Turn off In-App Purchasing on Your iPhone

Ways to avoid a high iTunes bill

woman with confused expression looking at cell phone
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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 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 games expansions or resources, or character upgrades.

Having the option of in-app purchasing can be useful and fun (and it's an important way for app developers to make money), but those won't be the first words that come to mind if you buy things without realizing you're doing it. Hence, 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 realizing it.

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 

To turn off in-app purchasing, do the following:

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

  2. Tap General.

  3. Scroll about halfway down the page and tap Restrictions.

  4. Tap Enable Restrictions.

  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. Once the passcode is set, scroll down to the second set of options. Slide the in-app purchases slider to the left so that it's white (iOS 7 and up).

  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 your username in the top right (in iTunes 12 and up; it's in the left corner in earlier versions) and click Account Info. 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 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 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.

If You Have Kids, Control Costs with an iTunes Allowance

Turning off in-app purchases is all or nothing. If you want a more flexible arrangement – for instance, to let your child learn how to manage money by giving him or her a small amount to work with – that still allows you to stick to your budget, you may want to consider an iTunes Allowance

An iTunes Allowance works just like a traditional allowance, except that the money you give your kids is put directly into their iTunes account. For example, if you give your child a $10/month iTunes Allowance, that's all they’ll be able to spend at iTunes – on music, movies, apps, in-app purchases, etc. – until they get their allowance next month. 

In order to use an iTunes Allowance to control your child's spending, do the following:

  1. Set up an Apple ID (aka an iTunes account) just for your child

  2. Make sure your child is logged into that new Apple ID on their iOS device. To do that, go to Settings, then tap iTunes & App Store. Tap Apple ID at the top of the screen, sign out of the old account, and sign into the new one.

  3. Set up an iTunes Allowance for your child by following these steps.