Comparing Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile

| Dave Hamilton's Blog

In addition to all the new devices yesterday, Apple also announced its iPhone Upgrade Program. This joins the ranks of the cell carriers' relatively new programs that allow customers to finance the purchase of a phone over time. AT&T's Next, Verizon's device payment program (formerly Verizon Edge), Sprint's Easy Pay, T-Mobile's Equipment Installment Plan and, starting soon, Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program all allow customers to finance the purchase of an iPhone with full transparency into the difference between the cost of the phone and the cost of the service. Most importantly, the payments related to all of these programs end when the phone is paid off, keeping service fees lower for most users.

An ocean of pennies with logos of Apple, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile

In addition to this fairly standard financing arrangement, all these plans allow you to trade in your iPhone at a pre-set interval (most are 12 months) and get a new phone along with a new payment plan. The trade in allows you to get a new phone every year without worrying about what to do with the old one. Handy for serial upgraders like, well, many of us.

It's at this point, though, that Apple's program begins to differ from those that the carriers offer because it's not tied to any one carrier. Apple's comes with a few benefits, albeit at an extra cost. To investigate, let's compare the cost of a 64GB iPhone 6s from Apple vs. the carriers.

Below is a breakdown of each major U.S. carrier's finance programs with a total of how much that program will cost you:

  • Unlocked 64GB iPhone 6s purchased outright: US$749.00
  • T-Mobile EIP price: $99.99 down + 24 payments of $27.08 each = $749.91
  • AT&T Next 12 (20 month plan that lets you upgrade after 12 months) = 20 payments of $37.50 each = $750
  • Sprint Easy Pay = 23 payments of $31.25 and the 24th of $31.24 = $749.99
  • Verizon device payment program = 24 payments of $31.24 = $749.76

(it's also worth noting that both Sprint and T-Mobile recently rolled out "iPhone Forever" programs where, for between $15 and $30/month, you're guaranteed the ability to upgrade, but we're comparing Apples-to-Apples here, so to speak, so I've left those out).

As you can see, the carriers' finance programs all have one thing in common: they're financing iPhones with 0% interest, give or take a few pennies. Presumably they have some margin on the purchase and, regardless of that, they make their money in the service they'll sell you while you're paying off your loan. You can leave by simply purchasing your phone (or going through other red-tape gymnastics), but they're banking on the hope that you won't.

  • Here's Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program pricing: 24 payments of $36.58 = $877.92.

Whoa. That's a huge difference. There's some reasons for it, though, so keep reading. First, Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program includes AppleCare+, a $129 value for iPhone 6s and 6s Plus owners. If you were going to buy that anyway, this is an opportunity to finance it.

Apple's program comes with another benefit: your iPhone is unlocked the day you receive it. That's also true with some of the carriers (Verizon, for certain), and once you've made a few payments and your carrier is happy with you they'll likely unlock your phone regardless. Apple makes it easy, however, and that will have value to some customers.

The biggest benefit of Apple's program is that you'll be guaranteed to be on Apple's schedule. Right now, AT&T customers who bought an iPhone 6 last year with AT&T Next will have to make an off-cycle payment to be able to pre-order an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus on Saturday morning. Not a huge deal, but one that goes away if you move to Apple's camp on this.

The biggest negative to Apple's program is that it requires you to pick up your device in-store. You cannot use their program and have the device shipped to you. That may change some day but, for now, keep it in mind as you shop.

Happy iPhone purchasing!

Image made with help from Shutterstock.

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Correction: The price for AppleCare+ has changed for the 6S & 6S Plus, hasn’t it?

24 payments of $36.58 = $877.92 - $129 (AppleCare+) = $748.92

So, Apple is actually cheaper than buying a phone with AppleCare+ outright.

Dave Hamilton

@MaxHedrm: you’re absolutely right. I put together these numbers looking at incident cost ($79/$99), not plan cost ($99/$129). Article updated. Thanks!

Tom Watson

Thanks for the article. I have a question that hasn’t ben answered for me yet. If I sign up for iPhone Upgrade Program and decide NOT to get a new phone every year, does the phone belong to me after 24 payments? No strings attached?

Lee Dronick

That is my understanding Tom. I am almost certain that is the upgrade route that I will take.


I’m really interested in the Apple program, especially for the AppleCare+, but the nearest half-dozen Apple stores are all between 158 and 217 miles away from me so it would be difficult.

Lee Dronick

I would bet that the iPhone Upgrade Program will be available through the online store. I don’t see anything on its webpage that says you must go into a store.

Dave Hamilton

@Lee, Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program website says, “Launching at U.S. Apple Retail Stores. You can make a reservation online, starting at 12:01 a.m. PDT on September 12, to buy in store.”

Lee Dronick

Maybe Dave, but I would think that Apple would want those customers who live a distance from a brick and mortar store.


My assumption was that you have to come in-store to make exchanging your old device easier. For the first one (this year) it doesn’t matter, but next year it will.

Lee Dronick

Webjprgm, we may find out when the phones go on sale.


ATT Next program is limited to 4 devices on your account. I’m wondering if there is a limit on the Apple Upgrade Plan?

Also, it sounds like actually receiving your phone will be quite delayed unless you can choose your phone and reserve it now and then go in to pick it up and activate payment schedule etc.

If I pick a place in line, to order a phone a few days or weeks from now, I probably won’t see get a phone nearly as quickly as ordering it via the carrier methods.

Scan you

What about the monthly line fee discounts some carriers give (Verizon Edge -$25/mo)? Would you still get that purchasing through Apple? That takes a huge bite out of the monthly purchase fee.

Brian Renshaw

The ATT numbers are misleading because if you go with the ATT Next plan they give a $25 “discount” off of each line. Their language of discount is misleading because they are just upcharging you for having a smart phone.

So if you went with Apple’s plan then you are paying their monthly prices PLUS not receiving the ATT Next plan discount of $25 per month. So going with Apple is actually **quite** a bit more.

Dave Hamilton

@Brian Renshaw — I’m breaking my rule of not immediately replying to comments because I think yours may be factually incorrect. I’ll get with AT&T to comment officially, but my experience does not match your presumption here. AT&T’s discount is for phones on their Next plan as well as out-of-contract (i.e. customer-owned) phones. I have some of each on our Family Share plan and that discount is applied to all of them.

Stephen Swift

I couldn’t find a 1-year upgrade financing option from Verizon. They require you to pay off the whole iPhone cost (but then it’s yours to do what you please). Although I wasn’t planning on getting AppleCare, I may go with the Apple payment plan as it’s easier than paying 1/2 phone cost at end of 1 year and then trying to find a seller.

Stephen Swift

Err… Buyer rather.

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