Why Is There a Delay in iTunes Store Billing?

The financial and psychological reasons for Apple's billing practices

When you purchase something from the iTunes Store or the App Store, Apple doesn't always email your receipt right away. Sometimes, your bank account isn't actually charged until a day or more after the purchase. There are two reasons for Apple iTune's billing practices: credit card fees and consumer psychology.

Information in this article applies to all digital purchases from Apple.

Why Does Apple iTunes Bill You Days After Your Purchase?

Most credit card processors charge companies a per-transaction or monthly fee in addition to a percentage of the purchase. On higher-priced items, like the iPhone 11, these fees are such a small percentage of the total price that they are a non-issue for the retailer. For low-cost items, such as a $0.99 song, a greater proportion of Apple's profits would be lost to one-off charges if processed individually.

To save on fees, Apple often groups transactions together. Apple knows that if you've bought one thing, you're likely to buy another, so the company waits for a day or two before billing your card in case you make more purchases that it can group together. It's cheaper and more efficient to bill you once for buying 10 items rather than billing you 10 times for individual purchases.

How to See Your Grouped iTunes Purchases

See how Apple groups your purchases together in iTunes by viewing your account:

  1. Open iTunes on a computer and select Account > View My Account.

    Screenshot of View My Account... menu item in Account menu in iTunes via macOS dark mode
  2. Log in with your Apple ID and password.

    Sign-In dialog for iTunes account with Apple ID
  3. Scroll down to Purchase History and select See All.

    See All link in Purchase History section of iTunes via macOS dark mode
  4. Select the order ID link to the right of an order to see its contents. You may not have purchased these items at the same time, but they're grouped together here as if you did.

    Order link in iTunes macOS dark mode

If Apple doesn't charge your card right away, how does it know the card will work later? When you make the initial purchase, the iTunes Store requests a pre-authorization for the transaction amount on your card. This procedure ensures that the money will be there, but the account isn't charged until later.

The Psychological Reason for Delayed iTunes Billing

Saving money isn't the only reason for the delay in billing. By charging you hours or days after you make your purchase, the acts of buying and paying start to feel like separate things. Since you don't have to pay right away, it feels like you're getting something for free when you purchase a song and can listen to it right away. Thus, delayed billing encourages customers to make impulse buys.

How iTunes Charges You: Credits First, Then Gift Cards, Then Debit/Credit Cards

When you make a purchase, Apple first draws from credits in your iTunes account. After that, remaining balances from iTunes gift cards complete the purchase. Any leftover balance is charged to the form of payment linked to your Apple ID. There are a few exceptions, though:

  • Sending a gift: When you gift music, movies, books, apps, etc. from iTunes, that is always charged to your debit or credit card, even if you have a gift card balance.
  • Family Sharing: If you use Family Sharing, purchases are charged to individual family members' gift cards or credits first. They only get charged to the Family Organizer's debit or credit card after those sources are used up. This way, every family member gets to hold onto the money added to their accounts with a gift card and spend it however they want.