Selling your used phone is a great way to help cover the costs of an upgrade or get extra value out of a phone that would otherwise sit around collecting dust.
But before you hand over your phone to the lucky buyer or ship it off to that trade-in service, you’ll want to be sure you’ve protected your important data and prepped your phone for its new owner.
If you’re like most people, you use your phone to access banking information, store personal photos, and log in to a range of accounts and services -- both online and through apps.
So just handing over your phone could mean you’re handing over your identity.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to get your phone ready to sell without having to worry about your data falling into the wrong hands.
We will break down critical steps into three phases -- backing things up, cleaning things up, and adding value.
Each section includes essential steps you should take to protect yourself, secure your data, and ensure you get the most for your gently used phone.
Backing Things Up
Getting a new phone is great. But hunting down all of your contacts again, losing a ton of family photos, or having to recreate that perfect workout playlist isn’t much fun.
Backing things up before you hand over your phone ensures that you can access any important information you might have stored on your phone later if you need it.
Things to consider backing up include:
Images and videos
Game saves and application data
However, if you’re looking for a little more peace of mind and have an Android phone, third-party backup apps make it simple to archive the information on your phone. If you have an iPhone, you can perform a device backup on iTunes or iCloud. Both are excellent options to add an extra layer of protection for your important files and personal data.
Also, before handing over anything to a buyer, be sure to record your serial number and IMEI somewhere safe. Both numbers work together as a unique identifier so no two phones have the same numbers.
So why are these numbers useful? Knowing them might allow you to track the phone or report it stolen should something about the deal go sour. It’s also handy information to have should you run into complications with your carrier or a trade-in service later.
Finding the IMEI for your phone is easy. In most cases, you can dial “#06#” to display it on your screen.
If that doesn’t work, our guide to phone blacklists and finding your IMEI covers this more in-depth and will show you the many places you might find this important piece of information.
Cleaning Things Up
You never know what personal data might lurk on your phone’s storage.
Cleaning things up is critical in protecting your identity and privacy -- especially if you’re trading your phone in or selling it to someone you don’t know.
Even if you’ve done a factory reset, there’s still a chance that someone might pull information off your phone.
If you want to be sure you’re not just handing your data to someone else, be sure to follow these steps.
Unlink Any Accounts on the Phone
You probably already plan to disconnect the Google or iCloud and Apple accounts on your phone. But depending on the apps you use, you might find other accounts saved on the phone.
Common account types to look for include:
WARNING: If you’re removing mobile authenticators from your phone, be sure you have a restore key or another way to access your authenticator settings before removing accounts and uninstalling authenticator apps or you might find yourself locked out of your account.
Unpair any accessories
While it might seem odd to recommend, unpairing all of your devices will help to ensure that no one can access any of your accessories and collect information. While something like a Bluetooth speaker might be harmless, being able to connect to your fitness tracker, smartwatch, or car might have more serious implications.
Encrypt your phone’s storage
Encrypting your storage essentially protects all of your files with a password.
If the person cannot guess your password, they cannot access your data -- even if they pull it off your phone using a computer or use other tech-savvy techniques.
In theory, once you factory reset your device your data is gone. But the truth is more complex.
Data isn’t always removed when you delete a file.
The software simply tells the phone it can use the space where those files are and “forgets” there were files there.
If you do not encrypt your phone, tools can sometimes recover old data from those “empty” areas.
Fortunately, encrypting your phone’s storage is simple.
If you have an iPhone running iOS 8 or newer -- which is the iPhone 5 or newer so long as you kept up with iOS updates -- make sure you have set a passcode under “Settings” then “Touch ID & Passcode”.
Once you’ve set a password, iOS automatically encrypts your storage.
For Android, the steps are just as simple, though they may vary depending on the version of Android you’re running and your phone manufacturer.
However, they should look something like this:
Launch “Settings” then choose “Security”.
You should see an “Encryption” option on this menu.
Tap it and enable encryption.
Keep in mind it will take time to encrypt the storage on your phone. So we’d recommend not starting the process if you’re expecting an important call or your phone’s battery is low.
Remove SIM and microSD cards
If you have an Android phone, be sure to remove the microSD card.
If you plan on selling the card with the phone, you can format it instead. You’ll find the options to do so under “Settings” and “Storage.”
