Credit Card Dispute Process
There are plenty of good reasons to review your credit card statements. Looking them over each month can help you catch bad spending habits, find and cancel unused subscription charges, and even identify incorrect purchases.
And identifying incorrect purchases is probably a bigger problem than you think.
In fact, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the most common complaint people make about credit cards is that there’s a problem with a purchase shown on their statement.
If you’re amongst the thousands of people who find an error on your credit card statement each year, you have the right to dispute it and get your money back.
Reasons for Disputing Credit Card Charges
You may want to dispute a credit card charge for a number of reasons. If the charge went through by error, for example, or if it was intentionally made without your permission, you can dispute the transaction. The dispute process can also help someone who, for a variety of different reasons, is not satisfied with a product or service they paid for.
Here are some common reasons you may want to dispute a charge:
- You did not receive the item you purchased.
- You did not take a cash advance that was reported on your statement.
- You were charged for a service you canceled.
- You failed to receive a credit promised by a merchant.
- You were charged the incorrect amount.
- You were charged twice for the same transaction.
- You did not authorize a charge.
What Is a Chargeback?
A chargeback is a statement credit you receive after you dispute a charge. Because of the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), you have the right to request a credit card chargeback within 60 days from when your creditor issues you a billing statement. If your dispute is successful, you’ll receive a statement credit for the amount you paid to the merchant.
Just keep in mind the chargeback may not be permanent. If the creditor ultimately determines you’re responsible for the charge, the credit will be canceled.
How Long Do Credit Card Disputes Take?
Some credit card policies vary, but you typically have 60 days from when your billing statement is issued to dispute a charge.
After that, the creditor has two billing cycles to investigate, which could take as long as 90 days. Once the investigation is complete, you will either get a permanent account credit or you’ll be responsible for the charge.
Steps to Disputing a Credit Card Charge
Creditors are making it easier and easier to file disputes. Each company has a slightly different credit card dispute process, and some may require more hands-on involvement. Here’s what you can generally expect as you go through the process:
1. Review the Charge
Before initiating a dispute, you’ll need to do a little research to confirm whether or not the charge is accurate.
Just because the purchase looks unfamiliar doesn’t mean it’s incorrect. Is it possible you simply forget about the purchase? Can you look up the vendor’s name to see if it rings a bell? Can you compare the charge to your receipt or other documentation?
Credit card disputes are time-sensitive, so once you confirm that a charge is indeed incorrect, take the next steps right away.
2. Contact the Merchant
If the charge reflects an error or a mix-up with the vendor (as opposed to fraud or identity theft) reach to the merchant next. They may be willing to offer a refund, a credit, or work with you to fix the issue in some other way. Just be sure to write down the name of the person you speak with and the date of contact. If the merchant can’t help, move on to the next step.
3. Contact the Credit Card Company
Log into your credit card account or call the number on the back of your credit card to inform the card issuer. Submitting a dispute online can often be done in under a minute. You just need to submit information identifying the charge, such as the date and amount of the transaction.
4. Gather Evidence and Send Dispute Paperwork
You may need to follow up with a dispute letter and/or documentation. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends sending the letter by certified mail, and sending it to the creditor’s dedicated address for billing disputes. They also recommend including these details:
- Your name and account number.
- The amount of the charge.
- The date of the charge.
- An explanation of why the charge is incorrect.
- Applicable documents, such as copies of the receipt or screenshots of vendor communications.
5. Continue Making Minimum Payments
Don’t skip your monthly minimum payments while you’re going through the credit card dispute process. Even if you’re not responsible for the disputed cost during the investigation, you still have to manage the rest of your credit card balance.
If you miss a payment on the card, you’ll likely add late charges to your balance and may even see a drop in your credit score.
6. Wait for a Resolution (And Appeal if Necessary)
For smaller disputes, your credit card company may simply refund the charge rather than conduct an investigation. Usually these refunds are issued immediately.
If you sent a written letter, however, the creditor should mail you a confirmation of receipt within 30 days. That confirmation means the credit card company is now investigating your claim.
Not sure what to do if your credit card dispute is denied? There may be a legitimate reason for the denial. For example, you don’t have a qualifying problem with the quality of the good or service, or you signed a merchant contract waiving your right to dispute charges before making the purchase.
If not, you can request an explanation and appeal the decision. You can also submit a complaint to The CFPB.
Do Credit Card Disputes Hurt Your Credit Score?
Credit card disputes don’t have a direct impact on your credit scores. Your creditor may add a temporary statement to your credit report during the dispute investigation, stating that the account is currently in dispute, but this statement does not affect your scores.
A disputed charge can, however, impact your credit scores indirectly. If you receive a chargeback that reduces your account balance, your debt-to-credit ratio (DTC) will likely be reduced, and your scores may improve as a result. The larger the chargeback, the more likely you are to see a positive change in your scores.
Protecting Yourself from False or Incorrect Charges
An incorrect credit card charge may be a simple error on the merchant’s part, but sometimes it’s more serious than that.
If you suspect a charge was made by an identity thief or fraudster, you need to protect yourself by taking action right away. In addition to alerting your credit card company, you may have to take additional steps to respond to identity theft, such as filing a police report and contacting one of the national credit bureaus.
About The Author
Sarah Brady is a Personal Finance Writer and educator who's been helping people improve their financial wellness since 2013. Sarah writes for Experian, Investopedia and more, and she's been syndicated by Yahoo! News and MSN. She is a workshop facilitator and former consultant for the City of San Francisco's Affordable Home Buyer Programs, as well as a former Certified Housing & Credit Counselor (HUD, NFCC). Sarah can be contacted via sarahcbrady.com.
- N.A. (2023, March) Consumer Response Annual Report. Retrieved from https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_2022-consumer-response-annual-report_2023-03.pdf
- N.A. (2021, May) Sample Letter for Disputing Credit and Debit Card Charges. Retrieved from https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/sample-letter-disputing-credit-debit-card-charges
- Maxwell, T. (2023, January 24) What Is a Chargeback? https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/what-is-a-chargeback/