meant I would get more money back to pay off my debt with.

I looked for stores I could bring my phone to and trade it in for cash. Several stores such as Best Buy and Verizon offered trade-ins, but they will only give you credit to upgrade to a new phone. This wasn’t going to work for me because I had already upgraded my phone. Next I checked a few websites that buyback cell phones such as Gazelle. I simply selected my cell phone and the condition of the device, and they instantly made me an offer on their website.

If I wanted to accept their offer they would send me a prepaid box for me to send the phone in and once they received it back they would send a payment to my PayPal account for the amount they offered. If you’re interested in a program like this, checkout my blog CellSolo where I’ve reviewed several electronic buyback websites.

I received a decent offer from Gazelle but I wanted to get the most money for my phone so I decided to see what alternatives I had. Next I looked at Craigslist and eBay. I searched on Craigslist to see what my phone was being listed for. Then I searched eBay for my phone and sorted the auction by “Time: Ending Soonest” to see what the last bids were for the same phone. I realized I could get a hell of a lot more money selling my phone on eBay or Craigslist then I could sending my phone to one of the buyback websites.

Even Amazon has gotten into this game with their Trade-In program. They offer to give you top dollar for your phone. What makes them different is they don’t give you cash. They give you an Amazon e-gift card in return for your phone, so you can shop on So, if you enjoy shopping on Amazon, then you can go this route as well.

Choose Your Best Option

I decided to list my phone on Craigslist for a price slightly higher than what auctions were ending at on eBay. I figured someone would make me a lower offer so I might as well start high. Before I listed the phone, I gathered the box and accessories that my phone came with, I cleaned my phone, deleted all of my personal data off of it, and took some pictures of the phone and accessories for the listing. I uploaded the pictures, provided a thorough description, and wrote that I would only accept cash and meet in my apartment’s lobby or one of the nearby fast food chains to make the exchange. I wanted to meet in a local public place to be safe.

Related: How to negotiate the best deal on Craigslist

Within the hour I had several people that emailed me offers for my phone. There were a few questionable emails that wanted me to ship the phone that seemed like a scam, some emails that were slightly lower offers, some sent complete low-balls, and to my surprise I had a few people that wanted to buy the phone for the price I originally listed it. They said they could meet me later that day. I answered any questions they had over email and they came to my apartment a few hours later and we made the exchange.

With Craigslist I got more money than I would have if I had sold my phone to a buyback website. There was a little more risk involved because I had to meet a stranger to make the exchange; however filtering out the questionable emails and meeting in a public location made it a safe transaction.

Make Extra Money

I successfully sold my used cell phone for some extra cash and put the money towards paying off my debt. I realized the potential in the used cell phone market. I created an opportunity out of this experience and started searching for good deals on used phones on Craigslist and began selling them for more money. I took advantage of the arbitrage opportunity of buying and selling used cell phones and managed to pay off a large portion of my debt with it. It was a slow side business at first but once I learned a few tricks I started generating a steady monthly cash flow, sometimes over $1000 in profit per month.

If you just upgraded your cell phone, sell the previous one for extra cash. Don’t let it sit around and depreciate in value. Turn it over to the second hand market as soon as possible to get the best deal. Don’t forget about your friends and family. Many of them have older phones lying around that they are too lazy to sell. Offer to sell their phone for them and in return you can split the profits.


Have you ever bought or sold used cell phones? Do you think you could make money doing this?

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  1. Ive been thinking about doing this on a slightly larger scale lately. It definitely seems like a great way to make some extra cash. Thanks for the info!

  2. Check out swappa as well for selling used phones. They charge less than Ebay and they check to make sure phones aren’t stolen (so a lot of buyers use it, who are afraid of Ebay).

  3. My husband and I are looking at some ways we can save money, and I think we may sell our phone accounts. We just don’t use our smartphones much anymore, now that the kids are out of the house. This looks like a great way to get some extra income, and as you mentioned, we will be sure to look into a good place to list or resell our phones! Thanks for sharing!