Be picky on price: Use a price comparison site such as Pricegrabber.com to research the going rate for the product you're considering, Bell suggests. "On eBay, you can also use the advanced search tool to view recently completed sales of the product so that you can accurately gauge the value of a used item." It wouldn't hurt to also compare the prices of refurbished and comparable new models. Silbert advises buying a refurbished phone only if you're getting a deal compared to the subsidized cost. Carriers subsidize phones on contract, she points out, so you'll typically spend no more than $300 to $400 on a brand-new device.
Understand the return/refund policy: There can be tricky language in these documents. Figure it out before you buy. Be happy with your decision. Overall, the best values are from older products that run the latest software, says Bell. The practical differences between a new laptop and one from a year ago are difficult to distinguish. "Unless you're a graphics or digital video professional," he says, "it's always a good idea to try to find a deal on a refurbished laptop or an older model.
Stacy Julien is a writer and editor for AARP Media.
Chances are, you may be tempted to buy a used electronic device from a private seller. You may even luck out with a winner. But in this age of identity theft, here's a list of to-dos from Robert Siciliano, McAfee online security expert, so that you don't buy any unforeseen problems with your equipment:
1. Make sure it's wiped clean. Erase all previous data with software tools that are designed to do that effectively. "These tools overwrite the system with goop that makes it unreadable," Siciliano says. To find the right software, search the name of the device's operating system, and the terms "erase data" or "wipe data." Such software may be free or may cost up to about $80.
2. Check for viruses. Intentionally or not, someone could sell you a device with a virus just waiting to do damage. Purchase an antivirus program for the device's operating system immediately. "You're always better buying factory refurbished. They have protocols, and they have systems in place. The last thing they want to do is spread a virus."
3. Create a password and protect it. If you lose your device and it's not password-protected, any clever thief could tamper with your private information. Consider special software that helps you store and protect the passwords. Don't go downloading a random security app, which could be a virus itself. Instead, search for reputable software specifically designed for your device. Read reviews or ask a professional for a recommendation. Some apps allow you to remotely lock and erase your device if you lose it.