It can be a major bummer to open your credit card statement and see a charge you don’t recognize or one you simply didn’t authorize. Fortunately, the Fair Credit Billing Act ensures that there are laws in place to protect credit card customers from being held responsible for unauthorized charges. Disputing charges can feel daunting at first, but If you do have an issue with a charge on your credit card, here’s a simple guide to help you sort it out as painlessly as possible.


Check to See If It’s Clearly Fraudulent

As NerdWallet points out, some fake charges might be fairly obvious. If your statement has odd charges for an unusual item, or includes a strange merchant name, those can be signs that something isn’t right. For example, if you see a charge for a 4D TV but you’re still streaming shows on your computer because you don’t have a television, that could be a red flag. It can be a good idea to regularly scan your statements for anything out of the ordinary.

Go to the Source

Some unauthorized credit card charges can be resolved with a simple phone call to the company where the charge originated. “Credit card charges can take 24 hours to two business days to actually post on your statement,” shares Debora Zelada, a debt analyst. “So if you’re able to catch the charge early, you can call the store or vendor and have them reverse the payment without ever having to involve your credit card issuer.” This can be your first step, as it may be the fastest way to resolve the issue.

For example, if you were charged for a purchase twice, the business may be able to issue you a refund for the extra charge. If you don’t recognize the merchant on your statement, contact that merchant directly as quickly as possible — you may find it was indeed a charge you made but the company name looks unfamiliar. The most important lesson here can be: Reach out to the company and try to figure out what’s going on.


If That Doesn’t Work, Dispute

If you can’t resolve the unauthorized charge directly with the merchant, you might have to level up and dispute the charge through your credit card issuer. Usually, you can call your credit card issuer and ask to dispute a specific charge. They may also ask you for additional documentation, including a detailed letter that includes the business name, the amount and date of the charge, and the reason you want to dispute it.

Generally, you won’t have to pay the charge while it’s in dispute. “It is also helpful to find out whether the charge is a simple billing mistake or credit card fraud. Most credit card issuers offer comprehensive fraud protection and could reverse the charge without needing to provide proof in the form of documentation,” says Zelada.

Give It a Few Weeks

If you just initiated a dispute, it may take a little while to find out the results of the investigation. Within a few weeks of initiating the dispute, you may get a letter or email indicating the results of the completed investigation. Alternatively, you might get a letter or email asking you for additional information that may aid in the dispute investigation, such as a sales receipt or proof you were promised a refund. In these instances, uploading further documentation may help your case. According to NerdWallet, “Almost every card these days absolves consumers of liability for unauthorized charges if they’re reported within 60 days.”


Know the Facts

Dealing with financial issues can sometimes be intimidating — especially when facing the idea of late fees or interest charges that could possibly affect your credit score. “Many of my clients have said they just pay off the unauthorized amount so not to cause more problems,” says Zelada. “But if you initiate the dispute as soon as possible, credit card issuers cannot charge interest or late fees on charges currently being disputed.”

Checking your statement diligently and understanding your credit card issuers’ protection policies can help you when you have an unauthorized charge. In the end, you can maintain your healthy credit score without having to incur charges you never made in the first place.

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