How to Turn Off In-App Purchases on Your iPhone

Ways to avoid a suprisingly high iTunes bill

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If you've ever played a super-addictive game like Candy Crush Saga, you'll be intimately familiar with in-app purchasing – and all the money you can find yourself spending to keep your game going.

What You Need to Know About In-App Purchases

Many iPhone apps allow you to buy additional features, functionality, and content, in-game expansions or resources, or character upgrades. They let you do this from within the app, rather than going to a separate store, using in-app purchases.

Having the option of in-app purchasing can be useful and fun (and it's an important way for app developers to make the money they need to keep making great apps), but "useful" and "fun" won't be the first words that come to mind if you buy things without realizing you're doing it. If you do buy without meaning to, you can rack up a pretty hefty iTunes bill.

And you may utter some stronger words if you have a child using your iOS device and he or she rings up huge in-app purchase charges without asking you.

Luckily, you can turn off the ability to buy within apps to prevent this from happening. These instructions apply to all devices that run the iOS operating system.

How to Turn off In-App Purchases on iOS

To turn off in-app purchasing, follow these steps:

  1. From your home screen, tap the Settings app.

  2. Tap General.

  3. On iOS 11 or earlier, scroll about halfway down the page and tap Restrictions. On iOS 12 and up, tap Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions.

  4. On iOS 11 and earlier, tap Enable Restrictions. On iOS 12 and up, move the Content & Privacy Restrictions slider to on/green.

  5. When you do this, you'll be asked to set a restrictions passcode, which is a 4-digit password that locks certain functions of the iOS device. Choose a passcode you'll be sure to remember, but don't share it with people you don't want making purchases. If they know your passcode, they can re-enable in-app purchases. Enter the passcode twice to set it.

    If you're turning off in-app purchasing because the device is being used by a child, make sure the passcode isn't the same as the one used to unlock the device.

  6. On iOS 11, slide the in-app purchases slider to the left so that it's white. On iOS 12, tap In-app purchases, then tap Don't Allow.

  7. If you change your mind and later want to restore the ability to make in-app purchases, simply come back to this screen and change the position of the slider. 

How to Identify In-App Purchases In Your iTunes Account

There may be some charges on your iTunes bill that you don't recognize, but how can you be sure that they're from in-app purchases? If you're looking at an emailed receipt sent from the iTunes Store, just look at Type column (it's on the right, next to Price). Look for In-App Purchase in that column. 

If you're viewing your account via the iTunes Store, follow these steps: 

  1. In the iTunes Store, click on Account in the Music Quick Links section (in iTunes 12 and up; it's in the left corner in earlier versions). You may be asked to log into to your account.

  2. In the Purchase History section, click See All.

  3. If the purchase is in your most recent order, it will be at the top of the screen. If not, look in the Previous Purchases section and click in the arrow next to the date of the order you want to review.

  4. In the details for the most recent purchase, look for the In-App Purchase in the Type column.

How to Request a Refund for In-App Purchases

Now that you've confirmed that those charges are actually in-app purchases, what can you do about it? That question may be especially important to you if the bill is a big one.

In the past, your success or failure with contesting in-app purchases was sort of a toss up. After all, there's no way for Apple to know that the purchases really were made accidentally by a 6-year-old rather than a 36-year-old who now wants to get out of paying the bill for them.

But with the news stories about unintended purchases and some regulatory attention and lawsuits, Apple has made the process easier. In fact, to request a refund, simply follow the instructions on this Apple web page. You'll need to have your order number (which you can find using the instructions in the previous section). 

You can't be assured of getting every purchase refunded (for instance, if Apple sees that you have a habit of buying and then asking for your money back, they're less likely to give it to you), but it never hurts to try.

There used to be a great way to control your kids' spending on in-app purchases and at the iTunes and App Stores. Unfortunately, Apple discontinued the iTunes Allowance feature in 2016. Your best bet for controlling kids' spending now is to use Family Sharing, which lets you approve purchases by kids before they're made.