Q: I recently ran out of money on my VISA Gift Card. I was using this to purchase apps from the App Store after burning through two iTunes Gift Cards. However, now it seems that I can’t even download FREE app updates, since that VISA is out of money and I have no more iTunes Gift Cards. Is there an option in my iTunes account where I don’t have to input a credit card or gift card to into the payment method? I plan to get another Gift Card soon, but would like to update some of my apps in the meantime.
A: Unfortunately, the issue here is not simply that you don’t have a payment method currently specified, but rather that you have an outstanding balance that needs to be paid. When this occurs, iTunes will not allow you to download any new content, including free apps or free app updates, until the outstanding balance is resolved.
This happens because iTunes does not actually bill your credit card for every individual purchase. In order to avoid a bunch of very small transactions, iTunes aggregates purchases and only tries to bill them to your credit card when they reach a certain threshold, or when a certain amount of time has elapsed since your last purchase. However, if your credit card doesn’t have sufficient balance when the iTunes Store tries to bill your previous purchases, then it requires you to specify a payment method before you will be allowed to download any new content.
You can check your outstanding balance by logging into your iTunes Store account and looking at your purchase history. In addition to your previous purchases, you will see a note at the top of the screen showing your most recent purchase and indicating that there is an amount outstanding and asking you to specify a payment method for it. You will need to specify a payment method—either a credit card or gift card—to clear off this balance.
Note that this does not occur with gift cards, since iTunes deducts purchases from your gift card balance immediately. This makes gift cards the safer way to go, since even if your gift card balance reaches zero, you shouldn’t be left with an outstanding balance on the iTunes Store and will still be able to download free items.