Sep. 13, 2012 at 11:58 AM ET
If you're feeling the rush and excitement of the latest Apple iPhone reveal, you're not alone. But once the excitement settles — you want a new phone, of course — you have to consider that a new iPhone has a price. And while some folks will pay $199 for the privilege of being the first on the block to sport an iPhone 5, others will have to fork over a staggering $649.
Why? The industry standard two-year contracts. Discount phone prices require you to agree to two years' worth of phone service, and you're not eligible for another significantly sized discount until that two year period is up. So, are you eligible for a discounted priced phone?
If you're not sure, there are some resources to check out:
If you're an early-adopting iPhone fanatic, you wound up choosing AT&T as a carrier out of necessity. A number of you have already jumped ship, but many are keeping a white-knuckle grip on their grandfathered unlimited data plan that Verizon no longer offers. Though the company takes its well-deserved hits, it's far from the worst option so far as carriers are concerned.
If you bought the iPhone 4 the day it came out — or very shortly thereafter — and haven't upgraded your phone yet, congratulations: You're eligible for a discount priced iPhone 5 if you're willing to extend your contract. If you got the iPhone 4S, chances are you're not eligible unless you paid full price for the phone.
If you're not sure when you bought your last phone, there are a few tools to help you learn your status. You can dial *639# on your phone, and AT&T will send you a text message showing your upgrade eligibility. Alternatively, you can visit Apple's upgrade eligibility site to find out. You'll need to enter a little bit of account data, such as your phone number, billing zip code, and last four SSN digits, so be prepared.
Verizon iPhone customers? Sorry...
If you're a Verizon iPhone customer, we have some bad news for you. Yeah, you may want to sit down for this one: You're not going to be eligible for a free upgrade, unless you for some reason paid full price for your current phone. It's just the way the calendar works.
The good news is that you have some great reasons to bite the bullet and pay full price if you can afford it. Customers who buy an iPhone 5 for the higher $649 price will be able to keep their current unlimited data plans — upgraders are otherwise forced to give up unlimited data. Plus, you'll be able to avoid renewing your contract, so when next year's iPhone comes out, you can buy it at the discounted price.
If you're not sure about your current status — this would be those of you who are long-time Verizon customers without an iPhone — you can always check the Apple upgrade website, too. Or just dial #874 from the phone line in question, and you'll be sent a message that lets you know for sure.
For those few Sprint faithful
If you picked up a discounted iPhone on Sprint recently, chances are you're not eligible for a discount iPhone 5 either. For all other Sprint customers, you can check out Apple's upgrade site too, just to double check. Alternatively, you can text the word "upgrade" to 1311.
Breaking your contract
If you suspect you're close-but-not-quite-eligible to getting a discounted iPhone 5, you may have one other way to save a few dollars: You could break your current cell contract. For people that just bought a phone, this penalty will be unworkable and steep. But if yours is over a year old, it's worth a look. Check out Tecca's Early Termination Fee Calculator and see how much it'll cost you to end your current contract early. And if you're interested in more of the specifics, check out our primer that explains those fees in common language.
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