You generally have at least 60 days to dispute credit card charges when there's a billing error or fraudulent transaction, and 120 days if you have a complaint about the quality of goods or services. Regularly reviewing your credit card transactions can help you catch charges you don't agree with before it's too late to dispute them.
Rules Around Disputing Credit Card Charges
There are two general scenarios when you can dispute a credit card charge and potentially get your money back. The dispute process and rules are similar, but not identical, depending on the situation.
The federal Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) gives you the right to dispute credit card billing errors and requires creditors to promptly investigate your claim.
But if you find an error in your credit card statement, your dispute must reach your card issuer within 60 days of the date that you received the billing statement with the error. This means you'll likely have more than 60 days from the transaction date, because the statement includes transactions from the previous few weeks. Still, you don't want to wait until the last minute.
Billing errors can include:
- Fraudulent transactions
- Charges for an item you didn't receive or accept
- Missing credits for returns or payments
- A charge with the wrong date
- A charge for the wrong amount
- A bill that you didn't receive at your current address if you updated your billing address at least 20 days before the end of the billing period
The credit card issuer must acknowledge your dispute within 30 days, and you won't be responsible for paying the charge or interest that would accrue on the charge during the investigation.
The investigation can last up to two billing cycles (around 60 days), but creditors have up to 90 days if your billing cycle is longer. When there's an error, the card issuer must correct it and credit your account for the disputed amount. Federal law also limits your liability for fraudulent transactions to $50, but card issuers and networks often offer zero liability protections.
An Issue With Your Purchase
You can also dispute a charge when you have an issue with the quality of goods or services you bought with your credit card. For example, you order a product online and it arrives damaged or differs from the sales description. These types of disputes are also called chargebacks.
The FCBA lays out a few requirements if you want to receive protections under the law:
- The purchase must be for over $50.
- You must make the purchase in your home state or within 100 miles of your billing address (purchases made online or by phone may not need to adhere to this requirement).
- You must first make a good-faith effort to resolve the problem with the seller, such as by asking for a refund or replacement.
The FCBA's billing error dispute process doesn't apply to these types of disputes because they aren't billing errors. However, the credit card networks (American Express, Discover, Mastercard and Visa) can set policies if they're more lenient than applicable state or federal regulations. In some cases, you'll have up to 120 days after a transaction to initiate a chargeback.
How to Dispute a Credit Card Charge
The exact process for disputing a credit card charge can depend on whether there's a fraudulent charge, billing error or a problem with the product or service. However, you'll generally want to follow similar steps:
- Review the charge. First, you can try to find more details about the transaction—your online account might be a good place to start—because you want to make sure there's actually an error. For instance, a merchant's storefront name might be different from the name on your bill, even though it's the same company.
- Reach out to your card issuer if you suspect fraud. Contact your credit card issuer right away to report the fraudulent transaction. The card issuer can then cancel your card and send you a replacement.
- Otherwise, contact the merchant. If there's a different billing error or problem with the product or service, contact the merchant to see if it can quickly resolve the issue. Sometimes this will be the fastest and most straightforward option.
- Dispute the transaction with your card issuer. If the merchant isn't working with you to resolve the issue, you can also file a dispute with your card issuer. You can often do this online or over the phone, or you can mail your dispute—the FTC has a sample letter and basic instructions. Try to be as precise as possible with the reason. For example, if you receive a box with the wrong item, indicate that it's not as described rather than not received—because you did receive the box.
- Send supporting documents. Whether you're disputing with the merchant or card issuer, be prepared to send copies of supporting documents, such as a copy of your receipt showing the correct amount.
Check Your Credit Report for Errors
Reviewing your credit card transactions and statements can help you detect incorrect or fraudulent transactions. Similarly, you want to review your credit reports for errors and indications of identity theft. You can get a free copy of your Experian credit report online. And, if you spot anything amiss, file a dispute using Experian's Dispute Center.