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How To Dispute A Charge on Your Personal Bank Account

Updated on July 18, 2017

General Dispute Information

Have a transaction on your account that you either don't recognise or an error that needs resolved? The following is information that will help you recover your funds through the chargeback process by contacting your bank.

This will cover VISA/MASTERCARD checkcard transactions on your personal checking/savings account. Much of this information is not useful for credit card transactions.

Tips for initiating the dispute with your bank

When you contact your bank to file a dispute against a charge on your account there are a few important things to keep in mind;

  • Your bank did not decide to send your money to the merchant. All transactions sent from your account are based on an "authorization" that is sent to your bank by the merchant. This authorization only requires certain details from your card and does not require a signature or voice recording. Think about your last online purchase. Your bank cannot tell which charges are intended by you, a mistake by the merchant, or actual fraud.
  • The associate you speak to is there to help you. Blaming the associate or taking out your frustration on them is only going to make your recovery more difficult. Let them help you dispute the charge by helping them to do their job.
  • The associate has likely disputed your exact same situation several times that day or week, so please be honest. They will likely know when you are being dishonest or withholding information and this will only make it more difficult for you to recover your funds. Did you at any point provide your card information to the merchant? Be honest about that one, it is VERY important for recovery. More on that later...
  • Just stick to the facts. The bank associate does not need to know every little detail about the issue and will selectively hear only what is relevant for them to do their job. Don't waste your time with arbitrary details and don't repeat the same thing over and over again.
  • FOLLOW UP WITH YOUR MAIL! Too many claims are denied because the card holder (you) did not respond to information mailed/emailed to you about your claim.

Chargeback process:

A chargeback is the process available between banks that allows them to dispute your transaction by charging it back to the merchant's bank. No, your bank does not contact the merchant and rarely speaks to someone directly during this process. Much if this process is automated and there are time frames involved that are very important to which you should adhere. More on that later.

There are also other details that are specific to each dispute reason and need to be addressed for a valid chargeback. If the merchant notices something is missing, they can rebuttal the chargeback and your chances of recovering your funds through your bank are greatly diminished.

Posted vs Pending

The process for your checkcard transaction is a two-step process. Step one, the authorization process where a hold is sent to your bank for the amount of the charge and your bank will hold those funds until the "clearing" is received. The clearing is step two. This is the actual order to debit the account. If the transaction is cancelled by the merchant while processing, the hold is removed and no funds are transferred.

Your bank cannot dispute a processing charge as it is just a hold of your funds. The merchant does not get your funds until the clearing is received and thus cannot fault the merchant with a dispute while the charge is on hold. Also, your bank cannot remove the hold in most situations. Removing a hold with your bank does not stop the charge from processing.

First things first, call the merchant!

There are few situations that do not require that you contact the merchant first, when available. Nothing can be more frustrating that trying to resolve an issue on your account with a merchant that is either not willing to assist you or not reachable. The importance of this is that most chargebacks that your bank will send to the merchant's bank will require that the merchant be given the opportunity to offer a resolution before the chargeback is considered valid. Key words being "given the opportunity" so if they aren't willing to help, move to the next step by calling your bank.

It's best to get the name of the person you speak to and the date that you have spoken to them. Your bank will likely ask you for this information so please have that ready. Any additional information needed will be addressed per the dispute type addressed later in this article.

In the event that you cannot reach a merchant you must still record the date that you attempted to contact them, the phone number you called, and why you were not able to reach them.

Do not neglect contacting them online! If you cannot reach someone by phone, send them an email. Most merchant websites have contact information at the bottom of the site in a tab labelled "contact us". This does not always provide a phone number but it would still be very important to submit your dispute to them through the email method provided.

Types of disputes and their pertinent information:

Cancellations: A transaction that was initiated in some way by the cardholder (you) providing the card to the merchant and is later cancelled, or authorization to debit the account is revoked. Most common cancellations are subscriptions and "free" trials. It's always best to specifically ask for cancellation confirmation, such as a confirmation number or email, when requesting cancellation of a transaction. This not only confirms that the merchant is actually cancelling and not just telling you they are cancelling but provides you with proof that you have actually cancelled.

