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The Common Law: A Visit From the Credit-Card Grinch

Holiday shopping and credit card billing errors

By Luke Ellis, Fri., Dec. 7, 2012

My credit card company is still trying to charge me for several holiday gifts that I bought for my kids but then returned a few days later. I've called several times but I can't seem to get it sorted out. What's the best way for me to get the credit card company's attention and have them take care of the problem?

It sounds like you've been visited by the credit-card Grinch this holiday season. Your credit card company has made a "billing error." Most billing errors can be resolved if you have a basic understanding of the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), a federal law passed by Congress in 1975 to help consumers settle disputes with their credit card companies. Under the FCBA, a consumer may challenge credit card charges for numerous reasons, including charges for goods or services that were not accepted or that were not delivered as agreed (i.e., a defective product) and charges made by unauthorized persons.

There are, however, specific things you must do to challenge the billing error. You must send the credit card company a letter (via certified mail, return receipt requested) stating that there has been a billing error, and the letter must be sent within 60 days of the first bill you received that gave you notice of the billing error. The letter should include your name and account number, a statement that you think your bill contains an error and the actual dollar amount of that error, as well as the reasons why you believe the bill is incorrect. Try to include photocopies of all receipts and any documents that were relevant to the transaction.

The credit card company is required to acknowledge receipt of your letter within 30 days after receiving it, and has a maximum of 90 days to investigate the claim. If there is an error on your bill, the credit card company should write to you explaining the corrections that have been made to your account. Alternatively, if the credit card company still believes there is no mistake, you will be notified with the reasons why it believes the bill is correct. Keep in mind that while you are allowed to withhold payment on the disputed item during this process, you are required to make regular payments on the rest of the items listed on your credit card bill. The good news is that your credit card company cannot threaten to damage your credit rating while the dispute over the billing error is ongoing.

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