How to Win a Credit Card Dispute So You Come Out on Top
Be honest: How often do you go through your credit card statement to check for errors? Billing errors happen all the time and if you aren’t cognizant of them, you could end up losing a lot of money. From getting billed for something you never bought to facing duplicate charges for purchasing a single item -- there are many reasons why you need to go through your credit card statement line by line each month.
Here are just a few examples of the types of charges you can dispute on your credit card:
- A charge for something you didn't buy or that you didn't accept on delivery
- A purchase by someone not authorized to use your card or an amount on your bill that's different from what you paid
- A charge for something that was not delivered according to the agreement
- Payments not credited to your account
Credit card billing errors like these can happen to anyone, but do you know what to do in case you find a mistake? It’s important to exercise your rights and fight for the consumer protections you’re guaranteed to under the law. Merely calling the creditor, for instance, might not work. The creditor isn’t required to respond by law. In order to dispute an incorrect credit card charge on your credit card bill, you have to take the following steps:
1. Explain Everything in Writing
Write to the creditor at the address listed for “billing inquiries.” Note that this is likely not the same address as the one you might use to send payments. If you aren’t sure where to send the letter to, call the creditor and ask for the address you should send a billing inquiry letter to. Be sure to include the following information in your letter: your name, address, account number, and a description of the billing error. Keep the original copy of the letter yourself. If you need help drafting a letter, the Federal Trade Commission provides for a template for consumers.
2. Mail it With Plenty of Time to Spare
You want to be sure that your letter reaches the creditor within 60 days after the initial bill listing the error was mailed to you. To make sure your complaint doesn’t get lost in the mail, certify it when you send it off and pay for a return receipt to make sure the creditor has received it. Be sure to include copies of any documents that might support your position.
3. Waiting for a Response
The creditor has to acknowledge your complaint formally, in writing, within 30 days of receiving it (unless the bill has been corrected within that time). The dispute must be resolved within two billing cycles -- not more than 90 days -- after the creditor has received your letter. If the creditor fails to respond within the 90-day limit, it forfeits the disputed amount and any related financial charges you might owe up to $50.
4. In Case of an Investigation
You can withhold payment on the disputed amount during an investigation -- but must pay off any other part of the bill not in dispute. The creditor cannot take legal action to collect the disputed amount during the investigation period, may not threaten your credit rating, or report you as delinquent. It can, however, report that you are challenging the bill. Your account cannot be closed or restricted during the investigation period, but the disputed amount can be applied against your credit limit.
If there is a mistake on your bill, the creditor must explain in writing the corrections that will be made to the account and remove all finance charges related to the error, including late fees. If you owe a portion of the amount, it will be explained. You can request copies of documents proving you owe the money.
If the investigation concludes that the billed amount is correct, you will be told in writing how much you owe and why. Again, you can ask for copies of relevant documents. You must pay the disputed amount and any charges that have accumulated while the amount was in dispute.
5. Disagree? Get Writing Again!
If you still don’t agree with results from the investigation, you must write to the creditor within 10 days after receiving the explanation. In your letter, you must indicate your refusal to pay the disputed amount. The creditor can begin collections procedures at this point. If the creditor reports you to a credit reporting agency as delinquent, it must state in the report that you don’t think you owe the disputed amount. The creditor is required to tell you that it has mailed these reports. It must also report any resolution that has been reached to anyone who has received it.
If a creditor fails to follow any requirement in the settlement procedure, it may not collect the disputed amount or any related financial charges -- up to $50 -- even if it is eventually found to be correct. For example, if a creditor acknowledges your complaint after the time limit or doesn’t inform you of its investigation results in writing, it cannot collect the disputed amount. You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission if you think a creditor has violated your legal rights. You can also complain to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Note that disputes about the quality of goods and services is not the same as a billing error, so the dispute process described above does not apply to your situation. However, if you have a problem with goods or services you paid for with your credit card, you can take the same legal actions against the seller as you would the card issuer (depending on state law). To take advantage of this protection, you must have made the purchase for more than $50 in your home state or within 100 miles of your current billing address. In addition, you must have already attempted to make a good faith effort to resolve the dispute with the seller first.