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What Is a Credit Card Dispute?
A credit card dispute is generally defined as a disagreement between the credit card issuer and its cardholder. This typically revolves around a charge on the cardholder’s statement they believe is inaccurate and they shouldn’t have to pay for.
For example, if an item was returned but a refund credit wasn’t received or a charge was accrued because of credit card theft. When these instances occur and a credit card issuer doesn’t immediately reverse the charge, this could lead to a credit card dispute.
Fortunately, you have options if you feel that you are unfairly charged. The Fair Credit Billing Act is a 1974 federal law that was put into place to keep consumers from being victimized by unfair credit billing practice. If you think you have an unauthorized charge on your account, or you paid for something that you never received, you do have rights as a consumer.
5 Reasons to Dispute a Charge
If you believe a charge on your credit card statement is an error, you’ll want to thoroughly review your statement first — and talk to anyone who you know may have used the card. The industry has a term for situations where cardholders dispute a credit card charge, get it reversed and then later realize the initial charge was legitimate. It’s called friendly fraud: An instance where you didn’t mean to defraud the credit card company, but you did.
However, there are valid reasons for disputing a charge. In general, these include instances when you were mistakenly charged. The following include common credit card charge disputes.
There is an unauthorized charge on your statement.
Perhaps someone got hold of your credit card information, or a company made an error, and there’s a charge for a product or service on your statement. If you know you didn’t purchase the item, this unauthorized charge should be discussed with your issuer.
You were charged twice.
This is a somewhat common scenario. You were at the register, and the scanner somehow charged you twice. Now that you’ve noticed the error on your statement, you need to contact your issuer.
You were charged for a service that you no longer use.
Maybe you canceled a streaming service or some sort of monthly subscription, but you’re still being charged. By contacting your credit card issuer, you can not only dispute the charge, but you can request that no additional charges are accepted moving forward.
You bought something that was never delivered.
Why should you pay for something you never received? It’s time to dispute this with your credit card issuer to request a reversal of charges. You may also be asked to provide proof of non-receipt.
You bought a fraudulent product or service.
In this case, you should attempt to get a refund through the retailer first. However, under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you may be able to enlist the help of your credit card issuer.
When You Should Not Dispute a Charge
Having a credit card requires responsible usage. There may be times when you experience buyer’s remorse, but is that grounds for requesting a reversal on the charge? If you’ve made the purchase with your card, and there aren’t any fraudulent or mistaken charges, the charge is likely legit. The following are common scenarios of credit card charges you shouldn’t dispute.
You regret a purchase.
There are times when you realize you’ve made a purchasing mistake. For example, buying an expensive shirt you didn’t need or blowing your food budget by binging on pizza and wings. In these instances, you can try to correct your choice by returning the item or understanding the spending lesson and avoid making it again. But, this isn’t a time to try to dispute a charge with your issuer. If it was a valid charge, you need to pay your bill.
A family member made a purchase on your account that you didn’t approve of.
Did you know, if your credit card is added to a gaming service and your child decides to make a purchase, you can’t dispute it with your credit card issuer? In fact, many streaming and gaming services have policies and agreements that clearly define this when you sign-up with them. You can attempt to recover the charges from the service provider and add in some safety precautions to your account.
You didn’t talk to the retailer first.
When you experience a purchasing issue, you should immediately discuss it with the retailer. They typically can issue credits as long as your need falls within their return policy scope. Additionally, your credit card issuer will likely inquire if you’ve contacted the retailer to help you with the charge first. If you have and the charge has not been corrected, you can see if your issuer can help.
However, if you lost or had your credit card stolen, you should immediately contact your issuer to report it and any unauthorized charges on your account.
Charges less than $50.
Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, individuals have the right to dispute a credit card charge over $50 and credit card companies need to conduct an inquiry into the claim. While you can dispute a charge under that amount, your credit card issuer may decide to not investigate the charge since they aren’t legally required to do so.
Submitting a Credit Card Dispute
If you’ve called your credit card issuer and you’ve got a dispute you’re ready to act on, there are a series of steps you’ll need to complete in order to process your request. While your issuer may detail additional information, the following is a typical process in disputing your credit card charges.
Make a phone call.
Call your credit card issuer’s customer service hotline, speak with a representative and explain what happened. You were billed twice, or you have no idea what this unauthorized charge is, and you would like a refund. If you get a refund, you can skip the rest of these steps.
Write a letter.
OK, so you didn’t get a refund. Now, it’s time to write a letter. Before you write it, you’ll want to look online and see if you can find an online form (your credit card should have one, like this Mastercard dispute form) that you can fill out and mail in.
The Mastercard dispute form is detailed and walks the cardholder through various scenarios. You may be checking a box, for instance, that reads, "I have been billed multiple times (2 or more) for the same purchase. The original charge was posted to my account on XX/XX/XX.”
If you can’t find a form for your credit card, you could use the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) form. The FTC is a federal government agency that oversees the credit card industry.
Send any corresponding paperwork that you have with your letter.
