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CREDIT CARDS

How and When to Dispute a Credit Card Charge

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In this golden age of online shopping, you can buy just about anything from the comfort of your couch, but chances are you'll also run into some hiccups. Have you ever waited and waited for the delivery of a purchase you charged online…only for it never to arrive? When you contact the merchant — radio silence. Now what? How can you get your money back?

Under certain circumstances, you may need to dispute a credit card charge. We'll walk through what a credit card dispute is, how you can dispute a charge, and everything else you need to know.

What is a Credit Card Dispute?

A credit card dispute is the next course of action when you need a charge removed from your credit card statement. Consumers can dispute a charge by notifying their credit card company about the incorrect statement and asking to have the questionable charge deleted.

Remembering to keep a close eye on your credit card statement can help you stay up on your finances and more easily spot inaccuracies. If you do need to dispute a credit card transaction at some point, understanding the protocol can help you decide how to proceed and know what to expect.

When Should You Dispute a Credit Card Charge?

Some of the most common reasons for pursuing a credit card dispute include the following:

  • You receive a charge to your credit card that you didn't make, which could indicate fraud.
  • You find a billing error on your credit card statement.
  • You haven't received an item you purchased online that was supposed to be delivered via mail.
  • You haven't been refunded after returning an online purchase.

Less common reasons might be:

  • You are charged a late fee, but the reason for late payment was an error on the creditor's part.
  • Your credit card bill lists a charge with the wrong price, date, or quantity.
  • You made a credit card payment or received a credit that isn't reflected on your statement.

When Shouldn't You Dispute a Charge?

Every consumer's experience is different, but before you start dialing customer service, keep in mind the following situations don't typically warrant a dispute:

  • You are charged a late fee for paying your bill late because you forgot about it.
  • You find the quality of a purchase unsatisfactory but haven't yet talked with the merchant.
  • After receiving an item you charged, you decide you don't like it.
  • A family member or friend has made an unauthorized charge with your credit card.

Credit Card Dispute Time Limits

Different types of credit card disputes require specific time limits.

Type of Credit Card Dispute Time Limit
Billing Errors 60 days from the time you receive your credit card statement
Fraud No time limit
Quality and Service Issues Not technically categorized as billing errors under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), but you can pursue reporting within 60 days of the date when the charge was listed on a bill

Creditors generally have 30 days to confirm receipt of your dispute in writing, and then have within two billing cycles to resolve the issue. While your charge is in dispute, you might see your credit limit lowered temporarily to account for the money in question.

How to Dispute a Credit Card Charge

Although the method of contacting your creditor may differ depending on your circumstance, the actual credit card dispute process comes down to contacting your creditor to report the issue, providing any necessary evidence, and following up about getting the inaccurate charge taken off your statement. You'll also need to hold off on paying the charge in dispute. Here's a step-by-step look at how to dispute a credit card charge.

1. Contact Your Creditor to Report the Issue

Billing Error:

For a billing error, you can write or email a letter to your creditor (we've included a template below). You can also contact your creditor by phone or online via the company's website if that option is available.

Fraudulent Charge:

To dispute a fraudulent charge, you can call your card issuer to cancel your card, or you can mail or email your issuer a letter that includes the same information as the previously mentioned template. Filing a police report can also help track fraudulent activity and potentially determine the scope of fraudulent charges.

In accordance with the FCBA, a consumer's liability — what you might have to pay — for fraudulent or unauthorized credit card charges is limited to $50. If your creditor has a $0 liability policy, however, you may not be responsible for paying anything for charges that are ruled legitimately fraudulent.

Service or Goods Issue:

If your issue revolves around, for example, subpar service from a merchant, or you're unsatisfied with the quality of the item you bought, you must first contact the merchant (a gesture of good-faith effort) to pursue a resolution. If that approach doesn't work, then you can proceed with contacting your creditor.

Again, a service or goods issue doesn't require the FCBA dispute process, but as with a billing error, you can still notify your creditor of the issue by mail, email, phone, or online.

However, there are some limitations to disputing a goods and services issue. Keep in mind you won't be able to dispute a credit card charge for less than $50. And if you made the purchase in person, you won't be able to dispute it if you were more than 100 miles from your home — which is something to consider when you're spending money while on vacation.

2. Provide Documentation

Back up your claim by including evidence such as copies of receipts (keep the originals for your records), written — counting email — correspondence with a merchant, and photos, for example, to document if you received a wrong or damaged item.

3. Follow Up

Check back with your credit card company to confirm that your letter was received, or that your phone call or online notification was escalated. You could do this prior to the 30-day limit creditors have to verify receipt of your dispute. Ask what stage the dispute is in and what's being done to resolve it.

If your creditor has decided to remove the disputed charge, ask when you should expect to receive a corrected statement. If your creditor determines that the charge is not fraudulent, inquire about your next steps.

Sample Dispute Letter — Template

Again, you have the option to call your creditor or submit your dispute online through the company's website.

If you decide to mail or email a dispute letter to your creditor's billing inquiries department, providing the necessary information and outlining the reason for your dispute is easy with this sample letter based on guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

[Date]

[Your name]

[Your address]

[Your city, state, and zip code]

[Name of creditor, to the attention of Billing Inquiries department]

[Company address]

[Company city, state, and zip code]

Dear [Point of contact or Billing Inquiries department],

  • State your purpose. You're writing to dispute a credit card charge. Include the amount and date of the inaccurate charge.
  • Explain why the charge is incorrect. For example: you didn't make the charge, you were charged the wrong price, your purchase wasn't delivered.
  • Provide any other necessary details to back your claim. For instance, to support the example reasons above, you could list the actual correct price of the item you charged or the estimated delivery date.
  • Specify your request for the error to be fixed and to receive an updated statement that shows the adjustment. This could mean a charge removed from your account or a credit made to your account.
  • Note any documents you're including/attaching. These might include copies of receipts, statements that show estimated delivery dates, written correspondence, photos, or anything else relevant to supporting your claim.

[Your signature]

Creditors typically have 30 days to respond to you in writing to verify the filing of your dispute. After that, they have within two billing cycles to resolve the issue.

Credit Card Dispute FAQs

You may find that disputing a credit card charge has some gray areas, so here's a quick wrap-up to cover any lingering questions.

Does Disputing a Credit Card Charge Hurt Your Credit?

Short answer: not directly. A record of your pursued dispute may be listed on your credit report. However, the FCBA states, by law, that notation doesn't permit lenders to refuse credit to a consumer.

Do You Have to Pay a Charge While It's Being Disputed?

No, you're not responsible for paying a charge while it's being investigated by your credit card company (or the police if a police report was filed for a fraudulent charge). To avoid damaging your credit, though, you are responsible for making an on-time payment for the other charges on your credit card bill.

What Happens If You Falsely Dispute a Credit Card Charge?

If the investigation of your charge shows that it wasn't an error, you'll be expected to pay the charge and any fees that applied while the charge was being disputed.

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