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Disputing Credit Card Charges: A Guide

Did you swipe your credit card with satisfaction only to later meet buyer's remorse or a suspicious charge? Credit cards, despite their convenience, can sometimes land you in tricky situations.

Fortunately, cardholder rights empower you to dispute charges you believe are inaccurate or fraudulent. But navigating the dispute process can feel daunting. 

Fret no more! This guide will equip you with the knowledge to confidently contest credit card charges, ensuring a smooth resolution and protecting your financial well-being. Let's dive deeper and explore the steps involved, the rights you hold, and how to effectively dispute credit card charges.

Introduction to Disputing Credit Card Charges

Credit card companies offer consumers valuable protection: the right to dispute charges. This right empowers you to challenge charges you believe are incorrect or unauthorized. When a dispute arises, the credit card issuer investigates the matter to determine its validity.

Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) Protections

The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) is a federal law that safeguards consumers in credit card billing disputes. It outlines specific situations where you can challenge charges and potentially limit your liability. The FCBA offers protection in cases of:

  • Unauthorized charges: Charges made without your permission or knowledge
  • Billing errors: This includes mistakes such as incorrect amounts, dates, or charges for undelivered goods or services

The FCBA offers significant protection. In most cases, your liability for unauthorized charges is limited to $50. Understanding when to dispute credit card charges is crucial for protecting yourself against fraudulent activity and billing errors. You may rightfully dispute charges in several scenarios, including unauthorized charges that you didn't authorize, billing errors such as incorrect amounts or charges for undelivered items, issues with undelivered or defective goods or services, and duplicate charges for the same item. 

By being aware of your rights to dispute charges and the protections provided by the FCBA (Fair Credit Billing Act), you can take proactive steps to resolve discrepancies and ensure your financial security. Navigating these disputes can sometimes require expert assistance. Tratta offers a simple, streamlined platform to help you manage disputes without the hassle.

Understanding Credit Card Charge Disputes

Cardholders initiate credit card charge disputes, also known as chargebacks, by contesting a transaction on their billing statement with their issuing bank. Acting on the customer's behalf, the bank essentially reverses the payment by reclaiming funds from the merchant and crediting them back to the cardholder.

Credit Card Issuer's Role

In safeguarding consumers against unauthorized charges and billing errors, credit card issuers play a crucial role. Upon filing a dispute, the issuer investigates the claim by contacting the merchant and reviewing relevant documentation the cardholder provides. The FCBA dictates specific timeframes for cardholders to initiate disputes. These time frames vary depending on the nature of the dispute:

  • Billing Errors: 60 days from the statement date
  • Defective or Undelivered Goods/Services: 120 days from the statement date
  • Fraudulent Charges: 60 days from the statement date (Federal law limits cardholder liability to $50 for unauthorized charges; most issuers offer zero liability protection)

The Importance of Evidence

When you provide strong evidence, you strengthen your dispute and increase your chances of a successful resolution. Gather documentation such as:

  1. Receipts (purchase or return)
  2. Communication with the merchant (emails, phone logs)
  3. Proof of non-receipt of goods or services
  4. Any relevant contracts or warranties
  5. By presenting a compelling case, you expedite the dispute process and ensure the bank has the necessary information to advocate for your claim.

Key Reasons for Disputing a Charge

There are several situations where you may have grounds to dispute a credit card charge. Understanding these reasons can help you protect your financial well-being and ensure you are not paying for unauthorized or incorrect charges.

Unauthorized Transactions

If you notice a charge on your credit card statement that you did not authorize, you should immediately report it to your card issuer. This could be due to fraud, where someone has stolen your card information or account details and used them to make purchases. Federal law limits your liability for unauthorized charges to $50. However, most credit card issuers offer zero liability protection, meaning you are not responsible for any unauthorized charges.

Billing Errors

Billing errors can occur for various reasons, such as duplicate charges, incorrect amounts, or charges for goods or services you never received. You can dispute these errors with your credit card issuer under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA). The FCBA mandates a specific process for resolving billing errors, ensuring a fair outcome for cardholders.