If you’re putting in receipts or sales slips with your letter, make sure you send a copy and keep the original(s). You don’t want your proof getting lost in a mailroom or a government office.
Go to the mailbox.
Before you stick your letter in the mailbox, the FTC suggests sending your letter by certified mail and asking for a return receipt. This can provide proof that you sent the letter and that your creditor received it should you need it for any additional reasons.
In order to get your case considered, you have to send your letter within 60 days after the bill with the error was mailed, or emailed, to you.
Wait to hear from your credit card company.
The creditor must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles, but not more than 90 days, after getting your letter. If they don’t, you’ll likely get your money back or at least, when you report the credit card issuer to a government agency like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, you’ll have a strong case to get your refund.
Receive your verdict.
Presuming your issuer finishes its investigation within 90 days, you’ll receive a decision either for or against your dispute. If denied, you will receive an explanation of the reason(s) why it believes no error happened. If approved, you should receive the disputed amount credited to your account and a correction notice.
Refuse to pay or pay your bill.
If you disagree with the credit card’s investigation, there isn’t much you can do. Technically, the law says that you have 10 days to write the credit card and tell them that you refuse to pay this charge — and the creditor will be required to attach your note with the charge, so that when the bill goes into collections, at least lenders later will see why you didn’t make this payment. That’s where it can be difficult to say, “I’m not paying.”
If you don’t pay, you pretty much end your relationship with the credit card issuer, have your bill go to collections and your credit score drop. It may be financially smarter to pay the contested charge and then when it’s convenient, drop the credit card and find a new one.
Generally, if you have a credit card charge that you disagree with, the process that was outlined above is what you’ll follow, but depending on the situation, you may change some of your tactics. Here’s what you’ll want to do in the following scenarios.
Billing errors don’t always mean an unauthorized charge. You may have purchased something and don’t dispute that you need to pay for it but feel that you were overcharged. Perhaps, you’re really good at math and noticed that the finance charge has an error. Or maybe you bought something, but you never received the item.
That isn’t the credit card’s fault, but depending on your credit card’s terms and rules, you may be able to get the charge reversed. If you feel you have encountered a billing error, you can absolutely challenge your credit card and dispute it. Your four main steps would be:
Scrutinize the charge.
Before you contact your issuer, make sure you’ve thoroughly reviewed your charges. There are so many streaming and subscription services. Are you sure it isn’t something you’re paying for? Are you sure your kids didn’t buy something? Maybe your credit card is stored on a website they use?
Make a phone call.
If you’re certain that the charge is an error, call your credit card issuer and explain the situation. Hopefully they’ll take a look at your account, agree with you and give you a refund.
Write a letter.
If they don’t give you a refund, write a letter and explain why you believe the credit card company made an error.
Wait for a reply.
You should have the credit card issuer’s answer within 90 days.
If you suspect someone has stolen your credit card information — because a purchase has been made with your card miles away from where you are, for instance — you should take the following steps, the first one immediately.
Make a phone call.
Call your credit card issuer and explain the situation. They will put a stop to your credit card and issue a new one. You will probably not be liable for any more than $50 — thanks to the aforementioned Fair Credit Billing Act. Most credit cards, however, will swallow the costs of that $50, and so you probably won’t owe a thing. But you need to cancel your credit card immediately.
Write a letter and continue the rest of the dispute charge steps.
If it’s a fraudulent charge, the credit card company is likely to agree with you. So, in most cases, there should be no more steps, other than to be given a new credit card. Otherwise, start writing a letter and continue with the steps outlined in the submitting a dispute section above.
If you bought an item with your credit card that’s defective or broken, you may have a case for a refund, especially if your card has purchase protection. Some cards will cover an item if it’s damaged or stolen within a certain amount of time frame. For example, if something you bought fell apart a few days after you got it, you may have a case to make with your credit card issuer. Whatever the case may be, you’ll want to try these steps.
Contact the merchant.
This is always a good idea. Something broke and it’s really the store’s responsibility to fix it. The Fair Credit Billing Act requires that you first talk to the retailer.
Contact your credit card company.
If the retailer won’t refund you your money, it’s time to call your credit card issuer and see what your options are.
Write a letter.
So you don’t have purchase protection on your credit card and your credit card isn’t going to refund you your money. Did you purchase something with your credit card that’s over $50? Do you really feel wronged? Do you feel the credit card issuer is in the wrong or the retailer? If it’s the credit card, write the letter to dispute the credit card charge.
You could complain about the credit card issuer to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Your Consumer Rights as a Credit Card Holder
The Fair Credit Billing Act gives every American certain credit card holder rights in a credit card dispute. By knowing those rights, as detailed below, you ’ll likely be more successful in your dispute.
- You have 60 days. See something wrong on your credit card statement? And the charge has been within the last 60 days. You can contest it.
- The credit card charge has to be over $50. Again, you can quibble with your credit card issuer if it’s a charge for $47. It’s just that if your credit card issuer won’t bend, there’s not much you can do. But at least if you’ve experienced a costly fraudulent charge, you’ve got recourse.
