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The iPhone 6s is Almost Here: Time to Lease, or Buy?

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Set to release on September 25th, the reveal of Apple’s hotly anticipated iPhone 6s and 6s Plus mobile phones has given rise to a whole new mess of confusing, often confounding leasing plans, contracts, and pay-to-own schemes. All the different prices, plans, and carriers supporting the 6s are enough to make our heads spin, so we decided to cut through the noise to find out once and for all who’s got the cheapest plan, and whether it’s better to lease or own.

This year the gloves are finally coming off in the battle of the iPhone supreme, and nearly every carrier under the sun is throwing their hat into the ring for an all-out brawl to see who can hit the bottom first.

Go Big or Go Home?

The first (and probably most daunting) task when it comes to deciding whether you want to lease or buy the new iPhone, is picking out the model you want.

Just as they did last year, this time around Apple has given customers the option to keep their phone screens at a moderate size of 4.7″ across, perfect for continuous use without experiencing too much hand strain throughout the day.

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On the other hand (no pun intended), there’s the iPhone 6s Plus, equipped with a 5.5″ screen that’s designed to contend with other entries in the growing “phablet” market like Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5. Both models of the 6s line will share the same storage configurations of 16GB, 64GB, or 128GB respectively, and outside of the separate screen resolutions (1334 x 750 326ppi on the 6s, opposed to 1920 x 1080 at 401ppi on the Plus) and a 25 percent boost in battery life for the Plus, the two are identical in speed, camera quality, and design.

So which one should you pick for your next upgrade? Well, thanks to all their similarities, the choice essentially comes down to “do I need a bigger screen or a slightly beefier battery?” If you plan to use your iPhone to watch a lot of movies or play a lot of games, the extra real estate could be a great chance for you to really have some room to stretch out those thumbs. However, if portability and price are more your concern, given the identical specs inside their respective cases, the standard iPhone 6S should be able to handle the job just fine.

Pricing

Speaking of price, this year the telecoms and Apple are rolling out the red carpet on a whole new line of payment plans, all of which come with their own distinct benefits over the payment models of yesteryear.

Way back in the days of 2013, it used to be that if you wanted an iPhone, you’d have to pay a certain amount upfront (anywhere from $0 – $299, model dependent), and then your carrier would make up the cost down the line by tacking on charges like an “iPhone-specific data plan”, or extra insurance.

Now the big four have come out of the shadows of shady billing practices, and will follow Apple in offering a new tier of low monthly payment plans instead. These will allow millions more customers to pay nothing upfront, and fill out the difference by agreeing to an extra fee that will be tacked on top of whatever their regular monthly bill comes to.

When we talk about leasing though, readers should know there are currently three different types of payment plans that the major carriers are featuring to make the 6s and Plus as affordable as economically possible.

Leasing/Pay-to-Own

When you choose a leasing program, it works in the same fashion as what you’d expect from your local car dealership. Often the terms are in the range of anywhere from one-to-two years – and because the phone still belongs to the carrier – when the lease runs up you either have to exchange it for a new model, or give it back entirely if you intend on moving your number to another company.

The difference between leasing plans and pay-to-own is that in the case of leases, at the end of a two year agreement the customer will be forced to turn in their old phone and apply for a new upgrade, continue the lease until the phone is paid off, or pay the remaining difference on the spot. The benefit to picking a lease over the other choices listed below is that anyone involved in this style of carrier membership will have the option to upgrade their device much earlier, generally on a 12, 18, or 24-month cycle. This means that if you want an iPhone 6s this year but are already trolling the forums on the hunt for iPhone 7 specs, you won’t have to worry about waiting an extra year to get your hands on one. Simply turn in the phone you have, and then exchange it out for the next model at a renegotiated 30-day premium.

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Conversely, the pay-to-own customer agrees to a marginally higher monthly fee along with a down payment (depending on their credit), which then ensures that no matter what happens their phone will be 100 percent paid off by the time the contract is over. For the sake of simplicity we’ve included just leasing and contracts in our pricing tests, as only two of the four carriers actually offer a pay-to-own option for their new or returning customers.

