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Every year, there’s a new iPhone. And every year, people ask themselves the same questions: “Should I upgrade? Can I afford it?"
In the past, that decision has depended mostly on the kind of deal you could get from your chosen wireless carrier. But this year, the landscape has shifted: There are more options than ever when it comes to buyingthe new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. You can pay for the phone up front or in installments. You can buy from a carrier or from Apple. And you can get a warranty from Apple, your carrier, or a third-party service.
So, which of those options is best for you? There’s no single answer that’s right for everyone. Rather, you have to figure out what makes the most sense for your particular situation. As someone who’s in the market for a new phone (specifically, the 64 GB iPhone 6s), here’s how I’ve been sorting through those decisions.
Up front versus installments
There are a couple of advantages to buying the phone outright: For one, you’ll get an unlocked phone. An unlocked phone makes it easier to switch carriers if you ever decide to do so. And it’s also handy if you do a lot of traveling abroad: You can often swap in a new SIM card from a local carrier, rather than relying on your U.S. carrier’s international plan.
The other advantage to paying up front: You’ll actually own the phone, so when next year’s new iPhone rolls around, you’ll be free to either sell your current phone (perhaps through a third-party service like Gazelle) or to pass it on to a friend or family member.
You can buy unlocked phones outright from either Apple or your carrier; the prices for those two sources rarely differ significantly.
The downside to buying your iPhone outright is that it requires a lot of money. For example, the 64GB iPhone 6s I want costs $749. If you don’t have a big chunk of disposable income, then it may not be the best approach.
The alternative is to pay in installments. Almost all carriers now let you pay for your phone on a month-by-month basis: The cost of the phone is divided up over a term — two years, say — and then simply added to your bill. Eventually, you’ll have paid the full value of the phone, and at that point, you’ll own it.
These installment plans aren’t the same as the contracts carriers used to offer, under which you’d commit to the carrier for a two-year term and, in exchange, the carrier would sell you the phone for a lower, subsidized price. Carriers are moving away from that contract model these days. But installment plans do still require long-term commitments. The exact terms of installment plans not only vary from carrier to carrier, but also are changing rapidly as wireless companies jockey for your attention.
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