Why Is There a Delay in iTunes Billing?

The financial and psychological reasons for Apple's billing practices

When you purchase something from iTunes, Apple Music, 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. Ever wonder why? There are two reasons for Apple iTune's billing practices: credit card fees and consumer psychology.

While this article talks mostly about the iTunes Store, the information applies to all digital purchases from Apple. This includes the App Store, Apple Music, the Apple Books Store, and more.

Why Are iTunes Bills Delayed For Days After Your Purchase?

Most credit card processors charge companies a per-transaction or monthly fee in addition to a percentage of each purchase. On higher-priced items like an iPhone, these fees are a small percentage of the total price. That makes them a non-issue for the seller. But for low-cost items, like a $0.99 song, a larger portion of Apple's profits would be lost to processing fees if they charged your credit card for each individual sale.

To save on fees, Apple often groups transactions together. Apple knows that if you've bought one thing, you're likely to buy another pretty soon. The company waits for a day or two before billing your card in case you make more purchases that it can group together. If Apple bills you once for buying 10 items rather than billing you 10 times for 10 individual purchases, it saves money on credit card processing fees.

If Apple doesn't charge your card right away, how does it know the card will work later? When you make the initial purchase, Apple requests a pre-authorization for the transaction amount on your card. This ensures that the money will be there when they do actually charge your account.

The Psychological Reason for Delayed iTunes Billing

Saving money isn't the only reason for the delay in iTunes 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. Delayed billing encourages customers to make impulse buys.

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

When you make a purchase, Apple first draws any funds available as credits in your Apple ID. After that, remaining balances from gift cards complete the purchase. After that, any remaining balance is charged to the form of payment stored in your Apple ID. There are a few exceptions, though:

  • Sending a gift: When you gift music, movies, books, or apps, 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. That means that every family member holds onto their gift card money and spend it however they want.

How to See Your Grouped Apple Purchases

You can see how Apple groups your purchases together in iTunes by viewing your account:

  1. Open iTunes or Apple Music 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
Was this page helpful?