iPhone Upgrade Program FAQ: How to upgrade your iPhone every year through Apple's financing plan

Upgrading to a new iPhone is always an exciting process, but there’s one aspect that’s never fun: the cost. Apple’s latest crop of smartphones are the company’s most expensive yet, with the iPhone 8 starting at $699, the iPhone 8 Plus at $799, and the iPhone X at a whopping $999. Ouch! And that’s only for the base 64GB model—if you want more storage, the 256GB version will cost you more ($1,149 for the iPhone X, $949 for the iPhone 8 Plus, and $849 for the iPhone 8). Toss in an extra $129 to $149 for AppleCare+, and we’re suddenly dealing with some serious sticker shock.

To help cushion the blow, Apple rolled out the iPhone Upgrade Program two years ago, which allows customers to make monthly payments on their iPhone instead of buying the device in full up front. Even better, the program allows you to trade in your phone for a new one after 12 payments—which means you can get the latest and greatest iPhone every year, if you’d like. 

Apple is continuing its iPhone Upgrade Program for the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X, but there are some changes to the way you sign up for the program this year. Read on for all of the details.

iPhone Upgrade Program: How much are the payments?

This program allows you to upgrade to a new iPhone every year by paying monthly installments directly to Apple via a third-party loan. Here’s the cost breakdown: 

iPhone 8:

  • 64GB: $34.50 per month
  • 256GB: $40.75 per month

iPhone 8 Plus:

  • 64GB: $39.50 per month
  • 256GB: $45.75 per month

iPhone X:

  • 64GB: $49.91 per month
  • 256GB: $56.16 per month

iPhone Upgrade Program: Does it include AppleCare+?

The cost of the iPhone Upgrade Program includes Apple Care+, which would be an additional charge of $129 for the iPhone 8 or $149 for the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X if you were to pay for the phone in full up front. With AppleCare+, you get two years of hardware repair coverage starting from the original purchase date of your iPhone. You get two incidents of accidental damage coverage, which lets you fix your screen for $29 or repair any other damage for $99. 

iPhone Upgrade Program: Does my carrier support it?

The four major U.S. carriers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon—all allow for their customers to enroll in the iPhone Upgrade Program, but you have to buy your device from an Apple store instead of through your carrier. If you’re on AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon, you can check select this option during checkout in the online Apple store; if you’re on T-Mobile, you have to go to an Apple retail store and enroll in the program in person.

Each of the four carriers have their own hardware leasing options as well, so you may want to check your options before enrolling in the iPhone Upgrade Program. 

iPhone Upgrade Program: How do I enroll? 

You can enroll in the iPhone Upgrade Program during checkout when you’re pre-ordering your iPhone, or when you’re purchasing your iPhone in an Apple store. However, there is a pre-approval process, because you receive financing for your new iPhone through an interest-free loan from Citizens One.

Whether you’re new to the iPhone Upgrade Program or an existing user, Apple suggests that you get pre-approved for your loan ahead of time if you want to buy an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus during the pre-sale period, so act fast—the pre-approval window closes at 4:00p.m. Pacific on Thursday, September 14. (The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus pre-order begins at 12:01 a.m. Pacific on Friday, September 15—here’s more info on how you can pre-order.)

Curiously, the only way to get preapproved is to use the Apple Store app on your iPhone. Launch the app, and look for the “Get a head start on your upgrade” banner at the top of the Discover page. From there, the app will walk you through the pre-approval process, which involves selecting your preferred iPhone, confirming your carrier, and providing your Social Security number and date of birth for a credit check. 

iPhone Upgrade Program: What are the terms and requirements of the loan? 

The loan is an interest-free loan from Citizens One. It’s spread out over 24 monthly payments, but you can upgrade your iPhone once you’ve made 12 payments. You’ll need a valid U.S. credit card for your monthly payments (sorry, no debit cards), and if you’re signing up in an Apple retail store, you’ll need a valid primary and secondary form of ID.

It’s important to note that every time you upgrade your device as part of the iPhone Upgrade Program, you’re signing up for a new loan. I had no issues signing up and getting approved for the program last year, but others have reported some complications. If you ever need to switch loan payment methods, that’s possible as well.

iPhone Upgrade Program: Will the Equifax breach impact the loan process?

Big shoutout to @ekyle for raising this point on Twitter. If you placed a credit freeze with the major credit bureaus in wake of the Equifax hack, you may have to temporarily thaw your account to complete your Citizens One loan.

  • New applicants of the iPhone upgrade program will need to thaw their accounts at Equifax.
  • Existing members of the iPhone upgrade program may also need to thaw their accounts at Equifax.

If the latter point sounds confusing, the policy is a little fuzzy. When we spoke with Citizens One’s customer service line, we were told there’s “no rhyme or reason” to hard credit pulls, which require an unfrozen account at a credit bureau.

As a result, Citizens One can choose to grant pre-approval after performing a soft credit check (an option available to creditors you already have a relationship with). So some existing customers (like @ekyle) will obtain pre-approval without having to thaw their credit. Other customers, however, may be denied even if they’re in good standing with Citizens One and have a history of on-time payments.

So what should you do? It depends on where you live and how intent you are on pre-ordering the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, or X as soon as possible.

If you’re in a state that charges to thaw a freeze, and you don’t feel an urgent rush to pre-order, you can try for pre-approval without first thawing the freeze. That way,if you’re approved, you can save some money. If you’re not, pay to thaw the freeze and try again.

If you really want to pre-order as soon as possible, or you live in a state where it’s free to temporarily lift a freeze, then thaw the freeze and apply for pre-approval.

iPhone Upgrade Program: How do I trade in my current device?

If you are an existing member of the iPhone Upgrade Program and have an iPhone to switch out, you have two ways to return it.

The first is with Apple’s Trade-in Kit. If you upgrade online or through the Apple Store iOS app, your new iPhone will be shipped directly to you, and Apple will also send you a Trade-in Kit. Once your new phone arrives, use the kit to pop your old phone in the mail and send it back to Apple.

The second is in stores. If you opt to pick up your new phone from an Apple retail store, just bring your current iPhone with you and the Apple retail associates will take care of the rest.

Apple ran into problems with this last year when the iPhone 7 launched, but they’ve made improvements to the process. I’ll be trading my own device in using the Trade-in Kit, and will update this guide once I do so. 

iPhone Upgrade Program: What if I have a device to trade in, but I’m not part of the program?

Apple has a different option for you: the Trade Up With Installments plan. Just bring your old device in to an Apple store or request a trade-in online, and you can get up to $260 towards a new iPhone. You can apply this to the up-front cost of the iPhone, or you can opt for reduced monthly payments via your carrier. 

iPhone Upgrade Program: Do I have to upgrade my iPhone?

Nope! If you love your current phone, you can keep it—you’ll keep making payments until you’ve paid it off in full (based on a 24 payment cycle), and then the phone is yours. Once you’ve made your 24 payments on a single device, your iPhone Upgrade Program contract is complete.

If you decide you want to leave the iPhone Upgrade Program AND buy a new device, you can do that, too—just bring in your current iPhone to return to close out your contract (which you can do after 12 payments) and then purchase your new iPhone in full from Apple, or through alternative financing from your carrier.

For more info...:

For even more on the iPhone Upgrade Program, check out Apple’s complete FAQs:

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