How to Get $280 from Apple for Your old iPhone Right Now

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Today, Apple is launching its long-awaited iPhone trade-in program, meaning you could get up to $280 in credit toward a new iPhone. (If you read this post on how to play your cards right, that is.)

That $280 is reserved for people with 16GB iPhone 5s in optimal condition, which, let's be honest, is not a "gently used" phone. Most consumers won't get that $280: The best an iPhone 4 or 4S owner can hope for is $120, according to TechCrunch's Mathew Panzarino. Even so, with a little luck and our assistance, readers might get enough money to help cover the cost of one of the new devices — rumored to be an updated iPhone 5 and a cheaper version called a 5C — said to hit stores in just a few weeks. Here's how to get the most bank for your device:

Step 1: Have a Working, on-Contract iPhone 4, 4S or 5

Apple will only accept in-use iPhones with current wireless company contract. That means: No unlocked phones, phones with lapsed contracts, or water-damaged devices that won't turn on. In addition, it doesn't sound like Apple will give store credit for models older than the iPhone 4 — at least the pilots of this program mentioned by Panzarino didn't offer any money for anything older than the 4.

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Step 2: Clean Your iPhone

According to 9to5Mac's Mark Gurman, to evaluate a phone's worth, an Apple employee will judge how new it looks and feels, including the following: "Display quality, button quality, overall hardware damage, engraving, and being able to be powered on and used normally." Some of that stuff will depend on the overall wear and tear of the device, but a shiny screen can't hurt.

Step 3: Bring the Squeaky Clean iPhone to the Apple Store 

The new effort, called the "iPhone Reuse and Recycle Program," differs from Apple's former recycling initiative in that it takes place right in an Apple store. Rather than mailing in used phones, dissatisfied iPhone owners can get gift cards right at the Apple store after going through the trade-in process, which we'll detail below. 

Step 4: Detail How Careful You Were with Your iPhone 

The in-store employee evaluation will include a "series of questions about the condition of the device," adds Panzarino. It's unclear what the Apple Genius will ask in addition to his or her examination of the phone. But, just like a job interview, it's advisable to present the best version of an iPhone's history to get the most out of it. 

Step 5: Obtain $280 Gift-Card

After the evaluation, an Apple employee will punch in all the collected information into Apple's EasyPay terminals, which will then determine a value. That amount, which is hopefully something close to $280, will come in the form of an Apple gift card to be used for the purchase of a new iPhone. (And nothing else.)

Step 6: Buy Brand New, On-Contract iPhone 

No doubt that Apple is offering the program in part to keep its customers buying iPhones, rather than switching over to other, increasingly popular options like the similarly-priced Samsung Galaxy S III and S IV or the HTC One. Ergo, the "gifted" dollar amount can only be used for another iPhone. In addition, Apple is also require upgrading iPhone owners to sign or renew contracts with wireless companies. Even with all those stipulations, consumers who get the full $280 will get a significant discount on an iPhone. New iPhones generally cost $600, or so. So, that's about half off the retail value.

Once you trade in your old iPhone for the new one, an Apple store employee will take your SIM card and set up the new phone. And, just like that: You got a deal. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.