Photo by Youssef Sarhan on Unsplash

If you want to be the proud owner of an iPhone XS, it'll cost you. Buying the sleek new model direct from Apple will run you about $1,000. But if you buy one second-hand, you could find the same device for nearly half the price. The rub: Buying used smartphones can be risky business. Due to scams and carrier limitations, you need to do some serious research, hope for the best, and prepare for hitches before (and sometimes, after) you lay down your hard-earned cash. That doesn't mean you shouldn't consider purchasing a used smartphone—which could save you hundreds if you know what you're doing—especially as the new year rolls around.

"When supply outstrips demand there are bargains to be had," Matt Barker CEO of second-hand camera marketplace MPB tells Gizmodo. "January just after the new year is the best time to buy... the supply of second-hand gadgets surges after Christmas as unwanted presents get sold."

If you're looking for a used smartphone sold directly from the seller, head over to Swappa, the online gadget marketplace, or even eBay. Craigslist has seller-direct options as well, but the lack of public reviews makes it harder to vet the seller. Meanwhile, Gazelle and Best Buy work with third party intermediaries who verify the phone's condition, but that can makes the prices steeper. (Note: we're not talking about refurbished phones, which usually are factory direct models that come with a warranty and an even higher price-tag.)

So say you've found a used smartphone at the cheapest price possible. How do you know it's going to be scratch-free, reliable, or generally in working order? You don't. But you can do some homework before you make your purchase.

Step 1: Really examine the listing

Listings for used phones bare some telltale signs of reliability. You want to make sure your seller has plenty of legit, positive feedback from buyers, and real photos of the individual product—not just shots ripped from the original retailer. "Look for five-star reviews, and avoid listings with stock photos," writes Popular Mechanics' Alexander George.

Step 2: Know the code

A crucial step in your purchase is obtaining the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) code, which can be found on both IOS and Android devices and included in your seller's listing. (If your seller doesn't list the code, you can ask for it directly.) When you enter the code either into Swappa's code checker, or on your own mobile carrier's code checking page (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all have one) you'll be able to find out whether the phone is able to activated. If it was lost or stolen and someone is attempting to resell it, chances are it will be locked by the carrier. That means you'll end up with a device that's unusable.

Step 3: Check with your carrier

You also want to confirm that the phone you're purchasing is compatible with your carrier (regardless of what the listing says), which you can do by visiting their website or calling them up and reading them the IMEI code. They'll be able to detect if the device is compatible with your plan or not.

Step 4: Ask the seller a few more questions

Don't be shy about asking for additional information, like whether or not the device includes the original headphones, charger, etc. You also want to get any details about scratches and other possible exterior or interior hiccups with the phone before you decide to make your purchase. If the price is too good to be true, there's usually a reason.

Finally, check that the seller has a solid return policy—this will save you big if your phone isn't up to snuff. "You've got to know who you're buying from, so you have recourse if something goes wrong" Dillard tells Digital Trends. "If you buy second-hand from a retailer, make sure they have a good return policy."

Step 5: Pay with extra security

Before you decide on a payment method, consider where and how you're making your purchase. "Experts recommend looking for trusted payment gateways, including Braintree and PayPal, and buying from stores that use services like CheckMEND to flag up stolen goods," writes Gizmodo's David Neild. "Buying with a credit card rather than a debit card can give you some extra protection in terms of getting refunds for faulty goods—check with your credit card issuer to see if anything like this is available for you."

Step 5: Seriously inspect your new smartphone

If you can meet a seller in person to examine the phone before you make the purchase, you can decide if it's worth the money, or even negotiate a lower price if you spot any inadequacies. If that's not an option, you should still scan the phone like a human x-ray machine, looking for dinks and damages, once it's arrived via mail and you're holding it in your hands.

"Obviously, scratches, dents and cracked glass will be evident by handling the phone," Ben Edwards, chief executive of used-tech marketplace Swappa tells the New York Times. "Water damage is harder to spot from the outside of the phone, but every phone usually does have one or two moisture indicators — sometimes behind the battery, sometimes in the SIM card tray. That's one of those things that should be checked once you've got the phone in hand." You'll also want to charge the phone and insert your own SIM card.

If there are unexpected issues, you can contact the seller for a refund or discount, or if you used a credit card with protection, you can dispute the purchase.

Step 6: Restore Factory Settings

The final step is to restore the factory settings on your phone. This isn't just to wipe the slate clean on a used phone, but to check that the device isn't still linked to any cloud accounts that will disrupt your service. Once you're able to login to all your own accounts you will be rewarded with a new-ish smartphone you don't have to pay off for the next hundred years.

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The Federal Reserve sets the guardrails for the federal funds rate, and through that helps control the money supply for the nation.

When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.

A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.

One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.

The Federal Reserve The Federal Reserve


The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.

This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.

The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.

Getty Images/Maria Stavreva

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