Dissatisfaction with Quality of Goods or Services

While the FCBA does not cover disputes based solely on dissatisfaction with a purchase, you may still have recourse. It's always recommended to attempt resolving the issue directly with the merchant first. If they are unresponsive or unwilling to offer a reasonable solution, such as a refund or replacement, you may be able to work with your credit card issuer to investigate the claim. However, certain criteria must be met, including the purchase exceeding a minimum amount and occurring within a specific geographic location relative to your residence.

Subscription Charges After Cancellation

It can be frustrating to discover you are still being charged for a subscription service you thought you had canceled.  In such cases, you can dispute the charges with your credit card issuer.  Keep documentation, such as emails confirming the cancellation, to support your claim.

While handling unauthorized transactions and billing errors, using Tratta can help you track and document these discrepancies effectively, making the dispute process smoother.

Also Read: Guide to handling ACH dispute

Initial Steps Before Filing a Dispute

Before initiating a formal dispute with your credit card issuer, consider these essential preliminary measures to ensure a smooth and efficient resolution process.

1. Verify Transaction Accuracy

Meticulously review your credit card statement to confirm the legitimacy of the contested charge. Here are key details to verify:

  • Merchant Name: Ensure the listed merchant name accurately reflects the business you conducted with
  • Transaction Amount: Verify the charged amount matches the agreed-upon price
  • Posting Status: Confirm the charge is a finalized transaction and not a pending authorization

2. Attempt Resolution with the Merchant

For charges related to dissatisfaction with goods or services, attempt to resolve the issue directly with the merchant. Open communication can often lead to a quicker and more agreeable solution. Here are some possible approaches:

  • Return or Exchange: If the product is defective or unsatisfactory, inquire about return or exchange policies. This can often lead to a swift resolution
  • Request a Refund: If a service is not rendered as agreed, or a product is unavailable, request a refund directly from the merchant

3. Determine Dispute Resolution Path

Following unsuccessful communication with the merchant, determine the most appropriate dispute resolution path:

  • Merchant Contact: If the issue pertains to dissatisfaction with a service or product, a chargeback might not be necessary. Pursue further communication with the merchant to reach a resolution
  • Chargeback: If the transaction is fraudulent or unauthorized, or the merchant is unresponsive, initiate a chargeback by contacting your credit card issuer

How to Dispute a Credit Card Charge?

There are times when you may find an unfamiliar or incorrect charge on your credit card statement. If you believe a mistake has been made, you have the right to dispute the charge with your credit card issuer. Here's what you need to know:

Methods for Disputing a Charge

You can dispute a charge with your credit card issuer in several ways:

  • Phone: Call your credit card company's customer service using the number on your card or statement. Explain the situation and request a dispute
  • Online: Dispute charges through your credit card company's website or app in the "dispute resolution" or "billing inquiries" section
  • Mail: Submit a dispute by writing a letter detailing the charge details if preferred or required

Stages of Disputing a Charge

Once you initiate a dispute, here's what to expect:

  • Confirmation: The credit card issuer will acknowledge receipt of your dispute within 30 days.
  • Investigation: The issuer will investigate the charge by contacting the merchant and reviewing your documentation. This process can take up to two billing cycles (but no more than 90 days).
  • Resolution: The issuer will inform you of their decision in writing. They will either
    • Remove the charge if they find in your favor
    • Reinstate the charge if they side with the merchant

Collecting and Organizing Supporting Documents

Having supporting documentation can greatly strengthen your dispute when challenging credit card charges. Collect relevant documents like receipts indicating your absence during the charge, proof of subscription or service cancellations, communication records with the merchant, and a police report if fraud is suspected. Organize these documents clearly and chronologically to facilitate easy reference by the issuer during the dispute process. 

