How to disable or limit in-app purchases in iOS

You can turn off in-app purchases entirely or put the kibosh on the 15-minute grace period by requiring a password for every purchase.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Worried about your kids running up a big bill for in-app purchases on an iPhone or iPad? You can avoid sticker shock by disabling or limiting those purchases.

The parental controls that limit in-app purchases aren't new. They've been around since Apple added them in iOS 4.3 in 2011. But the option is worth revisiting in light of Apple's recent reaction to the legal trouble caused by the in-app purchasing process.

You must enter your iTunes password to confirm an in-app purchase. But by default, that password is good for 15 minutes. Make additional in-app purchases during that grace period, and no password is required. That grace period triggered a class-action lawsuit and a Federal Trade Commission complaint after parents complained that their kids were able to ring up lots of in-app purchases during that 15 minute span.

Apple eventually settled the class-action suit and the FTC complaint with promises of some hefty financial compensation. In iOS 7.1, Apple also now flashes a warning when you make an in-app purchase that such purchases can go on for 15 minutes without requiring the password.

That warning itself won't do anything to stop an in-app-purchase happy kid. But that's something you can do yourself. Here's how:

  1. On the iOS device, open the Settings screen. Tap General, and then tap Restrictions.
  2. Tap the option to Enable Restrictions. Enter and then re-enter a Restrictions passcode.
  3. By default, all of the apps and services are allowed. To disallow in-app purchases, tap on its button. In iOS 7 or higher, the button background for in-app purchases then turns from green to white.

Now when you try to make an in-app purchase on that device, you're blocked and told that such purchases are not allowed.

Okay, but what if you need to make an in-app purchase but simply want to disable that pesky 15-minute window? No problem.

  1. Head back to the Settings screen. Tap General, and then tap Restrictions. Type your Restrictions passcode.
  2. Tap the button for in-app purchases to turn them back on. Scroll down the Restrictions screen until you see a Require Password option that's currently set to 15 minutes. Tap that option and change the setting to Immediately.
  3. Tap the Restrictions link to go back to the previous screen and you'll see the setting now says Immediately.

Now when you make an in-app purchase, you'll have to enter your iTunes password for each one. That restriction also applies to other types of purchases, so this just might help trim your future iTunes bills.