You won’t need to worry about this if you use an iPhone as they do not support expandable storage.
If your phone uses a SIM card, you’ll want to remove that as well -- even if you cannot use it in your new phone.
If you do not remove the SIM card, the person buying your phone will still be able to use your phone service until you disconnect the line or have the SIM deactivated.
Factory resetting your phone will return the phone to the base version of whatever software it is running.
This helps to remove any personal information you might have on the phone while getting it ready for the buyer to set up their own accounts and apps.
For iPhones, you must be sure to sign out of a few services before you factory reset.
Disable iMessage by going to “Settings”, then “Messages”, and then disable iMessage.
Disable Find My Phone by going to “Settings”. Tapping your name, then “iCloud”, followed by “Find My Phone”, and finally disable the feature.
Disconnect from iTunes & App Store by finding the section in “Settings”, tapping your Apple ID, and signing out.
Disconnect from iCloud by going to “Settings”, then “iCloud”, followed by “Sign Out.”
With the official Apple services out of the way, you’re clear to factory reset your phone.
Head back into “Settings.”
Then choose “General” followed by “Reset.”
Tap “Erase All Content and Settings.”
Once you hit "Confirm", the phone will reset and wipe all settings to their defaults.
For Android phones, the exact steps will vary. However, depending on the model of phone you’re resetting and the version of Android running on it, the steps should look similar to this:
Under “Settings”, look for a “Security” or “Screen Locks” options, and disable any screen locks or passwords.
Under “Settings” and “Accounts” be sure that your Google Account is no longer on the phone.
Now you can head back into “Settings” and choose the “Backup & Restore” option.
In this menu, scroll down and look for a “Factory Data Reset” option.
Once you hit “Reset Phone”, the phone will reset and wipe all settings to their defaults.
TIP: If you’re worried about someone recovering the data on your phone, you can fill the memory again and wipe it a second time. This will reduce the chance of anything recoverable remaining. Simply head to a site with large files you can download after you’ve reset the phone the first time. Download files until the phone is full and repeat the previous step one more time to enjoy added peace of mind.
Physically clean your phone
While it’s important to get the insides of your phone good and clean for your safety, don’t forget to clean up the outside of the phone too.
Hand a dirty phone to a buyer and they might reconsider or be more picky about flaws.
With your phone looking its best, it’s more likely to sell.
Take off any case you might have on your phone and give it a thorough wipe down with a soft, damp cloth.
Check speaker grills, case seams, headphone jacks, and USB ports for dust and debris and try to gently remove anything you find.
If that doesn’t have your phone looking its best, check our phone cleaning tips for products and solutions to more stubborn stains and debris.
With your phone clean -- both inside and out -- you’ve covered the basics. But with a few extra steps, you can help to improve your selling price and pocket more money for your old tech.
Unlock Your Phone
If your phone is only compatible with one carrier, you’re limiting the number of people who might want to buy it. Thanks to changes in regulations in the past few years, unlocking your phone is easier than ever.
This makes phone unlocking one of the simpler ways to instantly make your phone more appealing to buyers. If you don’t owe money on a financing plan and you’ve met your carrier’s terms, most will unlock your phone for free or a small one-time fee.
If you can’t unlock your phone through your carrier, our phone unlocking guide offers a few reputable alternatives you can use.
Toss in Your Accessories
If you have a phone, you need a charger to keep things running and a case to keep things looking like new and protect from the bumps and scuffs of life on the go. And chances are you can’t use accessories for the phone you’re selling with another phone anyhow.
While chargers and cables might be compatible, they’re affordable to replace on Amazon. You might make more selling them with your phone than you’ll pay to replace them.
So gather up your accessories and bundle them with your phone to make it more appealing to buyers. They don’t have to go around finding compatible accessories and you make more money. It’s a win-win.
If you’re going to sell your phone, there are a few things to take care of before you hand it over and enjoy your newfound cash.
At a minimum, you’ll want to:
Backup any important files
Clean up your phone inside and out
Consider ways to boost the selling price of your phone
With these things taken care of, you can sell your phone without worry.
P.S. Getting the best price when selling your phone is about more than what you do to prepare. Where you sell it can make a huge difference in how much work you put into selling it and how much money you receive.
Our guide on selling your used phone lists trustworthy sites and services you can use to get a fair price for your phone quickly and easily.
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