Legal How-To: Disputing a Credit Card Charge

By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 10, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When purchases don't go as planned, disputing the charge on your credit card can be an effective way of winning the consumer v. merchant battle.

Sometimes, though, the fault lies not with the merchant but with your credit card company, which may have billed you twice for a product or service.

In either case, there is a legal and simple way to dispute credit card charges:

1. Check Your Credit Card Bills and Receipts.

You first want to identify the offending charge, whether it's a(n):

  • Charge for an item you returned/never received,
  • Duplicate charge for an item or service you did receive,
  • Unknown charge (possible fraud), or
  • Incorrect amount or date for purchase.

Make note of the merchant associated with the charge you want to dispute, as well as the card issuer (likely a bank) and the card type (Visa, MasterCard, etc.)

2. Contact the Merchant.

Whether it's Nordstrom's or Ticketmaster or a mom-and-pop store down the block, contact the merchant and explain the circumstances of the disputed charge. Talking on the phone not your style? Try writing a letter or email to that merchant's customer service or complaints department -- similar to a cancellation letter.

The Federal Trade Commission advises consumers to be clear, to the point, detailed, and not angry or sarcastic in requests to merchants. The FTC offers a great sample letter too.

If the merchant tells you to pound sand, then it's time to contact your credit card issuer.

3. Contact the Card Issuer.

The card issuer, like Chase or American Express, is primed and ready to take your side in disputing a charge. According to The New York Times, many banks will "simply absorb the disputed charge" if it's low enough, without contacting the merchant in question.

Even if the card issuer doesn't automatically refund the disputed charge, it will likely institute a "charge-back," charging the merchant with the disputed amount (essentially reversing the charge) and proceeding with an investigation.

This deference to the consumer is partly due to the Fair Credit Billing Act, which requires creditors to investigate mistakes in billing if the card holder has made a good faith effort to solve the issue with the merchant. Keep in mind, regardless of where fault lies for the charges, the card holder is still responsible for the non-disputed charges on his or her bill.

Need More Help?

If the merchant or card issuer refuses to remove charges you believe are in error, it may be wise to contact an experienced consumer protection attorney to discuss your options.

Are you facing a legal issue you'd like to handle on your own? Suggest a topic for our Legal How-To series by sending us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #HowTo.

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