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Considering joining Apple’s new iPhone Upgrade Program when you pick up your iPhone 6s or 6s Plus? Here’s everything you need to know before signing up.

What exactly is the iPhone Upgrade Program?

This is Apple’s response to new carrier deals that allow you to finance your phone for a set amount each month. The iPhone Upgrade Program lets you buy a new iPhone over the course of 24 payments; after 12 of those payments, you can automatically upgrade to the new iPhone—no hassle or extra fees required.

Previously, carriers offered you a set subsidy on your phone—somewhere between $300-$400 off—in return for signing a two-year contract; now, those subsidies are disappearing, being replaced instead with monthly plans from those carriers for paying off that expensive new iPhone. It makes sense that Apple would get into that game.

For more information on the different options and ways to buy your iPhone in the U.S., check out our carrier guide:

Wait, why does it make sense that Apple would get into this game?

In part, it frees users from having to be locked to a carrier by giving them an unlocked iPhone. Choose your carrier; if, after twelve months, you dislike them, you can leave that plan and switch to a different carrier without the hassle of getting out of a carrier-specific phone plan.

It also gets more people to buy iPhones every year, which, for Apple, is always a good thing, and buy them through the Apple Store.

Is it only available in the U.S.?

Unfortunately for our overseas, Mexican, and Canadian friends, yes—you need a U.S.-based credit card to sign up at present.

Oooh, AppleCare+ too? What does that cover and cost?

AppleCare+ is the company’s iPhone-specific version of their popular AppleCare support service: It covers all the awesome telephone support and software advice that a regular AppleCare subscription does, and tacks on coverage for two accidental damage incidents.

Now, when I say “coverage,” that really just means “option to pay $100 for a new iPhone after you drown your old one or crack its screen.” It’s not a cheap repair—but it’s much cheaper than if you broke your screen sans AppleCare+. (Take it from someone who had to pony up after shattering her AppleCare-less iPhone 6 on concrete. Not fun.)

Normally, AppleCare+ costs $129 for two years when you purchase your device; with the iPhone Upgrade Program, you get AppleCare+ as part of your monthly fee.

Okay! So how much is the program going to cost me per-month?

Not too much! You won’t be paying more than $45/month if you get the high-end iPhone 6s Plus, and 16GB iPhone 6s plans start at just $33/month. Here’s how it shakes out:

iPhone 6s

  • 16GB: $32.41
  • 64GB: $36.58
  • 128GB: $40.75

iPhone 6s Plus

  • 16GB: $36.58
  • 64GB: $40.75
  • 128GB: $44.91

How long do I pay this monthly fee?

When you sign up, you’re contracted with Apple (and its loan partner, Citizens Bank) for 24 months (two years). You can upgrade to the next-generation iPhone after only 12 months of payment; when you do so, you’re essentially renewing your 24-month hardware contract with Apple (and Citizens).

What do I need to sign up for it?

You’ll need to have a valid U.S. credit card, (presumably) decent credit, and whomever’s paying for it needs to be over the age of 18. This is because technically you’re signing up for a 24-month interest-free loan from Citizens Bank—via Apple’s retail stores—so you need all the bits and bobs a company would usually require for a financing deal.

Do I still have to sign a carrier contract?

Nope! While you’ll be required to activate a carrier plan when you sign up for the Upgrade Program, you’re not locked in for two years with that carrier as you would be in the traditional subsidy program. And, if after twelve months you don’t like the carrier you’re with, you can ditch them and choose a new carrier with your new iPhone.

Of course, in theory, the iPhone’s Apple SIM should let you swap between networks at any time, but U.S. carriers have instantly locked that SIM in the past when you signed up for service so that you couldn’t do so. Lame, carriers. Very lame. Worst-case, I suppose you may be able to switch by swapping out the iPhone’s activated Apple SIM card with a different carrier’s SIM.

Will the carriers punish me for getting a phone not through them?

Nope: To them, your iPhone looks just like an unlocked, prepaid phone on their network; that means you should get charged non-subsidy pricing, same as you would if you signed up with AT&T Next, Verizon’s upgrade program, or any of those plans.

Okay, so how do I sign up?

You’ll need to make a reservation to buy your iPhone in-store. You can do this through Apple’s website; just choose your desired iPhone model (if available) and go from there.

Darn, they don’t have the iPhone model I want! What do I do?

Right now, Apple is only taking Upgrade Program reservations for September 25. If the model you want is already out of stock, don’t panic—chances are, Apple will create a new site for post-September 25 reservations. Until then, you’ll have to wait.

When and how exactly do I get a new iPhone after I start the Upgrade Program?

After you’ve been paying installments for 12 months, you can trade in your old iPhone for the next version—presumably by making a reservation and visiting an Apple Store.

So I couldn’t sign up next June when my current carrier contract runs out and get the next iPhone when it arrives in September, right?

Right. If you signed up in June 2016, the earliest you could get a new phone would be June of 2017—best to wait until you’re on the right hardware cycle.

What kind of condition does my old iPhone have to be in when I trade in?

TBD until we hear more from Apple, though we imagine broken or otherwise shattered iPhone models may incur a $99 fee upon trade-in (the same price as replacing the screen under AppleCare+).

Does the 24-month contract reset when you get a new iPhone?

Currently no official documentation that says so one way or the other, but we’d imagine so.

Can I use this as a way to finance a new iPhone even if I don’t want a new phone after a year?

Looks like, though we’re double-checking with Apple just to make sure. You have the option to get a new iPhone after 12 payments, but you’re not required to upgrade if you don’t want to. And after 24 months, you’ve essentially paid the full price of the device and AppleCare+, so it makes sense that you’d be able to own it outright.

Other questions about the Upgrade Program?

Let us know and we’ll try and sleuth them out.

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