Credit cards offer one of the most convenient ways to make purchases in-person or online. Not only do they offer an interest-free loan provided you pay your bill in full each month, but most credit cards offer zero fraud liability that protects you from hackers and thieves. When you have your own credit card, you also get the benefit of never having to carry around a wad of cash.
Like anything else in life, however, credit cards aren’t perfect. You may find your credit card has been charged the wrong amount for a purchase you made, for example. Or, perhaps you were charged for a service you didn’t receive — or for a service that wasn’t delivered as promised.
In the case of a billing error, you will need to dispute the charges made to your credit card. This three-minute guide will explain the exact steps to dispute incorrect or fraudulent credit card charges so you can move on with your life.
Why Would You Dispute a Charge?
When it comes to the reasons you can and should dispute a charge on your credit card, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) notes that it’s fairly easy to get incorrect charges fixed thanks to protections included in the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA).
The FCBA was created to provide a framework for consumers who use a credit card, store card, and other revolving credit accounts to protect themselves. However, the FCBA settlement procedures only apply to “billing errors,” notes the FTC.
Per the FTC and the FCBA, charges that count as billing errors can include:
- Fraudulent purchases made with your credit card
- Mathematical errors
- Charges made in the wrong amount or on the wrong date
- Charges for goods and services you never accepted
- Charges for goods and services that were not delivered as agreed
- Credits or return credits never posted
- Failure to send your credit card bill to your current address provided your creditor is made aware of your new address in writing at least 20 days before your last billing period ends
- Charges where you asked for a written explanation or proof of purchase “along with a claimed error or request for clarification”
While there are many examples of billing errors, the underlying theme is that something about the charge is incorrect. In any case, where this happens, you should take steps to dispute the charge so you aren’t stuck paying or overpaying for items or services you didn’t receive.
How to Dispute a Credit Card Charge
If you find yourself in a situation where any billing error has occurred, the onus is on you to dispute the charge so your credit card bill can be corrected. The steps to dispute charges are as follows:
Step 1: Call the merchant or service provider to see if they can provide proof of the charge. While you may be certain a charge is incorrect, it’s possible you’re wrong.
Maybe you forgot to account for taxes that may be charged in addition to the purchase price of an item, or perhaps a charge on your credit card is correct but charged under a business name you don’t recognize. Calling the merchant to ask is the best way to find out.
Step 2: If you find that a charge is definitely incorrect, you need to call your creditor or dispute the charge in writing.
According to the FTC, you should send your creditor a letter disputing the charge so the creditor receives it within 60 days of the first incorrect bill being sent to you. The FTC even offers a sample letter you can use to draft your own. If you do opt to mail a letter, they suggest sending it via certified mail.
You can also call your creditor to dispute a billing error or fraudulent charge. Most credit card issuers have a process to handle phoned in disputes, and this strategy could help expedite the process.
Step 3: Wait for an investigation to start. Once you have disputed a charge on your credit card, your creditor will begin an investigation to verify the validity of the charge. During this time, you are not required to pay the bill in question but you are required to pay at least the minimum payment and interest charges on the remainder of your bill.
You also have some added protection while the investigation is completed. For example, your creditor cannot ding your credit rating, report your payment on disputed amounts as delinquent, or close your account because part of your bill is being disputed. Further, the FTC notes that it’s against federal law for a creditor to discriminate against someone who exercised their rights to dispute fraudulent charges.
The creditor has 30 days to acknowledge your complaint in writing after receiving it. They also have two full billing cycles (up to 90 days) to resolve your complaint starting from the day they received your letter.
Once the investigation is over, your creditor must do one of two things. They must a) explain in writing any corrections made to your account, or b) explain in writing why you do in fact owe the disputed amount.
If the bill is incorrect, the creditor must credit your account for the incorrect charges plus all related finance charges or fees that resulted. If the bill is correct and you do owe the disputed amounts, you’ll need to repay what you owe plus finance charges that accumulated during the investigation.
The FTC reports that you have the option to dispute the results of the investigation within 10 days after receiving an explanation by mail. If you refuse to pay the disputed amount, the creditor has the right to pursue collection procedures.
Also, note that any creditor who doesn’t follow the procedures outlined in the FCBA loses their ability to collect disputed amounts and related finance charges up to $50 — even if the bill winds up being correct. If they don’t respond to you in writing within 30 days of receiving your letter, for example, the $50 penalty would apply.
How to Protect Yourself Against Fraudulent Charges
In a perfect world, you would never have to dispute charges on your credit card. In the real world, however, mistakes happen and it’s up to us to catch them.
With that in mind, the best thing you can do to protect yourself against billing errors is to check your credit card accounts regularly. By checking any charges on your account against your receipts and monitoring your account for fraud, you can find and fix incorrect charges before they become a problem.
Other ways to protect yourself against fraud and billing errors include:
- Making sure you view and look over receipts before you pay for an item or a service
- Keeping your credit card and credit card numbers out of public view
- Refusing to sign for services or products until you see an itemized receipt
- Never signing up for autopay services
These tips can go a long way toward protecting your account from fraudulent and incorrect charges that require time and energy to dispute. If you do find yourself in a situation where fraud occurs anyway, make sure to dispute the charges as soon as you can. The sooner you notice and take action to fix incorrect charges on your bill, the sooner your creditor will take action to fix them.