The Law

The federal laws are found in 15 United States Code ?? 1666, 1666i, and 1640(e) and in 12 Code of Federal Regulations ?? 226.12(c) and 226.13. The California laws are found in the California Civil Code at ?? 1747 - 1748.95.


Billing Errors

The types of "billing errors" include: (1) Charges you did not authorize; (2) Charges for undelivered goods or services; (3) Charges for goods or services different from what was represented or of the wrong quantity; and (4) Charges for goods that were not timely delivered.


The Dispute Letter

If you believe there was a "billing error," you must, within 60 days following the date of the first statement on which the charge appears (not the date you made the charge; the date of the issuance of the statement appears on the face of the statement), write a letter to your bank setting forth in specific detail why you believe there was an error in the charge. You should set forth everything regarding your dealings with the merchant - - Did you respond to an ad in a newspaper, receive a telephone call, visit the store? What did the merchant tell you about what you would be receiving? Did you authorize the charge? Did you receive the goods? Were the goods different than represented? Etc. If you kept a mailer or the ad from the merchant, attach copies to your letter, along with any correspondence between you and the merchant.


Billing Error Restrictions

If you get your letter challenging the charge to your bank within the 60 day period. You need not meet any other condition. No geographical restrictions apply. You need not make any attempt to resolve the dispute with the merchant, and you can assert a billing error even if you have already paid your credit card balance down to zero. Your bank may ask you to send the merchandise back to the merchant or to the bank itself before it will give you a credit refund. Your bank stands in the shoes of the merchant and will credit your account while it checks to determine whether your claim is valid. If the claim is determined by the card issuing bank to be valid, it will issue a credit to your account for the amount claimed. If the card issuing bank finds your claim to be invalid, you may wish to contact your own bank to see if they will help. Some banks will process such requests for help because of voluntary arrangements they have voluntary arrangements they have reached with other banks.


Claims and Defenses

Under federal and state laws, you have up to one year from the date of the statement (far longer than the 60 day limit for asserting "billing errors") to notify your bank in writing of "claims and defenses." However, unlike billing errors, you must meet four additional conditions.


$50 Minimum Dispute

The disputed amount must be over $50 under the "claims and defenses" rules.


Not Already Paid

You cannot dispute a charge under "claims and defenses" if you notify your bank after you have already paid your credit card amount down to zero. However, if you have paid off only a portion of your credit card bill, you can still resist payment on the unpaid balance for the charge you are disputing. For example, if the disputed charge was for $300 and your balance on the credit card was for $400 and your payment to your bank was only $150, you can still seek a chargeback for the remaining $250 under the "claims and defenses" category. Unlike "billing errors," whatever you have paid the credit card issuer after the charge appears on your statement which brings the remaining balance below the cost of the charge you are disputing, is not recoverable.


100 Mile Rule

The transaction cannot be with a merchant who is located more than 100 miles from your home or outside your state of residence. For example, suppose you go to Chicago for a vacation and while there you purchase an expensive vase using your credit card. When you get back to your home in California, you open the box the merchant gave you and find that it only contains confetti, and no vase. If you notify your bank within 60 days you can qualify for a chargeback under your "billing errors" rights. But if you wait for more than 60 days you will not be eligible for a chargeback under your "claims and defenses" rights because the merchant is outside of your state of residence (and more than 100 from your home). In California and in some other states, transactions on the telephone are considered to take place at your home and not at the merchant's place of business, no matter who placed the call.


Good Faith Effort to Resolve Dispute With the Merchant First

Unlike "billing errors," you must make a good faith effort to obtain a refund or credit from the merchant before contesting the charge with the bank. Sending a letter to the merchant or signing a notice of cancellation which is sent to the merchant would suffice as a good faith attempt to resolve the matter with the merchant. Be sure retain a copy of your correspondence.


A Final Word

Be aware that many customer service representatives are not familiar with claims and defenses. Some representatives have denied valid claims and defenses which otherwise meet all of the requirements on grounds that the letter was not received within 60 days, or that the merchant has filed for bankruptcy, or that the merchant bank refuses to pay back the card issuing bank because the time limits regulating dealings between the banks under Visa or MasterCard regulations have expired. None of these are proper or legal grounds for denying a valid claim for a chargeback under your "claims and defenses" rights. If you are writing your letter to the bank more than 60 days after the charge you are disputing first showed up on your credit card bill, you may want to clearly explain that you are asserting your "claims and defenses" rights under state and federal law, which, unlike "billing error" rights, are not limited to being asserted within the 60 day time frame.