- You need to try and work things out with the vendor first – and provided the vendor is within 100 miles of your address. Always a good idea, no matter where the vendor is located, to at least send an email or make a phone call to see if you can work things out. But in terms of having a case for getting a refund, you are required to try and talk to the merchant first.
- You need to make your complaint in writing. There’s no harm in making a phone call to your credit card’s customer service line before putting your complaint in writing. But if you really want justice – let’s say you’re thinking of taking this to court someday if you don’t get your money back – you have to put your complaint in writing.
- Unless your credit card was stolen or lost. In that case, you are not required to put a complaint in writing, though if things escalate, you may want to — but regardless, you should first make a phone call to your issuer to report it missing if your credit card was stolen or has been lost.
Writing a Dispute Credit Card Charge Letter
If you’re ready to write a dispute letter to your credit card issuer, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Namely, keep it factual and provide supporting documents. The example letter below can help you format what you send to your issuer.
1. See if there’s a form that can do your work. A lot of credit cards have dispute forms on their websites. You may be able to use that and skip having to write a detailed letter.
2. Keep it brief. Explain what happened and why you think the charge is a mistake or unjust on the issuer’s end and why it should be fixed. You can include a very basic breakdown of what happened, how you may have tried to fix it and why it’s still unresolved.
3. Include copies of paperwork. Do you have the receipt? Make sure you include it. Do you have a statement showing that you paid for the disputed item with your credit card? It’s good to include that, too.
An Example of a Letter Disputing a Credit Card
Below, you’ll find an example letter that details a dispute scenario. This format can help you get started with your own dispute letter and help you structure what you include. Feel free to include additional, relevant details that you deem necessary.
[Your Address, City, State, Zip Code]
[Name of Credit or Debit Card Company]
Attn: Billing Inquiries
[Address, City, State, Zip Code]
Re: Notice of disputed charge to Account No. [Your account number]
Dear [Contact Person or Billing Inquiries Division]:
(If you don’t have a specific person, you can keep it general. Make sure you keep this professional, despite any emotions you have while writing your letter. The person you’re addressing is an employee. The mistake is not his or her fault and you’d like for them to be an ally.)
I am writing to dispute a charge of [$______] to my [credit card] account on [date of the charge]. The charge is in error because I returned the riding lawn mower that I bought at [name of the store]. The money was refunded, I was told, but as it turns out, my credit card did not refund my money.
(That’s pretty much all you need to say, though it would be good to add a few more details.)
I contacted the retailer for clarity on my situation, and they had none. I called the customer service line, and they suggested I write this letter.
(You don’t have to call before writing the letter, but it’s worth a try.)
I am requesting that the error be corrected, that any finance or other charges related to the disputed amount be credited to my account, and that I get an accurate statement.
Enclosed are copies of [here’s where you’ll want to describe any enclosed information, like sales slips, payment records, or documentation of shipment or delivery dates] supporting my position and experience. Please correct the error on my account promptly.
Sincerely or Sincerely yours,
You can also find a sample letter at the FTC website. This sample letter above borrows some of its language.
It can take awhile for a credit card dispute to be resolved. While you have rights as a cardholder, so does your credit card company.
Your credit card company has up to 90 days to resolve the dispute, after getting your letter. You have 60 days to mail it, from the moment the purchase was made. So if you wait 59 days to write the letter, they still have 90 more days to try and settle things.
Here’s what you can do in the meantime:
1. Mark your calendar. In 90 days, if your credit card company has inexplicably not given you their decision, you’ll want to contact them.
2. Throw nothing away. That is, nothing to do with this credit card dispute. If you end up appealing, or your credit card has questions about a sales receipt, you’ll still have it.
Credit Card Dispute FAQs
Have a credit card error that you believe needs to be fixed? We have some frequently asked questions (FAQs) — and the answers you may be looking for.
How do you dispute a credit card charge? MoneyGeek spoke to a couple experts to get their thoughts.
- What is the most common mistake consumers make when they dispute a credit card charge?
- What’s your recourse if your credit card doesn’t agree with you and will not remove a charge that you believe is unfair (i.e., you were double billed) or simply wrong?
Associate Professor of Consumer Affairs at South Dakota State University
Co-founder and Marketing Manager of Allied Payments
Clinical Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics at The Catholic University of America
Want to learn more about credit card charges? Check out these terms and concepts to increase your knowledge about credit card rights, theft and more.
- 10 Biggest Mistakes Managing Your Credit: Learn more about the possible errors that can be made when managing credit.
- Beginner's Guide to Credit Cards: If you’re just starting out with credit, it’s a good idea to delve into the basics and create a strong credit foundation.
- Recovering from Credit Card Theft: If you do have credit card theft, you’ll want to know how to bounce back. Learn some key steps and essential information to help you recover.
- Understanding Credit Card Theft: Knowing what denotes fraudulent charges can help you identify and stay on top of any suspicious charges.
- Your Rights as a Credit Card Holder: Learn more about the rights you have as a cardholder to ensure your accounts are in good standing and when you may need to contact your issuer or dispute a charge.
About Geoff Williams
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