You must follow the merchant's cancellation policy. Your bank cannot override the merchant's cancellation policy and will ask you what that policy was and if you had followed the policy. Gym memberships are notoriously difficult with their cancellation policies, as well are hotels/airlines/car rentals.

IMPORTANT NOTE: "Free" trials, such as dietary supplements, are not free. They do require cancellation within the trial or you will receive a charge for the product. This charge is often substantial and the cancellation may require the returning of the product. This practice is common among many different types of charges. AmazonPrime membership trials, for example, require cancellation during trial or you will receive the annual membership fee. Fortunately, Amazon is very much willing to assist with issuing a refund by simply calling them to cancel and requesting the refund. Most merchants may offer the refund but you can still call your bank to dispute if you are not confident in their refund.

Not as Described Service/Merchandise: This dispute is for a purchase of service or merchandise (usually merchandise) that the cardholder initiated but what they received was somehow different than what they purchased. Did you purchase a red sweater and get a blue one? You will have to return the merchandise for your bank to have a valid chargeback. It's best to get a return confirmation so get a tracking number whenever possible. You may also have to pay for return shipping out of pocket. Unfortunately, you bank cannot assist you with the recovery of return shipping charges.

Double posting: You authorize one charge but it posts more than once. Pretty straightforward dispute, also very easy to recover. Does not require that you contact the merchant first.

Overcharge: You authorized one amount but the merchant charged you something larger than authorized. Most of these are really easy to dispute but certain situations may require proof of authorized amount. Beware of your bar tab! If the bartender decides to be dishonest and manipulate your tip amount it may be very difficult for your bank to recover the difference without proof.

Did Not Receive Service/Merchandise: This is a dispute for when you have made a purchase for a product or service that you did not receive. Most common with merchandise purchases online, you may be required to provide the date that you expected the item and your attempts to resolve with the merchant. If the merchant provided you with a tracking number and that tracking number shows the merchandise was delivered to your address yet you have not received the merchandise your bank cannot assist you with recovery. The merchant is only required to send you the item and a tracking number that shows the item delivered to your address fulfills their obligation. This is likely a situation where someone stole the merchandise from your doorstep and the merchant cannot be faulted for this. Contact the shipping company to see if their insurance can cover this issue.

Paid by Other Means: This is where you are charged in two different ways. Most common issue is that you provided your card to the merchant but later decided to pay in cash. This is difficult to recover without proof of the alternate payment. Again, bar transactions are notoriously difficult in the event you open a tab with your card and decide to pay for the full tab in cash. Without proof of the alternate payment, the merchant has just been given a substantial tip in cash and you are still obligated to pay the charge on your card. This is because you provided your card to the merchant and this is all the authorization Visa/MaterCard will need to confirm the authorization to be valid. This is not your bank's fault.

Do Not Recognize: If you don't recognize a charge, your bank can send a very general chargeback to the merchant's bank requiring that they identify the transaction. This is a very weak chargeback as all the merchant will have to do is show the authorization details. For online charges, this will just look like bank jargon and isn't very helpful. It's best to call the merchant and provide them with your details. If they ask you for your card number and you don't recognize the merchant it's okay to give them your card number since that is how they are charging you.

Fraud: Fraud is ONLY when you have not had any prior business with the merchant, have not provided your card number to the merchant for any reason, and have not received any benefit from the charge. If you have fraud on your account but merchandise is shipped to your house your bank cannot dispute this as fraud. It's likely that you made a purchase you forgot about or someone you know, a friend or family member, has used your card for the purchase.

Other Tips

Most issues can be resolved by contacting the merchant directly. Not all merchants are reachable by phone so be prepared to contact them by email before contacting your bank. Also be prepared to have to speak to your bank more than once as some situations may be complicated due to the chargeback rights and how that process works. Your bank may provide a provisional credit to you in the meantime while the chargeback is in process.

Keep your receipts. Know the cancellation policies. Call the merchant before you call the bank. Thank me later.


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