Two Year Contract

For people who long for a simpler time, several carriers are still offering the 6s the good old fashioned way: with a $199/$399 upfront, two-year contract plan, just like our pappies did and their pappies before them. These contracts work by leaving the customer on the hook for around 1/4 – 1/2 the cost of the phone upfront, and then subsidizing whatever’s left by locking them into a predetermined cost for their monthly plan.

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“This sounds just like leasing!” you might be shouting at your screen right now. The key difference here is that unlike leasing or pay-to-own, contract payments don’t have any option to upgrade at 12 or 18 months, The problem with a two-year contract, of course, is that if you choose to leave at any point, you’ll have to pay a cancellation fee, a figure which can often outstrip what the iPhone might cost on its own or through an alternative leasing program.

Upfront

Last there’s the simple option: buy the whole thing at once.

Instead of getting tangled up in a web of credit checks and APR percentage negotiations, sometimes people prefer to do things the easy way and just get the cost of things knocked out in one go.

After the phone is purchased in full, the customer has the freedom to choose any data plan they want (sometimes at a significant discount), and doesn’t need to worry about losing the phone, cancelling their contract, or paying extra insurance fees. In the case of T-Mobile and Verizon in particular, paying the full retail price at the checkout is the only alternative to signing up for a lease, as opposed to Sprint and AT&T, who both have the option to compromise on a pay-to-own system.

Carrier Plans

With each carrier, the amount of money you owe on a down payment (if you owe one at all) will vary depending on the model you choose and its available onboard storage. A stock iPhone 6s with just 16GB of space for example would cost the least per month and $0 down, while a 128GB iPhone 6s Plus would top out at $199 down on a lease, along with a much higher monthly premium.

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Also be sure to bear in mind that all prices quoted here are based on the predetermined metrics of each carrier’s definition of “good credit”. The final price you are given for any plan will ultimately depend on your individual credit score, and the numbers below are what’s being advertised before any personalized financial information has been factored in.


iPhone 6s Plus
(64GB)
Plan TypeMoney DownMonthly FeeSample Plan Cost/DataTotal Cost MonthlyTwo Year TotalCost Difference
Verizon
Pay-to-own$0$35.40$50/1GB$85.40$2,049.00
Upfront$849N/A$50/1GB$50$2,049.00
N/A
Sprint
LeaseN/A$35.42$60.00/Unlimited$95.42$2,290.00
Contract$399N/A$85/Unlimited$85$2,439.00
$149.00
T-Mobile
Lease (Jump!)$99.99$31.25$50/1GB$81.25$1,940.00
Upfront$849N/A$50/1GB$50$2,049.00
$111.00
AT&T
Lease (AT&T Next)$0$28.34$55/2GB$83.34$2,000.16
Contract$399$0$70/2GB$70.00$2,289.00
$288.84

Final Verdict

By pricing things the way they have this time around, the carriers have given their potential customers a whole new set of reasons to go with what they know.

If owning your phone from the moment you hold it in your hands sounds like the most appealing way to go about getting a new mobile phone, the price gulf between leasing options may not make so much of a difference. But if you’re someone who lives for the moment a new device is announced every year, a lease sounds like the best possible way to stay ahead of the curve.

Like to use a lot of data, but hate being throttled when you go over a monthly data cap? Sprint’s plan is probably the right choice for you. If you intend on travelling often and need a smartphone that will work no matter where you are in the world, AT&T has a SIM card for that. T-Mobile’s Jump! plan is a great way to ensure that your wallet won’t be struggling to keep up with the trends, and Verizon provides their lessees the largest coverage map of the bunch. No matter which leasing or pay-to-own plan you pick, it’s clear that they all offer a unique set of benefits over a regular old contract or upfront purchase.

The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are due to hit stores on September 25th, and you can register for your preorder at any of the carrier’s online portals.

All Images Courtesy of Apple Inc.

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