Katie Searcy | 

How the Costco Trade-In Program Works for Used Electronics

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If you have dusty, outdated Apple devices taking up valuable space in your closet, consider cashing them in for Costco bucks. Officially called the "Costco Trade Up" program, this online process lets you responsibly recycle your old devices and get paid in the form of a Costco Shop Card, which you can use for more purchases throughout the store.

But it's not as simple as boxing up your device and marching on over to your nearest warehouse like you would for the Costco return policy or to claim a Costco price match. Instead, the whole process is handled online. And amazingly, you don’t even need to be a Costco membership to take advantage of this deal.

One huge perk is that you can spend your trade-in earnings on things like groceries — something you just can't do if you're trading in your used devices at the Apple Store or Best Buy instead. But there's some effort involved (hint: it’s a lot of waiting), and you'll often get a higher trade-in value if you go with a competitor instead of Costco.

For more smart shopping tips, savings hacks, and Costco deals, download the KCL app or text HACKS to 57299.

How To Use the Costco Trade-In Program

a person on the costco trade in website on their macbook

Costco partners with Phobio, a company that specializes in device trade-in services, to run this program entirely online. This means you don’t need to pack up your gear and actually head to a Costco.

Instead, you'll enter your trade-in information on Phobio's website, get a quote, then mail in your device using a prepaid shipping package.

In fact, the only actual involvement Costco has is that once your trade-in gets accepted by Phobio, they send you a Costco Shop Card (physical or digital — your choice).

KCL TIP: A Costco Shop Card lets you make purchases on Costco.com or in person at any Costco location — even without a membership. Make sure you choose the physical Costco Shop Card option if you want to use it at self-checkout stations, Costco gas pumps, the food court kiosks, or the Costco car wash.

What kinds of devices can I trade in?

With the Costco trade-in program, you can send in most types of Apple devices. Keep in mind that the devices must be able to power on, in good working condition (no physical damage, water damage, or software problems), and free of activation locks (including programs like Find My Mac). If they do find damage, your trade-in estimate can drop dramatically, so it's best to be honest.

The Costco phone trade-in program is the most commonly talked about one, but you can trade-in these other Apple devices, too:

  • Apple Watch

  • iPad

  • iPhone

  • Mac/iMac computers (must be 2013 or newer)

KCL TIP: Even though the Phobio website lists "Other Tablets" as an option, I attempted to get a quote for a Samsung S7 tablet and the site recommended I recycle my device instead.

How long does a Costco trade-in take?


According to Phobio, the entire Costco trade-in process takes about three weeks.

The first part of the Costco Trade-In process goes pretty quick. You just enter the device’s serial number or International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number on Phobio.com, then you get an instant quote online.

If you decide you want to move forward with their quote, the next steps go a bit slower. Let me explain what I mean:

  1. It will take up to 7 business days to receive the pre-paid shipping supplies needed to mail in your device.

  2. You’ll wait another 3 to 5 business days for the shipped item to arrive at Phobio.

  3. Phobio will inspect your device to make sure it’s in working condition, then wipe the data and approve your trade-in.

  4. Once approved, you'll wait up to 5 business days to receive your digital Costco Shop Card by email, or wait up to 20 business days to get a physical Shop Card in the mail.

  5. When you have your card of choice, you can shop!

Is Phobio legit?

I dug into the corporation who runs the Costco Trade-In Program — Phobio, LLC — and found out they are a legit company, based in Kennesaw, Georgia.

They have been in operation since 2010 and specialize in mobile device trade-in. According to their website, they have handled the trade-in process for large companies like Amazon, Apple, Motorola, and B&H. Phobio also owns a site called Assembly, where they resell the used electronic devices to other businesses.

Although they currently have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, I did see quite a few negative reviews and comments from people who had issues with their Phobio trade-in. (Note: These reviews were not necessarily specific to the Costco program.)

Here are a few things common issues that customers brought up:

  • Lower trade-in value after they inspect your device

  • Inspection process brings up previously unknown defects

  • Delay in receiving gift cards

On the plus side, Phobio does make their process pretty transparent with the ability to track the status of your trade-in using your email address and confirmation number. They also have a live chat available on weekdays.

Is the Costco Trade-In program worth using?

If you need to trade in gaming consoles or smart home devices, you'll need to look elsewhere, as the program mainly focuses on Apple computers, tablets, and phones. They also won't take devices older than a 2013 model year.

As for the trade-in values, you'll definitely want to comparison shop, as I found that the Costco phone trade-in values aren’t necessarily the highest. Nor are their computer trade-in values.

For example, here are some estimates I was quoted in March 2024 for two different Apple devices.

Trade-In Values Compared

Amount is paid via retailer gift card or store credit.


iPhone 12 Pro (256 GB)

MacBook Pro (2020)







Game Stop






Best Buy






As you can see, Costco’s trade-in program doesn't offer the highest value for my iPhone (Amazon offered me $110 more) or my MacBook, but Costco did beat out the estimate I got from Target.

But since you get paid in the form of a store gift card with each trade-in, consider that the Costco Shop Card opens up additional opportunities for what to buy with your money, like groceries and even gas. Just be sure to choose the physical Shop Card option if you want to use it at Costco gas stations.

Related: If you’d rather get cash for your trade-ins, consider Gazelle — it’s one of the sites we mention in our big roundup of the best side hustles for earning extra money.

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