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Credit card chargebacks: How to dispute a credit card purchase

You’re looking at your credit card statement – you do check every statement, right? – and something looks a bit off. You notice you were overcharged for an item, or you remember a purchase that never arrived.

What should you do? Well, the first step is to dispute it! And if all else fails, you can ask your credit card company to step in by initiating what’s known as a credit card chargeback.


What is a credit card chargeback?

In simple terms, a chargeback is when a credit card transaction is reversed, and it's initiated by your card issuer (the bank or credit union you opened your card with).

If you've been charged for a fraudulent or problematic transaction and the merchant you bought from has been uncooperative, unresponsive or hasn't taken any meaningful action to resolve the issue or provide a refund, you can request a chargeback from your issuer. 

To request a chargeback, you usually need to provide supporting documentation like  receipts and email communications to prove that you’ve been wrongfully charged. Your card issuer will then review the transaction, and if the dispute is successful, reimburse your credit card.

Note though, a chargeback isn’t guaranteed or immediate. It serves as a consumer protection measure to protect cardholders from wrongful charges, rather than a quick way to get a refund after a bad case of buyer’s remorse.

Credit card charges are typically disputed for the following reasons:

  • Double charges for a single item
  • Getting charged for something you didn’t buy
  • Incorrect amount charged
  • Refund wasn’t issued properly
  • Items purchased were defective, faulty, or don’t appear as originally described
  • Items purchased were not delivered at all or services were not rendered
  • Charges for a reservation or subscription service you already cancelled.

Remember, it's crucial to carefully review your credit card statements and take prompt action if you spot any discrepancies or issues. 

How to dispute a credit card charge

Step 1: Act fast

If you catch something off about your statement – like a purchase from a store you never heard of – don’t wait.

While filing for a credit card chargeback should not be your first course of action (emphasis on the word “not”), you must investigate the potentially erroneous purchase right away. Why? Most credit card companies have strict cut-off dates for requesting chargebacks (often no later than 60 days after the purchase date) so you won’t want to linger on the situation for too long only to discover you were eligible for a chargeback but didn’t act fast enough.

Don’t hesitate and investigate the transaction immediately.

Step 2: Do some due diligence and don’t always assume the worst

Often times there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for that “suspicious” charge on your statement.

For instance, many retailers are registered under a different legal or merchant name, which means they could show up on your statement under a name you’re not familiar with – even if it was for a purchase you made knowingly. If you spot a transaction from a different city or country on your statement, it might be the case the retailer processes payments from a different location – which may be particularly true for online purchases.

Transaction dates don’t align? The purchase may have been posted a few days late or your previous charges could’ve been amended. And if there’s a purchase you don’t remember making, try retracing your steps to ensure it didn’t slip your mind and review your receipts. Oh, and if you share an account with an authorized user, ask if they made the purchase since all their transactions will appear on your statement.

In most cases, just Googling the merchant name as it’s shown on your statement, digging through receipts, or asking your authorized user (if you have one) will be enough to get some closure. If not, go to the next step.

Step 3: Gather evidence

If you still suspect a problem, you’ll want to try and resolve the issue with the merchant directly. But, before you send an email or pick up the phone, gather evidence and be prepared to keep a record of everything.

Having a paper trail is critical when disputing credit card charges. Collect your old physical receipts (or dig through your inbox for email receipts); these are essential and will serve as proof of the amount you agreed to pay and can help your argument for a refund or replacement. Do you also have delivery tracking numbers, screenshots of the website or promotional flyers that could further help your case? Keep them close at hand too.

Finally, keep a record of all your future communications with the merchant. If you’re disputing something with an online retailer, be ready to save any emails about your complaint. If you talk to customer service over the phone, be sure to log the name of who you speak with and at what time. Records of names, dates, and what was discussed are vital.

Step 4: Talk to the merchant

The easiest way to get a refund is to contact the merchant where you made the original purchase. It may have been an honest mistake if you were charged twice, if your refund wasn’t issued, or your online order was lost or delayed (especially now with delivery services overrun with orders). Most merchants will happily work to resolve the problem or fix their error assuming you have proof. The same applies to any product you have purchased that you’re not happy with; the store return policy takes precedent so ask for an exchange or refund before calling your credit card company.

If talking to the merchant isn’t getting you anywhere then you should make a complaint with your credit card company immediately.

Step 5: Request a credit card chargeback

Time is of the essence when filing for a chargeback. Generally speaking, you have 30 – 90 days to make a complaint, but if you’re making a dispute about an online order that never arrived, that window of time may apply from the time of the expected delivery date.

You can usually initiate a request for a chargeback online or over the phone, but regardless, be prepared to supply the evidence you gathered earlier: I’m talking the merchant name and contact information, date of the purchase, receipts, email correspondences, tracking delivery numbers – and when relevant – website screenshots to show how the price or the product advertised didn’t match with how much you paid or what you got. The more evidence, the better.

It’s important to note each credit card issuer may have slightly different rules when it comes to chargebacks. For instance, they may have different transaction dispute timelines or may only allow you to dispute a payment once it’s on your actual statement – not just a pending transaction.

Finally, remember, chargebacks aren’t instant since your credit card company will run its own investigation into the matter first. Chargebacks also aren’t guaranteed. If the merchant offers a replacement or a voucher, for instance, that may be enough to resolve the issue and your chargeback request may not be valid. But if it’s a clear cut case of fraud or an overcharge from an unscrupulous merchant, it can be pretty easy to win your claim.

If your credit card company isn’t listed above, start by contacting the phone number on the back of your card.

Step 6: Pay off your balance

It’s a good idea to make your claim before paying your bill, but this doesn’t mean you should ignore paying that charge altogether. Interest and late payment charges wait for no one, so ideally pay the full balance on time while you wait for the outcome of your dispute, or at the least, make the minimum payment. It’s possible that your credit card provider will issue you a temporary credit but that’s not guaranteed.


Final word

Disputing credit card charges is more common than you think; fortunately one of the benefits of using credit is the zero liability policy. If you truly were a victim of fraud, you will be refunded. The key to winning your dispute is to act quickly and to have your supporting evidence ready.