When you get your credit card statement for each of the billing cycles, it’s important to look carefully at the posted charges. You should keep an eye out for fraudulent charges you didn’t make just in case someone got hold of your credit card or credit card number. It’s also important to make sure there were no billing errors, such as a merchant accidentally charging you $100 instead of $10.
Checking your statement for unauthorized or improper charges is essential because if you spot an issue, you have the right to dispute the credit card charge—but how long do you have to dispute a charge on your credit card? Generally you have 60 days to dispute credit card charges. The Federal Trade Commission offers different legal rights and protections for people who start a credit card dispute, but only in certain situations.
You can dispute credit card charges for lots of reasons. Different companies such as Discover, Capital One, or American Express may all have variations in their guidelines for handling a billing dispute. You can initiate a fraud claim if you didn’t make certain credit card purchases at all or a dispute if you were charged an improper amount or have issues with the product or service you paid for.
While the process for a fraud claim differs from the process for a dispute arising out of an issue with products and services, one thing that both fraud claims and other disputes have in common is the time limit for taking action, and this is outlined by federal law.
If you don’t act within the designated time allowed by federal law or allowed by your credit card provider, you could forever lose the chance to get your money back for a questionable transaction. Don’t take this chance; look at your credit card bill promptly and make sure you know your rights as a consumer for disputing credit card charges.
When to Dispute a Charge on Your Credit Card
You can dispute a charge on your credit card if:
- The merchant or service provider made an error and charged you too much
- A product you bought never arrived, or you never received a service you paid for
- There were issues with the quality of the product or service you purchased
Disputes can be initiated online, in most cases under the Account Tools or Account Services section of your account. You can also make a fraud claim if your credit card was used without your permission, but most card issuers require you to go through a different process in cases of fraud, including providing prompt notice via phone.
>> Read More: Protect Yourself From Credit Card Fraud
18 U.S. Code section 1643 guarantees you will not be responsible for more than $50 in fraudulent charges, so your card issuer must not charge you for fraud reported in a timely manner. Most card issuers actually have $0 liability protection for fraud, so you won’t be held responsible for any of the costs of charges you didn’t make.
Disputes, on the other hand, work differently. You can only successfully dispute charges based on the quality of a product or service or the lack of delivery of the product or service if the transaction was for at least $50, took place in your home state or close to where your current billing address is, or took place online.
You must have also made a good-faith effort to work things out with the merchant and their customer service team before you dispute a charge—and you typically must provide documented proof to back up your assertions that there was a problem with the product or service.
How the Law Protects You
Your right to dispute unauthorized charges comes from the Fair Credit Billing Act.
As the FTC explains, you don’t have to pay the bill for the disputed amount. And the creditor cannot charge interest or late fees on the unpaid funds if the dispute turns out in your favor. The creditor also can’t make any effort to collect the disputed funds during an investigation into whether the charges were authorized or not.
While the Fair Credit Billing Act guarantees your right to raise a dispute, this right is not unlimited. The law requires you dispute a charge within 60 days of the statement that the improper charge appeared on. And, since mail doesn’t arrive instantly, you may actually end up having only 50 days from the time when your statement is received because the clock starts running when the statement was sent to you.
While the FCBA gives you 60 days, some credit card companies allow you a longer time to dispute charges. For example, American Express typically allows disputes within 120 days of the charge.
The law also requires that you make a good faith effort to resolve the issue with the merchant before turning to your credit card company to dispute a charge when you’re dissatisfied with a product or service.
Before Disputing a Credit Card Charge
Not only does the law require you to make a phone call and try to get the merchant to address your issues, but going to the merchant first is also a smart practice.
Merchants are often willing to correct mistakes if you’ve been billed improperly or will be willing to help you find a satisfactory resolution when you’re unhappy with a product or service. If you can come to an agreement with the merchant, you may be able to get your money back within a matter of days when the merchant reverses the transaction or issues you a credit. This is a much simpler process than waiting weeks for your credit card company to do an investigation when you’ve raised a dispute.
If things don’t work out with the merchant, you should still not rush immediately into a dispute. Instead, take the time to read your agreement with the merchant or service provider as well as your agreement with the credit card company.
The terms and conditions of these agreements may give you another recourse to pursue or may limit your ability to successfully dispute the charges—especially if too much time has passed or the transaction isn’t one that your credit card issuer will allow you to challenge.
If your dispute is going to be unsuccessful anyway because of the credit card or merchant terms, there’s no sense going to the trouble initiating it online or writing a formal letter only to have the dispute rejected in the end.
Start the Dispute Process Early If You Have a Legitimate Claim
As a consumer, you have the right to dispute fraud, improper charges, or charges for a product or service that failed to meet your expectations. But you need to initiate your dispute within 60 days of the disputed transaction showing up on your statement in most circumstances, and you need to be prepared to provide proof that the charge should be reversed.
By knowing your rights and understanding the dispute process, you can ensure you aren’t held responsible for any charges that the law says you shouldn’t have to pay.