How to Dispute a Credit Card Charge

By Mike Peterson
In December 24, 2014

How to Dispute a Credit Card Charge

The holiday season usually means an uptick in shopping and spending. There are gifts to buy, travel arrangements to make, parties to attend – and so on.  And while this whirlwind of holiday activity can be fun, the unfortunate flip side is that the season isn’t exactly easy on the wallet.

If you’re like most people, there’s a good chance that you’ll be using credit cards for some (or all) of your holiday purchases.  And as long as you can pay your balance off – in full – at the end of the billing cycle, there’s no harm in charging your holiday purchases (especially if you earn rewards points, air miles, cash back, or any other perks).

But there’s more to responsible credit card use than simply paying your balance.  The holidays are a hectic time – and with increased shopping, busy stores, and a flurry of purchases and returns in a short time period, it’s also important to know how to dispute a charge if you have to.

Need a refresher course?  No worries.  Here are a few basic guidelines for filing a dispute.

If your dispute is fraud-related, contact your card company right away. 

If you suspect theft or fraud (i.e., your card has been used by someone else), your very first point of contact should be your credit card company.  By law, card issuers can only hold you responsible for $50 in cases of fraud – although many companies don’t hold customers responsible for any portion of fraudulent charges.

Typically, if your dispute is fraud-related, your credit card company will cancel your card and issue you a new one with a different account number.  They do this to make sure that your original card can’t be used for more fraudulent activities.  Keep in mind that this only applies to situations involving fraud – if your dispute is with a merchant, you’ll keep your card and account number.

‘Tis the season . . . for fraud?Want to make sure your card number doesn’t fall into the wrong hands this holiday season?  Check out this post from last year about holiday shopping and credit card safety.

If your dispute is related to a purchase you made, start with the merchant.

Credit card disputes aren’t just about fraud.  Sometimes, a dispute starts with a simple merchant error, such as:

  • You were charged the wrong amount for a purchase
  • You were charged twice for a single purchase
  • You returned something but the merchant never issued you a credit
  • You were charged for goods or services that you never received

People make mistakes – especially around the holidays, when everyone is trying to do a billion and one things at the same time.  The majority of retailers out there understand that their employees and in-store software systems aren’t perfect – and they’re typically more than willing to resolve legitimate billing issues.  This is why you should always approach the retailer first if you discover an error on your credit card. In many cases, just a quick phone call is all it takes to solve the problem for good.

Just remember to keep records of the call, in case the dispute doesn’t get resolved right away.  Keep any receipts, emails, and any other communications related to the issue.  And try to get the name of the person you spoke with, too.

Can’t resolve things at the store level?  Call your credit card company.

If the retailer can’t make things right, I recommend calling your credit card company next.  Before you call, make sure that you have the following information ready:

  • The date of the disputed charge
  • The amount of the disputed charge
  • The merchant’s name
  • Your reason for disputing the charge
  • Any documentation related to the dispute

What happens after you call can vary, depending on your creditor.  Some creditors won’t always require you to file a written dispute, while other creditors will.   But either way, if you call first, your credit card company can begin the dispute process and talk to you about next steps, including whether a written dispute is necessary.

If a written dispute is required, your creditor might have a convenient, pre-made dispute letter that you can use, and they’ll usually tell you where to send it and what information and/or documentation you’ll need to include.

Don’t delay!  The clock is ticking By law, you have a limited time to file a formal dispute with your credit card company.  To dispute a charge, you must act within 60 days of receiving the statement that contains the error.

Be patient and keep making payments.

By law, your credit card company must resolve your billing dispute within 90 days or two billing cycles.  At that point, the company will inform you – in writing – of their decision to either credit your account for the disputed charge or not (and if not, they are required to inform you in writing about why they reached that decision).

And while it can be tempting to simply refuse to pay your bill until the situation is resolved, that’s not the best course of action to take.  Although you are allowed by law to withhold payment on the specific purchase being disputed, this doesn’t excuse you from paying on any other unrelated purchases.  Refusing to pay your bill entirely can hurt your credit score in the long term.

Here’s hoping that your holiday shopping season is easy and error-free!  Happy holidays from all of us here at!

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

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