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What's the Best Way to Buy an Apple iPhone 6s?

Like life, there is no best way. Just a best way for you.

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

Preorders for Apple’s new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus begin today. Good luck trying to figure out which of the six thousand ways to buy one is the right way for you.

Just a year ago, picking up a new iPhone was as simple as handing over $200 and agreeing to a two-year plan. But as carriers are pushing customers to pay for new phones themselves through financing plans rather than offering discounts upfront, the decision on how to buy one has gotten exponentially more complicated.

To make it easier, we examined the myriad lease and installment payment plans offered by the nation’s four largest carriers, as well as the terms of Apple’s new financing deal, to figure out what’s the best, and in some case, cheapest, way to get your hands on a new iPhone.

Bottom line: The two carriers duking it out for customers, Sprint and T-Mobile, offer lease deals that are the cheapest way to go but not by much after factoring in the cost to keep the phone and the cost of service over a 24-month period. And if you actually want to connect your calls reliably in more regions, you’ll have to pay more through AT&T and Verizon, the nation’s top two carriers.

Customers who already have a wireless plan and just need a new phone should look at Apple’s new iPhone Upgrade Program. Of all the options it is the easiest to understand. The plan is particularly attractive to customers who want the latest model every 12 months and are likely to pay for the AppleCare+ extended warranty service.

Here’s how the cost of purchasing a basic model iPhone 6s breaks down. We analyzed the costs over the typical two-year period of financing the device. Although two of the carriers did not offer comparable 24-month plans, we normalized the cost based on the published rates. T-Mobile’s Jump On Demand is an 18-month program and Sprint’s iPhone Forever is a 22-month plan. And both of those plans require additional costs (not included in the chart for Sprint) to keep the phones at the end of the lease. The Apple Store financing and PayPal Credit financing options do not include charges for wireless service.

Re/code / Todd Bernard

Moderate Bargains

If you’re looking for the least expensive way to lay your hands on Apple’s latest, greatest smartphone, and don’t want to keep the phone later, consider leasing them from Sprint and T-Mobile. Both carriers also offer flexible upgrade options: Sprint customers can upgrade iPhones “anytime” according to its website; T-Mobile customers can replace phones up to three times a year.

In addition to offering ways to purchase a phone, Sprint, which is eager to stop customers from defecting, is touting a 22-month lease program called iPhone Forever. Bring in your old smartphone and you can trade it for an iPhone 6s and pay $15 a month. You’ll pay slightly more, $22 a month, if you’re starting from scratch and don’t plan to trade anything in. The cost of the lease works out to $330 and $484, but Sprint declined to say how much more it will cost to keep the phone at the end of the lease. Customers with bad credit may also need to put down an additional deposit.

T-Mobile’s Jump On Demand lease program charges customers $20 a month for an iPhone 6s, or $360 at the end of the program. After 18 months, you can turn in the phone and pay nothing more or pay an extra $164 and buy the smartphone outright for a total price of $524. That is below Apple’s retail cost of about $650. Further savings can be had if you trade in a used phone as well.

Neither of the two lower-cost options will matter if you live in a region where the networks are flaky. Getting a new phone and service from AT&T and Verizon will cost more in the long run, however.

The AT&T Next phone financing plan lets consumers pay off phones on a monthly basis. Depending on the length of the contract — which varies from 18 to 24 months — customers can turn in their iPhones in as little as 12 months to upgrade to newer models at no additional cost other than restarting the contract. For example, the Next 18 plan, which, despite its name, is a 24-month plan, charges you $27 a month. To upgrade to a new model after 18 months, you need to turn in your old phone. Other Next plans let you replace the device as early as 12 months into the plan.

There are special promotions you can take advantage of with the launch of the iPhone 6. AT&T is offering up to a $300 credit when you trade in your iPhone, or be eligible for a $500 credit if you switch to AT&T and buy the new smartphone.

Verizon offers an installment purchase plan that’s similar to AT&T’s. For a basic iPhone 6s, you’ll pay $27 a month for two years, then, once the contract is up, you can get a new phone. As with AT&T, Verizon is offering as much as $400 to consumers who trade in their old iPhones for the new “s” model.

Simplicity

The newest player in the phone financing game is Apple. For the first time, it is offering the option to let customers pay off the purchase of a phone on a monthly basis. Prepare to pay $32.41 monthly for two years for a new iPhone 6s, which is slightly higher than rival offers, but the price includes the cost of the AppleCare+ extended warranty service. Customers can exchange the phone at the end of 12 months for a new model and restart the two-year contract. The no-interest contracts are financed through Citizens One. Unlike most of the carrier offers, Apple sells the phone unlocked, making it the best deal for consumers looking to shop around for wireless service to see what’s best in their region.

 Terms of Apple’s Upgrade Program
Terms of Apple’s Upgrade Program
Apple

Updated to clarify that T-Mobile also offers discounts on the iPhone if customers trade in used phones.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.