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Are buybacks worth the bucks?

300 dpi Chris Ware illustration of man in bed using iPad, Kindle, cellphone, computer; can be used with stories about tech addicts. Lexington Herald-Leader 2011

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300 dpi Chris Ware illustration of man in bed using iPad, Kindle, cellphone, computer; can be used with stories about tech addicts. Lexington Herald-Leader 2011 krtnational national; krtworld world; krt; krtcampus campus; mctillustration; 01027000; ACE; ENT; internet; krtentertainment entertainment; 13010000; krtscitech; krttechnology technology; SCI; TEC; cellphone cell phone; computer; ipad; kindle; laptop; lx contributed ware; pod; smartphone; tech addict; technical addict; 2011; krt2011 MCT

It's always sigh-inducing when you spent a lot of money on a new gadget only to see something newer and better come along.

That's why tech buyback programs, also called buyback insurance, might sound appealing — especially to those who regularly want the latest and greatest. These programs, offered by many electronics retailers, charge you a fee upfront when you buy the item, and then guarantee you can sell it back when you upgrade. It essentially locks in a trade-in value for your gadget if you get rid of it quickly — within two years for most devices.

Here's the quick summary of how it works: You pay for the right to sell your gadget for a bad price.

In general, consumer advocates aren't fond of the programs, likening them to extended warranties, which are almost always a far better deal for companies selling them than for consumers.

Here are considerations if you're thinking of paying for a buyback guarantee:

It's a gamble: Essentially, you're wagering that your gadget will lose value faster than they expect. You need to consider two dollar amounts. One is your predicted buyback refund, minus what you paid for the buyback program. The other is what you could sell the gadget for yourself. Which will be more?

"Consumers can usually get more money selling their electronic item on their own," Consumer Reports says.

Convenience: It's true that getting some refund is better than simply abandoning a relatively new, functioning gadget and letting it gather dust because selling it is a hassle. But many Web sites make finding buyers for your device relatively easy.

For example, with used-device buyer Gazelle.com, you plug in basic information about your device online and get a price quote. It will send you shipping materials to mail the device. If the item is as you described, they pay you. Typically, you'll get better prices than through a buyback program, Gazelle.com spokeswoman Kristina Kennedy said. That's especially true when you factor in the price you paid for the buyback program, she said.

Of course, eBay and Craigslist might require more work, but many people already are familiar with selling in those online marketplaces. Amazon.com has a "Sell Your Stuff" system.

Payment: Programs vary, but often your refund is paid in the form of a store credit, not cash. So, if you planned to use the money for your tech upgrade, you're locked into buying it at a single retailer — unless you want to go through the trouble of selling your gift card for cash.

Notion of obsolete: Buyback programs might say they are protecting you from technology obsolescence, but that's probably not true. Even rapidly evolving technologies are not obsolete — meaning totally unusable — in the two-year window that buyback programs cover. A 2-year-old phone will still make calls.

What marketers really mean by "obsolete" is that buyback programs protect you partially from the "gotta-have-its." That's your feeling of inferiority because your first-generation iPad doesn't have a camera or a magnetic cover, or your smartphone doesn't have "4G" speed, or your computer isn't sporting a Blu-ray drive. And don't be confused: Tech buyback is not about protecting you from a product not working properly. That's a warranty issue.

Condition matters: You must return the device in good working condition with all accessories, such as power adapters and software, cables and remote controls. You might also need original packaging. If you don't meet those requirements, you could get a diminished amount back or nothing at all. And guess who determines whether the device is in good shape? Hint: It's not you.

Also, you will need your original receipt showing you bought the device and the buyback plan.

Trade-in programs: Retailer trade-in programs are similar, but they don't cost anything upfront and usually accept items not purchased at that store. However, your device can be rejected for any reason, and it might fetch a lower price than with a buyback program, according to Consumer Reports.

Early upgrade danger: Will a buyback program encourage you to upgrade just so you don't feel like you wasted money on the buyback program? Upgrading unnecessarily might be the program's highest cost of all.

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