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What happens if you open up your credit card statement and find a problem? Your first instinct may be to pick up the phone and yell at someone (anyone). But take a deep breath first. You have rights that may make it easier than you think to straighten out the credit card billing mistake, provided you know what to do.

You Don’t Recognize a Charge

If you find a purchase listed on your statement that you don’t recognize, the first thing you have to figure out is whether it is fraudulent, or simply something that slipped your mind. Check first with your spouse or anyone else who is authorized to use the card to check if they bought the item in question. If not, then contact the merchant at the phone number listed on the statement to request clarification.

If it turns out you did not make the purchase, you’ll want to do two things: dispute the charge through the merchant, and notify your card issuer that someone may be using your card fraudulently. Technically, there is no time limit for disputing fraudulent charges, but if you do so quickly, it will be easier to straighten out, and you’ll also be protected under your card issuer’s zero liability policy as well as federal law.

You’ve Been Overcharged

If you were charged the wrong amount, that’s a type of billing error. You can ask the merchant to correct it, but if the merchant is at all sketchy, it’s a good idea to protect your rights by disputing the charge with your card issuer, using the instructions below.

A Recurring Charge Won’t Stop

There are numerous types of subscription products that can result in recurring monthly charges on your credit card. If you find a charge on your statement for a product or service you no longer want or can use, the first thing you’ll need to do is review the merchant’s cancellation policy which should have been disclosed to you when you made the purchase. If it wasn’t disclosed, then you can usually cancel and request a refund of the charges. But if it was properly disclosed, your only recourse may be to complain to the company that is billing you. Buyer’s remorse doesn’t entitle you to a refund, unfortunately.

A Credit Never Shows Up

If a merchant agreed to accept your return of a product or service, the credit should appear on your statement. Federal law requires a seller who accepts a return to “promptly transmit to the credit card issuer, a credit statement.” If it doesn’t show up in your account within a couple of weeks, you may want to contact your card issuer and file a dispute.

Watch out! Some less than scrupulous merchants know about the 60 day rule for disputing billing errors and will string customers along, promising refunds that never materialize. They know that once the 60 days is up it’s harder to successfully dispute the charge. Always ask the merchant for written confirmation of a credit or return.

How to Properly Dispute a Charge

The federal Fair Credit Billing Act is part of the Truth In Lending Act. Under that law, you have the right to dispute a charge if:

  • You don’t recognize it or don’t believe you made the purchase,
  • The amount is wrong,
  • You didn’t accept delivery of the goods or services for which you were billed,
  • The goods or services were not delivered as agreed (wrong quantity, or after a promised delivery date, for example), or
  • There is computational mistake.

To protect your rights, you must dispute a charge within 60 days of the date the statement on which the charge appeared was mailed to you. Put your dispute in writing to the address on your statement for billing errors and inquiries.

[Credit Cards: Research and compare credit cards at Credit.com.]

Important: You do not protect your rights by calling and disputing the charge. It’s OK to call to complain, but follow up with a letter to your card issuer. If the amount is large, send it by certified mail or with delivery confirmation so you have proof it was received.

Your card issuer has up to two billing cycles to investigate and resolve the dispute. You can withhold payment on the disputed amount in the meantime, but you will need to pay the rest of your bill or make your minimum payment. A card issuer isn’t allowed to charge you interest or damage your credit because you didn’t pay the disputed amount while the investigation is pending.

Image: Mr.Thomas, via Flickr

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  • http://dani.biddle@comcast.net Danielle Biddle

    Is there anything I can do to fix this a year later??

  • http://dani.biddle@comcast.net Danielle Biddle

    Help! I found out that I had an over 30 day late charge on one of my cards, because I never received the bill in the mail in time. I had perfect credit up until this time, with no late charges ever in my history, and a high score of over 800. I work hard to keep my credit perfect, and don’t know what happended there, or if it was lost in the mail, or maybe delivered to the wrong address. As soon as I realized this was going on, it was too late and the charge appeared as late (over 30+). I tried to dispute this last year, (about 12 mths ago) and the creditor just said, “Sorry, but it’s too late!” I was at a loss for how to fix this on my history, since the creditor refused to help me, b/c I found out after the 30 day marking period, that this wasn’t paid. Now, my score is 776!! I can’t believe this happened to me. What should I do??? Help!!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Danielle –

      I have moved your question over to the forums here:

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