Following Up with a Letter

In some cases, you may need to follow up your initial dispute with a written letter. This is particularly helpful if you have extensive documentation or a complex explanation for the dispute. Here are some key elements to include in your letter:

  1. Your Name and Account Information: Clearly identify yourself and the credit card account in question
  2. Details of the Disputed Charge: Provide the date, amount, and merchant name of the disputed transaction
  3. Reason for Dispute: Explain why you believe the charge is incorrect. Be clear and concise
  4. Supporting Documentation: List the documents you've included with your letter

The Dispute Process and Consumer Rights

Understanding your rights throughout the dispute process is crucial:

  • Timeline to Report a Dispute: The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) gives you 60 days from the date you receive your credit card statement to report a billing error
  • Credit Card Issuer's Obligation to Investigate: The credit card issuer must investigate your dispute fairly and promptly. They are required to notify you of their decision within a certain timeframe (usually two billing cycles)
  • Consumer Rights During and After the Investigation: During the investigation, you are not obligated to pay the disputed amount while it's being investigated. If the issuer decides in your favor, they must remove the charge from your account and refund any interest or fees charged
  • How to Handle a Dispute Denial and Subsequent Appeals: If the issuer denies your dispute, you have the right to appeal their decision. You can request a review of their findings and provide any additional information that supports your claim

If you're unsure about the best way to approach your credit card issuer with a dispute, Tratta's platform can guide you through the most effective methods tailored to your specific case.

Impact of Disputes on Credit Score and Merchant Relations

Disputing credit card charges is a right afforded to consumers to address unauthorized or incorrect transactions. While this process offers protection, it's crucial to understand its potential effects on both your credit score and your relationship with the merchant.

Disputing a charge itself does not directly impact your credit score. Credit scores are calculated based on factors such as payment history, credit utilization ratio, and credit inquiries. As long as you continue making your minimum payments on undisputed charges, a dispute shouldn't negatively affect your score. It's important to remember that while the disputed charge may be temporarily removed from your statement, you are still responsible for paying the minimum amount due on your remaining balance. Failing to do so can result in late fees and late payment marks on your credit report, which can significantly lower your credit score.

A concept to be aware of is "friendly fraud," where someone you know uses your card without your permission. While this might seem like a legitimate dispute, if the investigation reveals the authorized cardholder made the purchase (friendly fraud), you may still be responsible for the charge and could face potential account closure from the issuer.

After the Dispute: Outcomes and Next Steps

Following a credit card dispute, there are two potential outcomes: approval or denial. Understanding both possibilities and the steps to take in each scenario is crucial.

Dispute Approved: If your claim is valid, the issuer will remove the disputed charge from your account and may credit any interest accrued during the investigation.

Dispute Denied: Issuers may deny disputes for various reasons, including:

  • Insufficient Evidence: Lack of documentation to support your claim (e.g., receipts, return confirmations)
  • Inaccurate Information: Errors in the dispute filing itself.
  • Time Constraints: Disputes exceeding the designated time frame outlined in your credit card agreement
  • Charge Validity: Transactions authorized by you or exceeding the allowed timeframe for disputes (e.g., foreign charges)
  • Merchant Non-Engagement: Failure to attempt resolution with the merchant before filing a dispute

Appealing a Denied Dispute

If you disagree with the denial, you have the right to appeal the decision. The time frame for appeal typically aligns with the original dispute deadline (often 10 days from the denial notice or the due date for the disputed amount, whichever comes later). Gather additional evidence to strengthen your case during the appeal. Clearly explain why you believe the original decision was incorrect and address the reasons provided for the denial.

Escalating to Consumer Protection Agencies

Exhausted all internal avenues? Consider escalating the unresolved dispute to a consumer protection agency. Here's how:

  1. Federal Trade Commission (FTC): Report the issue through the FTC's online portal
  2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB):  File a complaint online

These agencies can investigate your claim and mediate a resolution with the credit card issuer. Remember, exercising your right to dispute charges is a valuable consumer protection. However, always strive for accurate information and responsible use of this process. As you equip yourself to contest unwarranted charges, remember that platforms like Tratta are built to empower users, offering a supportive backbone through intricate dispute processes.


Empowered with this knowledge, you're now equipped to become a credit card charge dispute champion! Remember, prompt action, clear documentation, and open communication are key to a successful resolution. Don't let inaccurate charges drag down your credit score. Fight the good fight, and if you need guidance along the way, Tratta is here to support you. Our user-friendly platform simplifies the dispute process, ensuring you have the tools and resources to navigate any credit card charge discrepancy with confidence.

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