Editor's note: We have removed a reference to Cell for Cash from this story due to user complaints about the service.
Like a new car that plummets in value once you drive it off the dealer's lot, electronics are worth less the moment you slip them out of the box. The bad news is, there's nothing you can do about tech depreciation.
The good news is, you can probably find a market for the gear you no longer want. Unloading spent gadgets can put cash in your pocket that you can reinvest toward the latest technology.
Companies shedding old electronics used to have to pay other companies to help with disposal and with legal compliance. Now, however, you have numerous options for handling the process yourself.
In addition to the broader online marketplaces of Craigslist and eBay, specialized Web-based services will pay you for, and then resell or recycle, used electronics. In many cases the amount they'll pay for goods that are only several seasons old can amount to more than half of the initial ticket price. What's the best way to navigate this market?
How to Sell
For the greatest resale value later, when you buy new, keep the original box, cables, and software intact. When you're ready to give your gear a new home, polish that laptop up and send it packing with its manual enclosed.
It takes only minutes to look up a quote for an item on a reselling service's Website and then request a prepaid shipping envelope. Within a few days you can send away the unwanted stuff and then receive the money via PayPal or a check in the mail.
However, though you may lose money allowing electronics to sit around and depreciate, it's also a waste of payroll hours if you spend a day scheming how to yield a $30 return from a five-year-old GPS device. Although selling one item at a time can give a minor payback, you'll get the biggest reward by dealing with at least a handful of goods simultaneously. If your company had to shed five employees in lean times, for example, selling their orphaned desktops and flat-screen monitors in one swoop can help recover some losses.
What to Sell
Smartphones and laptops--particularly from Apple--tend to fetch the highest prices. Digital cameras, MP3 players, HDTVs, storage drives, and inkjet printers are among the hardest sells. If you hold on to any product for long enough that its resale value evaporates, you might as well donate it to a school, or maybe to a tech museum.
If you want the latest laptop every few months, or if you need a team of workstations to serve temporary workers for only one quarter, renting electronics can save you money and prevent the pile-up of old tools in the first place.
Cell Phone Recycling
You can find a plethora of phone-recycling services that pay a pretty penny for relatively new smartphones. To start, EcoSquid lets you search multiple Websites to compare offers for old handsets, and then takes a share if you make a transaction with a referred service. A number of sites specialize in iPhone recycling and trade-ins.
Getting rid of a handset before its service contract expires can ring up an early-termination fee of up to $350, depending on your wireless carrier. CellSwapper and CelltradeUSA arrange for users to get around the penalty by swapping phone plans and phones.
I found it hard on both sites to browse listings casually, however. CelltradeUSA provides a form through which you can contact other users, and charges $20 if you complete a trade. Once you list your phone and service contract, you have to wait for potential takers to reach you. I could find only one iPhone owner with an AT&T contract similar to my own, and no BlackBerry users with the equivalent. On CellSwapper, searches weren't working after I made several attempts of seeking someone to switch early out of a 24-month contract with AT&T to new Verizon service.
Among the services that pay for old phones but don't deal with contracts, Sell Your Cell, and Simply Sellular offered some of the highest quotes--up to $144 for a 16GB iPhone 3G, and $110 for a BlackBerry Bold 9000. (See the chart at right for more details.) If you want to sell more than phones, sites with a broader focus, such as BuyMyTronics, Gazelle, and NextWorth (more below), offered competitive price quotes.
It's wise to wipe text messages, contacts, calendar items, and other data off a phone even if you're sending it to a service that promises to do the same--especially when those security pledges are vaguely worded. Remote wiping is available for the iPhone with a MobileMe account, and for the BlackBerry 6 operating system. For businesses, software such as that of AirWatch can provide deeper device management.