It’s funny how your credit card can either be one of the coolest parts of your personal finances…
…or the absolute worst.
And even if you do everything right (like pay your credit card bills on time, keep your credit score high … ) you STILL might run into a situation where your personal finance structure is compromised by your credit card.
One of the most common examples: Erroneous credit card charges. They’re a credit card owner’s worst nightmare. A few examples:
- Your gym accidentally charged you for an extra month.
- After canceling a flight, your airline still charged you a luggage fee.
- Discovering that somebody swiped your credit card information and went on a week-long shoe shopping spree.
Luckily, you don’t have to put up with ANY of that because I have the perfect system to help you dispute any erroneous charges that show up on your statement.
How to dispute credit card charges with your own personal army
A while back, I decided to cancel my mobile plan with a certain nameless cell phone company. When I canceled though, they told me my account had a $160 charge.
“For what?” I asked. Wait for it…
“An early cancellation fee.”
An exclusive GIF of my reaction:
First off, I knew I had already negotiated out of an early cancellation fee a long time before that call. (Some cell phone companies make a lot of money from pulling shady moves like this, hoping customers get frustrated, give up, and just pay.)
Secondly, ever since the same cell phone company tried ripping me off a few years before, I started keeping records of every single phone conversation I’d had with them (more on that later). That came in handy when the customer service rep — though very polite — insisted she couldn’t really do anything to erase the charge.
OH REALLY?? To that, I pulled out the notes I had taken the previous year and politely read them aloud to her.
As soon as I read them, a miraculous thing happened: She suddenly had the ability to waive the fee. Within two minutes, my account was supposedly cleared and I was off the phone.
Wow. Amazing! All I had to do was meticulously detail our transactions the year before and explain to the company how they screwed up!
However, that’s not the end of the story. Even though they told me that they wouldn’t charge me, THEY STILL DID IT ANYWAY.
By this point, I was so fed up, I decided to call in the big guns (i.e. my credit card company).
Many people don’t know this, but credit cards offer excellent consumer protection. This is one reason I encourage everyone to make big purchases on their credit card.
So I called my credit card company and told them I wanted to dispute a charge. They said, “Sure, what’s your address and what’s the amount?” When I told them about my experience with the cell phone company, they instantly gave me a temporary credit for the amount and told me to mail in a form with my complaint, which I did.
Two weeks later, the complaint was totally resolved in my favor.
Why am I telling you this? Because you need to know that your credit card company is on your side when it comes to disputes. In fact, the credit card company fights the merchant for you.
Follow these steps and you can leverage your personal credit card army to help you fight erroneous charges.
Step 1: Dispute the charge at the source
Honestly, this step is optional because you can get your money back without having to interact with the merchant. However, in the spirit of giving you all of your options, I want to show you how you can get your money back from the source.
After all, you might have a relationship with the merchant and you don’t want to ruin it due to an error on their part. Plus, if the erroneous charge is due to something like merchant or mathematical error, most businesses would be happy to rectify it for you to keep you as a customer.
(I say most because there are the exceptions to this, as evidenced by my awful experience with my former cell phone provider.)
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), you have “60 days after the first bill with the error was mailed to you” to notify your credit card company of the charge. So if you want to see if you can straighten out the issue with the merchant, you need to contact them AS SOON AS POSSIBLE when you see the charge on your statement.
Here’s an email script you can use to bring up the charges with them:
SUBJ: Erroneous charge on statement
I went over my credit card statement today and discovered that I have been charged an extra month for my gym membership.
Could you refund my money back as soon as possible? If not, I’ll be disputing these charges with my credit card company.
I look forward to this situation being fixed.
Notice something about this email? It leverages your credit card company as a threat. Businesses HATE fighting credit card companies in disputes. So you’ll often be able to get your money back based on that alone.
Note: The FTC also provides a handy sample email you can use to file a complaint with your merchant. No matter which you choose, I suggest you include the threat of disputing with your credit card company into the message.
After you’ve sent the email, expect the merchant to get back to you soon. If they haven’t contacted and given you a full refund within a week of sending the email, move on to the next step. It’s not worth waiting for them if they’re going to treat you like that.
After all, disputing with the merchant isn’t always going to work — especially in cases where:
- There is credit card fraud.
- The merchant isn’t responding to you.
- You’re dealing with a low-class, no-good, scammy cell phone company that wants to renege on an agreement you already had YEARS before—
…sorry about that. I get emotional about my finances. If you can’t deal with the merchant directly, move on to step two:
Step 2: Gather all relevant information to dispute the credit card charge
Aside from your credit card company, your most powerful ally in the fight against the merchant is information.
So before you even think of calling your credit card company, gather any and all information you might have that is related to the charge you want to dispute.
This includes things like:
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Phone calls
If you want to take your game to the next level, I’d like to suggest a system that can be your best weapon against businesses trying to take advantage of you. Remember when I mentioned that I kept records of every single conversation I’d had with my phone company? You can do the same with any business you patronize.
Things can get really heated when you’re disputing charges. Instead of getting mad, open a spreadsheet that details the last time you called, whom you spoke with, and what was resolved.
Here’s a great template you can work from.
Name of rep
Rep’s ID #
You can download the tracker here.
You wouldn’t believe how powerful it is to refer back to the last time you called and cite a rep’s name, date, and call notes. Most businesses will fold like a lawn chair if they know you’re not here to mess around.
This information is going to be vital in the next step of the process:
Step 3: Contact your credit card company
Now it’s time to get down to brass tacks and call your credit card company. Here is a list of phone numbers from the major credit card issuers you can use to dispute the charge:
- Visa: 1-800-847-2911
- American Express: 1-800-528-4800
- MasterCard: 1-800-307-7309
- Discover: 1-801-902-3100
- Capital One: 1-800-227-4825
- Chase: 1-800-432-3117
Most of these companies will send you to an automated voice menu when you call. There you’ll have the option to dispute a charge.
You’ll then be put into contact with a representative. Simply tell them, “I want to dispute a charge on my credit card statement,” and describe the situation using the information you gathered in step two.
Your credit card company will begin investigating the matter and issue you temporary credit until their case is resolved.
Once they’ve (hopefully) found that you were in the right, they’ll issue something called a chargeback that will refund you the credit and charge the merchant what you originally paid.
If you want to email your credit card company, here’s a great script you can use to contact them straight from the FTC.
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to dispute a billing error in the amount of [ $______] on my account. The amount is inaccurate because [describe the problem]. I am requesting that the error be corrected, that any finance and other charges related to the disputed amount be credited as well, and that I receive an accurate statement.
Enclosed are copies of [use this sentence to describe any information you are enclosing, like sales slips or payment records] supporting my position. Please investigate this matter and correct the billing error as soon as possible.
REMEMBER: You need to do this within 60 days of the charge appearing on your bill. Once they receive the complaint, they’re legally required to respond to you within 30 days. The process will be roughly the same as when you talk to them on the phone — they’ll open up an investigation, issue you temporary credit, and either facilitate a chargeback or deny your complaint.
If your card was stolen or you find evidence of fraud on your card statement, your credit card company will cancel your credit card and issue you a new one as well as credit for any fraudulent charges.
No matter what happens…congrats! You now know how to dispute your credit card charges.
Bonus: Make your credit cards work for YOU
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