Why You Should Never Give iTunes Your Credit Card Details

I use my iTunes account regularly for buying music, and somewhat more rarely for buying apps. But Apple doesn't have my credit card details, and I see no reason why it ever will.

Picture by Peter MacDiarmid/Getty Images

If you want to purchase digital media (whether that's music, apps, TV shows or movies) through iTunes without a credit card, you have just one alternative option: using an iTunes gift card. Though slightly less convenient, that's a sensible approach for a whole host of reasons.

Saving Money

As we pointed out in our roundup of items which you should never buy at full price, iTunes cards go on sale very regularly through retailers. It's a rare week when Lifehacker doesn't include a Dealhacker post highlighting a current bargain.

The best-case scenario (and one that crops up all the time) is a pair of $20 iTunes cards for $30, which equates to a 25 per cent discount. If you stock up on these cards (in appropriate quantities), then everything you purchase through the iTunes store will be discounted by 25 per cent. There are very few other contexts where you can be confident of such ongoing regular savings. That's reason enough to ditch using the credit card.

While you might well have a stockpile of iTunes gift cards purchased at bargain prices, I recommend redeeming them through the store only one at a time, not adding them to your account as soon as you acquire them. We'll explore why that makes sense over the next two sections.

Improved Budgeting

It's extremely easy to purchase stuff through the iTunes store. An app for $0.99 doesn't seem worth worrying about; even an album for $16.99 represents a bargain in terms of what music has cost in the recent past. But if you're not careful, those purchases can mount up, which is bad budget practice.

If you've only got $20 of credit to spend at a time, you'll have to pause to redeem a card if you want to go on a shopping spree. That's a healthy development, and can help curb impulse shopping on apps you'll rarely use or music you'll hardly ever listen to.

If you're a major music lover or dedicated games fanatic, you can use iTunes cards to effectively regulate your budget. Work out how much you can afford each month for your hobby, and stock up on on-special cards to match those amounts.

Lowering The Risk

While the budget benefits can be helpful, the real reason to use iTunes cards rather than your credit card is a simple one: lowering the risk if your account gets hacked. If someone gains unauthorised access to your iTunes account and you only have $20 in credit there, you're not going to be liable for more than $20. If you have a credit card stored there, you're liable right up to your credit limit.

This isn't just a theoretical risk. I'm cautious about security and follow good practices with my account, but on two separate occasions, unauthorised transactions have been made with my iTunes ID. Apple handles these situations relatively well; I've had the money refunded on both occasions, and the second time Apple gave me additional credit as an apology for the inconvenience.

Nonetheless, the experience hasn't filled me with confidence that Apple has a really solid security infrastructure for its store. The fact that emails confirming purchases take 24 hours to arrive doesn't help matters. Under these circumstances, having no more than $20 in credit is a very sensible move. So that's two reasons to only redeem one card at a time: budget control and improved security.

Avoiding Lock-In

The final reason is less practical and more philosophical. The iTunes store represents Apple's single biggest lock-in strategy for its customers. Someone looking to upgrade their phone may well be swayed to stick with iPhone over Android because of their prior investment in apps and other content. Having a credit card on file with the company only adds to the lock-in factor.

I've never owned an iPhone or a Mac and I still buy music on CD when that's an option, so I'm personally a low risk for that kind of tie-in in the first place. Regardless, I don't want any one company to have complete control of my digital life. Not Apple, not Microsoft, not Google, not Telstra, not anyone.

That doesn't mean shunning products from those companies; it just means taking a measured approach. I'm going to use them in exactly those contexts where they're useful, and I want to control the terms of the relationship as much as possible. For iTunes, that means keeping the credit card firmly in my wallet.


Comments

    Great article. So far I've always used my credit card to purchase items because of the convenience. I only buy the odd $0.99/$1.99 app here and there, but still, using vouchers would allow me to budget better and save a bit in the process when there's specials on iTunes vouchers. Looks like I'm switching. :)

      same. always used my card simply because of the convenience factor. i thought this article was gonna be a load of waffle, but Angus made 2 very good points.
      1. itunes cards are always discounted somewhere.
      2. no chance of losing anything of any real value if your acct gets hacked.

      Great article Angus.
      didn't itunes demand a CC years ago? i seem to recall not being able to open an itunes acct without one...

