The iPhone Upgrade Program makes it easy to upgrade to a new iPhone every year without having to drop nearly $1,000 all at once. It's been around for just a few years, but Apple has improved the trade-in process with each new year. This year, you can trade in your current iPhone for a new one in-person or online. If you decide to re-enroll online, Apple will send you a trade-in kit for your current iPhone so you can send it to them once you receive your new iPhone.

Here are five things you need to know before trading in your iPhone under the iPhone Upgrade Program.

  1. Get pre-approval for your new loan.
  2. Back up your data
  3. Erase your personal data
  4. Gather your necessary paperwork
  5. Decide on your carrier

Step 1: Get pre-approval for your new loan.

In order to expedite the process of getting your new iPhone, Apple has implemented a pre-approval feature that is already underway and available for returning upgraders and newly enrolling customers.

Enrolling to purchase an iPhone that is already on sale

You can enroll or re-enroll at Apple's website to purchase an iPhone that is available now (not in pre-order) by visiting Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program page and clicking on Join Now or Check your upgrade eligibility to get started.

You can also enroll from the Apple Store app.

  1. Launch the Apple Store app.
  2. Select the iPhone model you want to purchase on the iPhone Upgrade Program.
  3. Select whether you are Replacing your current iPhone or buying a new iPhone on an existing carrier account.
  4. Select your carrier.
  5. Select your finish.
  6. Select your capacity.
  7. Select Apple iPhone Upgrade Program when asked how you would like to pay.
  8. Select I'd like to enroll if you are new to the program or I'm already part of the program if you are currently enrolled in the iPhone Upgrade Program.

You will then follow the instructions to complete your loan approval process to enroll or re-enroll in the iPhone Upgrade Program.

Enrolling to purchase an iPhone that is in pre-order

Currently, Apple only allows you to get loan pre-approval for preorders like the upcoming iPhone XR from the Apple Store app on your iPhone (not available on iPad).

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  1. Launch the Apple Store app on your iPhone.
  2. Tap View pricing or Preorder (depending on what the status of the preorder is).
  3. Tap Get Started at the top of the page under Get ready for pre-order now with the iPhone Upgrade Program.
  4. Tap Get ready for pre-order now if you are enrolling for the first time or Get a head start on your upgrade if you are currently enrolled in the iPhone Upgrade Program and follow the instructions to check your eligibility.
  5. Select the iPhone model you want to preorder.
  6. Tap Get Started.
  7. Select your carrier.
  8. Select your finish.
  9. Select your capacity.
  10. Select the AppleCare+ coverage you want (if you want to upgrade to AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss).
  11. Tap Confirm iPhone Preference.
  12. Tap Continue to go to the next section.
  13. Confirm your carrier. You'll need the wireless number for the phone you would like to replace and your 4-digit account PIN.
  14. Tap Continue.
  15. Tap Continue to go to the next section.
  16. Fill out the personal information needed to get loan approval for the iPhone Upgrade Program. You'll need to enter your Social Security Number, your billing and shipping address, credit card payment method, date of birth, and total annual income.
  17. Tap Continue to get pre-approval.

Your preapproval will last three days after pre-order begins. Once pre-order ends, outstanding preapprovals will expire.

Getting pre-approval for an iPhone pre-order *does not** reserve an iPhone for you. It is still a first-come, first-served basis. Going through the preapproval process allows you to select the model you want for faster checkout than starting from scratch.

A note about credit report pulls

There's been a lot of confusion about whether Apple does a hard or soft pull on your credit report to approve you for re-enrollment. That's because each candidate for a loan is different. Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program overview states:

Citizens One reserves the right to perform a credit inquiry as needed to determine loan eligibility. Depending on your account performance and transactional history in the iPhone Upgrade Program, Citizens One may approve your new loan application without your credit being affected.

Basically, Citizen One, the banking organization Apple works with to process loans, may only do a soft pull on your credit report if it considers your previous activities in the iPhone Upgrade Program to be in good standing. If, however, Citizen One deems it necessary to research further into your credit data, it might do a hard pull.

A note about credit freezes

If you've put a credit freeze on your credit report, there are a few things you should know about applying for your iPhone Upgrade Program loan.

A credit freeze is a way for you to restrict access to your credit report to protect you from identity theft. If you've put a freeze on your credit report, it doesn't affect your credit score or keep you from being able to apply for loans. There are some caveats though.

  • If you are already signed up with the iPhone Upgrade Program, Apple will still be able to access your credit report for a soft check. The Federal Trade Commission states:

    Your report can be released to your existing creditors or to debt collectors acting on their behalf.

  • If you are joining the iPhone Upgrade Program for the first time, you can still have Citizens One run a credit check, but you'll want to first temporarily lift the freeze specifically for the credit report agency Citizen One will request your report from.

I spoke with a customer service representative with Citizens One who said that Apple will run the credit check when you first enroll in the iPhone Upgrade Program. All four credit bureaus will be contacted, starting with Equifax first. Then, Experion, Innovis, and TransUnion

The credit report agency must lift the freeze within three business days of your request.

Fees typically range in price from $5 to $10 but are different in each region.

Here are the numbers for the U.S. credit report agencies:

  • Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
  • Experian — 1‑888‑397‑3742
  • TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872
  • Innovis - 1-800-540-2505

You'll need to provide your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and some other personal information.

Step 2: Back up your data

It's no secret that I'm a big proponent of securing your data by always backing up your device. This is my friendly reminder to make sure you back up everything, one last time, before heading out to your appointment. Apple won't be able to back up your iPhone before they take it away from you.

Step 3: Erase your personal data

The real reason you need to back up your data is that your old iPhone will be wiped clean, and I don't mean with a cleaning cloth. All of your data will be erased from the iPhone you are trading in. Apple can do this for you. But, if you do it yourself, you can be confident that your personal data is gone before it leaves your hands.

Note: You will have to turn off Activation Lock and disable Find My iPhone to wipe your iPhone.

Step 4: Gather your necessary paperwork

Whether you're re-enrolling online or in-person, you'll need a few things to make sure everything goes smoothly. Citizens One will run a credit check again to confirm your credit is still in good standing.

  • The iPhone you previously purchased through the iPhone Upgrade Program
  • Two forms of ID (only necessary for in-store re-enrollment)
  • A valid credit card
  • Your Social Security number (you don't need the actual card)
  • Your carrier's account login credentials (username and password)

If Apple determines that your iPhone has damage that is not due to normal wear and tear, you might also need to pay $29 or $99 (plus tax) if your iPhone is damaged. You probably know if your iPhone is damaged or not, but it never hurts to be prepared.

You will not need to trade in the Lightning cable, wall adapter, or EarPods. I confirmed this will Apple. The only hardware you need is the iPhone itself.

Step 5: Decide on your carrier

This is a great time to switch carriers if you are unhappy with your current one. If you do decide to switch, however, you'll have to do so in-person at an Apple Retail store. You can't switch carriers through the iPhone Upgrade Program online.

Bonus step: Breathe

Everything is going to be fine. Just make sure you have the things you need (see Step 4) and you'll make it through. You'll walk out of the Apple Store with a shiny new iPhone in hand.

Updated October 2018: Updated for the iPhone XR.

iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR

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