In this article:
You can dispute an error on your credit card bill by phone, online, via an app or by mail with most credit card issuers. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) gives you the right to withhold payment for the disputed amount until the dispute is resolved (within 90 days).
While you have the right to dispute any charge, you're probably most likely to dispute a charge that you believe you shouldn't have to pay—and that you've already tried to settle with a merchant, if applicable.
What Is a Chargeback?
The FCBA gives you a temporary reprieve from needing to pay the disputed charge while it is investigated. A chargeback happens when you initiate a request for a refund with a credit card issuer rather than a store. (Going to a retailer to ask for a refund is often the quickest and easiest way to resolve a problem.)
If you suspect fraud or can't get a satisfactory resolution from the merchant, a chargeback can buy you some interest-free time to get the matter settled. A card issuer may take up to two billing cycles or 90 days (whichever is shorter) to investigate your chargeback request. During that time, you won't have to pay the disputed amount or any interest on it. You may be issued a temporary credit, which may become permanent if the dispute is resolved in your favor.
You can initiate a dispute and begin the chargeback process if you:
- Were charged for a purchase you didn't authorize. By law, you would be limited to no more than $50 of liability, but most card issuers offer zero liability. If your card number was used, but your card was not lost or stolen, you are not liable at all.
- Didn't receive a promised refund. If a retailer or service provider agreed to refund your money and did not, or refunded only part of what was agreed to, you can file a dispute with your card issuer.
- Received a damaged or defective product or no product at all. If you paid for, say, a sofa, and it was never delivered, you can get your money back from your credit card company. It has to be filed within 60 days of the charge, though. (If it's fraud, there's not a time limit for disputing the charge.)
- Canceled a subscription and were charged for it anyway. Keep a copy of emails confirming the end of subscriptions.
What to Do if You Don't Recognize a Charge
It's best to get in touch with the retailer if you see a charge you don't recognize; they may be able to help you clear it up. Among possible explanations:
- It was a charge made by an authorized user on your credit card.
- You were expecting the charge to come under another name. This can happen when a business bills you under the name of its parent company.
- You forgot. It's possible—especially if you've been making a lot of purchases.
- Someone stole your credit card or credit card number and is using it.
You definitely want to get to the bottom of a charge you don't recognize. But it's better to start with the merchant if you can, and reserve chargebacks for when merchants are not following through or fraud is involved. Your card issuer may also require you to contact the merchant before filing a dispute and may ask for proof that you reached out to the merchant.
How to Dispute a Credit Card Charge
If you believe there is a credit card charge on your bill that should not be there, the first step is typically to contact the merchant involved. If you are able to resolve it to your satisfaction, there's no need to involve the credit card company. If you can't come to a resolution or the merchant does not agree to refund the transaction, you have the option to dispute the charge.
If you do not recognize the charge at all and suspect fraud, you do need to involve the credit card company and possibly law enforcement. You can file a police report if someone has stolen your credit card information and is using it to make fraudulent charges on your account. (IdentityTheft.gov has steps to go through if you think your identity may have been compromised as well.)
If you need to dispute with your credit card company, you can:
- Call the customer service number on the back of your credit card or on your statement
- Email customer service
- Dispute through the financial institution's app
- Dispute the transaction in writing (the address should be on your statement)
Once you dispute a charge, the credit card company has 30 days to confirm that it received your dispute. Then it has two billing cycles (but not more than 90 days) to resolve the dispute.
If you have not paid the bill that you are disputing, you may be issued a provisional credit until the dispute is resolved. If the credit card company finds that you were right, the temporary credit becomes permanent. And if you didn't receive a provisional credit, the disputed amount has to be removed from your bill.
If you have already paid the bill, you can still dispute it, but you won't likely get your money back until or unless the credit card company finds that you were right.
If, after investigation, the credit card company decides the charge should stand, you must be notified in writing and told the amount due and due date. In this case, any provisional credit will be reversed.
How Long Do You Have to Dispute a Credit Card Charge?
In most cases, you have 60 days from when a charge appears on your credit card statement to dispute it. However, if fraud is involved, there's not a time limit.
The Bottom Line
An unexpected charge or balance on your credit card bill isn't always cause for alarm, but it should be addressed promptly. If you need to file a credit card dispute, you have 60 days from when the charge in question appears on your credit card statement, unless fraud was involved. Even then, reporting it promptly is better so there's less of a mess to untangle.
Your first move for an incorrect charge on your account should be to contact the merchant—you might be able to get a refund or some other resolution without involving the credit card issuer. If that fails, or you believe fraud was involved, you can contact your credit card issuer. Most have zero liability for fraud.