        From what I remember it still prompts for a credit card if you create an iTunes account from scratch and won't go further without it, however if you go to download a free app/song before you create an account, it will prompt to sign up or log in etc, but at the payment method stage, the option "None" appears next to the credit card options.

        TL;DR - Try to download a free item from iTunes before creating your account, and you can then create it without a credit card.

        I only discovered this because I was helping a customer with their iPhone back in 2009 when I worked at a Telstra shop, I called Apple and they talked me through doing that to get around it.

        Last edited 22/11/12 11:59 am

          You can open an account with a credit card or an iTunes voucher. Due to Apple's consumer-focus and lack of volume licensing in Australia, we're currently running nearly 100 accounts to cover our iStuff fleet.

    Hang on a second... I distincly remember having no choice but to supply my credit card details when I wanted to download a free app onto my iPod.

    Another reason why Apple sucks!

      Well you do have another choice: cough up for a 'gift card' and register that with your iTunes account to be allowed to download 'free' apps.

      It's all a load of crap, and one of the main reasons why I openly support sites like Apptrackr and sending the *developer* a payment directly if you like the app (though a few developers like the guys behind Trainyard and Tripview declined the offer).

      The credit card is also used to 'validate' your age. That's one of the reason that I could see why they need a credit card details.

      But guess what, I've setup my mum's iPad without the credit card details and still can download free apps.

    Is there anything you can't buy in the apple ecosystem with gift card credit ?

      Apple devices themselves I guess. iTunes vouchers cover every store - iTunes Store, App Store, Mac App Store and iBook Store.

    I had my iPad stolen and someone bought up big on iTunes. Apple very promptly refunded me all my money. You say something similar happened to you and you got your money back, with some extra credit to boot - so I can't quite see what you're worrying about.

      It happened twice, and Apple would not/could not offer any explanation of what happened on either occasion. Fixing up a problem is not a substitute for having a properly secured system in the first place.

        If you have your ipad/iphone stolen how would they even buy anything without your password? How else can that process be improved?

      Like Angus I too have fallen victim to my account using my credit card for purchases rather than my store credit which was enough to cover the cost. Apple couldn't explain to me why this happened and refunded my credit card for the purchase as well as giving me additional store credit - hardly a solution to the problem and since then I only ever use iTunes vouchers and have removed my credit card details.

    @rogermosborne:
    You can't "gift" things with Giftcard credit.. of course you can always give a giftcard as a gift..

    You can certainly grab free apps without a credit card.. I've done it..

    Last edited 22/11/12 10:04 am

    crap! I have given in my details. Is there a way I can "ungive" them?

      Yep.
      1 - Open iTunes on your computer and go to the iTunes Store.
      2 - Click your Apple ID in the top-right corner, enter your details and click View Account.
      3 - Find the "Payment Information" section in the Apple ID Summary and click Edit.
      4 - Choose "None" as the payment method and save.

      "Lose" the card and ask for a replacement from your card provider. You'll get a new card and the old one will be invalidated.

    You can remove your credit card details from your itunes account.

    If you're on an iphone/ipod touch just go into your itunes account, go to Payment Type, and select "None". It will then remove your credit card payment details.

    On a PC/Mac go to itunes store, click "Account" under the Quick Links banner, then click "edit" next to Payment Information. Click "None" and then "Done".

    Thats why you get a debit card, if it gets compromised, only get whats in it which usually small amount.

    Since when did this site become LifeComplicator? Both Apple (as you mentioned), and your credit card company will refund any fraudulent payments made using your card if you let them know. The effort required to buy gift cards far outweighs the effort required to watch your credit card for dodgy transactions. A better "Lifehacker" solution would be to have a Visa Debit card, and your "25% saving" isn't wiped out by maintaing/fuelling your car, or your own wasted time typing in gift card codes.

    Using a debit card is less secure - if it was compromised your whole bank account is compromised. At least with a credit card you have more time to sort the problem out with the bank before you actually lose money. Unless you mean a prepaid card.

    I prefer to use iTune gift or credit rather than credit card or debit card.
    But using iTunes give me more beneficial than using other methods to buy any types of digital contents, both for its convenience and state of art of technology provided by Apple.

    I hope someone can answer this. I am new to the iPad/apple world. I used my first iTunes card completely to buy music. Today, I bought 3 more cards for a total of $30. I entered the information correctly, and it accepted them. However, it shows my credit is $20.44. Why is my credit not 30?

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