How Long Do I Have To Dispute Charges On My Credit Card?
If you have ever seen an unfamiliar transaction or incorrect charge on your credit card statement, you may have wondered if it was too late to dispute the charge. Whether it be for credit card fraud, a mistake made by the merchant, or any other unauthorized charges, it is important to dispute credit card charges within the allotted time limit.
Credit cards offer perhaps the most robust security of any form of payment, largely because of cardholders’ legal rights to dispute a charge. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act of 1974 (FCBA), cardholders can dispute charges on their credit card accounts for a number of reasons, including fraud, goods and services not received, and goods that are not delivered as specified at the time of purchase. Despite these specifications, it may be unclear how long cardholders have to exercise their right to dispute a charge.
While the timeline to dispute a charge can sometimes be lengthy and require extra effort on your part, it doesn’t have to be confusing if you know what steps to follow.
What the Law Says
Luckily for cardholders, the Fair Credit Billing Act offers consumers protection against billing errors. According to US federal law and the FCBA, you have 60 days to dispute a charge, starting on the day that the first bill with the error was transmitted to you, either by email or postal mail. Since many cardholders still receive statements by postal mail, it could be as little as 50 days after the statement is received before your legal right to dispute a charge expires. Nevertheless, you still have two statement cycles to note the error and file the dispute. And according to the law, cardholders must submit a written notice to the creditor in order to dispute a charge.
After a dispute is made, creditors then have 30 days to send a written acknowledgment to the cardholder and an additional two billing cycles, or 90 days, to take action. According to the law, cardholders can only be held responsible for a maximum of $50 in the case of fraud.
As a credit cardholder, it is important to know your rights under federal law. Below is a summary of key consumer protections against unauthorized charges:
- You have 60 days to dispute a charge from when the first bill with the error is sent to you
- After you dispute a charge, creditors have 30 days to send a written notice of acknowledgment and they then have two billing cycles, or 90 days, to complete the investigation on your dispute
- You are only responsible for up to $50 in the case of fraud
How it Works in Practice
The Fair Credit Billing Act is consumer-friendly legislation, and it is far more effective in practice than it is in writing. For example, many credit card issuers waive the customer’s $50 liability for fraudulent charges by offering a zero liability policy.
When it comes to disputing charges, it is rarely necessary to file an initial dispute in writing. The vast majority of credit card issuers are willing to accept a dispute over the phone and follow up with the cardholder in writing as required by the law to request further documentation to substantiate the claim. In some cases involving minor amounts, card issuers will sometimes make an immediate decision in favor of the customer.
The same leniency is sometimes, but not always, granted to disputes filed after the FCBA’s 60-day deadline. For example, some card issuers may accept disputes related to recurring unauthorized charges. In general, card issuers are more likely to waive the 60-day notification requirement if you can show clear proof of your claim, and when the card issuer still has a means to collect from the merchant.
For example, service providers such as airlines often have a “holdback” in the agreements with credit card processors to protect both card issuers and cardholders in the event they cease operations and are unable to honor a ticket. If a traveler purchases a ticket six months in advance, only to find out later that the airline went out of business three months later, there is still a strong likelihood that the cardholder could file a successful dispute with the card issuer.
On the other hand, someone who prepays for services from a small, local general contractor might be unable to successfully file a dispute once the 60-day period has elapsed, especially if the company is no longer in business.
Who to Contact in the Case of an Unauthorized Charge
Your Family and/or Authorized Card Users
As many consumers today have multiple credit cards and often share their cards with family members, it is important to carefully analyze all charges to determine whether or not a charge is incorrect or fraudulent. If your children or spouse have access to your credit cards, make sure to ask your family members about a charge prior to disputing it with the merchant or your credit card issuer. If a charge was made by a family member or authorized card user, asking your family members ahead of time will save you a lot of time and effort in the disputing process. When you see a charge that is either unfamiliar or unauthorized, you can call your bank to put the card on hold as a precaution and then ask your family members about the charge.
If you don’t think a charge is fraud, it is best to first contact the seller or merchant to resolve the dispute prior to moving on to your creditor. As billing errors are usually made by mistake, merchants will often be eager to fix their mistake and maintain your business. This is why it is smart to contact the merchant first, as your issue will probably be resolved more quickly than if you go to your bank or creditor first. When disputing a charge with a merchant, you can give them a call, visit the store, or write a complaint letter to the merchant. You will probably need to include a receipt or evidence of your bank statement to dispute a charge.
Your Card Issuer
If the merchant does not resolve your issue in a timely or satisfactory manner, contact your bank or credit card issuer to dispute a charge and resolve any unauthorized transactions on your account. If the merchant rejects your refund request or doesn’t respond to your contact within a week, you should then reach out to your credit card issuer within 60 days to pass on the dispute and escalate the issue.
As most banks now have online banking and mobile banking platforms, it is now more convenient than ever to dispute credit card charges. Many banks and credit card issuers now allow you to submit disputes online.
Tips for Disputing a Credit Card Charge
Whether or not a credit card issuer will eventually accept a dispute following the 60-day period, you should always examine your statements closely for unauthorized charges, and file a dispute as quickly as possible. Keep in mind you can file disputes for several reasons, including:
- Mathematical errors
- Unauthorized charges or fraudulent transactions
- Charges with the incorrect date or price
- Failure to receive a refund that you agreed upon
- Charges for goods or services that you didn’t accept or that weren’t delivered as promised
In addition, there is another tactic you could try in order to preclude the need to file a dispute in the first place. Credit card users should always try to contact the merchant first and make a good faith effort to resolve the dispute directly. In many cases, merchants that have made an inadvertent error will go out of their way to resolve the matter and retain you as a customer. If not, it often helps to notify the merchant that you intend to file a credit card dispute if it is unable to satisfy you. Credit card disputes can be surprisingly costly for merchants, and most will do whatever possible to avoid incurring a dispute with their credit card processor. Therefore, the threat of a dispute, often called a chargeback, is sometimes enough to motivate a merchant to do the right thing.
However, if you ultimately must file a dispute with your credit card issuer, it’s important to follow up your initial claim with the proper documentation substantiating the facts. This can include invoices, tracking numbers, and even pictures showing delivered merchandise that was not how it was described when purchased.
Simple Steps to Successfully Dispute a Credit Card Charge
With the lengthy terms and conditions that come along with credit card ownership, below are simple steps for successfully disputing a credit card charge so that you can rest easy without worrying about unauthorized charges or billing errors.
1. Ask your family members about the charge, then start with the merchant
2. If the merchant does not resolve the dispute, move the dispute to your creditor
3. Contact your creditor to file a dispute within 60 days of receiving the bill via a written letter, a phone call, and/or an online form
4. Continue paying your credit card bills during a dispute to prevent interest increases and maintain a good credit rating
When disputing a charge on your credit card, it is always important to be early rather than late and to keep a close eye on your monthly bills. As many creditors now allow you to monitor your charges online at any time, it is easier than ever to stay current on your credit card transactions and billing history. If you ever see an unfamiliar charge on your card, take action quickly and first discuss with your family, then the merchant before moving on to your credit card issuer.
With patience and a sufficient understanding of your rights as a credit cardholder, you can successfully dispute a credit card charge and prevent any personal financial detriments.