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Credit cards can open numerous doors of opportunities, and many even offer great cash-back rewards. But credit cards can also give you a good defense against untrustworthy online sellers. In the event of a dispute with a merchant, it provides the ultimate ace up your sleeve: the chargeback.

What Is a Credit Chargeback?

If you didn’t receive something you ordered, if you received the wrong item, or you just feel otherwise wronged by a transaction, a chargeback can return the money you spend to your account when the merchant refuses to do so. To initiate a credit chargeback, you can file a claim with your credit card company against a merchant. If your card issuer deems your complaint has merit, it will remove the money you paid from the merchant’s account and put it back in yours. Your credit card company is kind of like a tough older brother, talking to the bully who took your lunch money and getting it back.

Is a Chargeback the Same as a Refund?

A chargeback isn’t the same as a refund and shouldn’t be viewed as an alternative. A credit card chargeback should be requested only when a seller or merchant refuses to return your money of its own accord. If a product proves defective or never arrives on your doorstep, your first stop should be traditional channels—that is, the retailer’s customer service desk or phone number.

If, after that, the merchant refuses a rightful refund, you can bring in your bank. Your credit card issuer should have clear instructions for formally disputing a charge, with options including a phone call, a written letter or an online form. There are often time limits and other criteria that must be met so you can’t request a return of funds for a purchase made years ago.

What Qualifies for a Credit Chargeback?

Before you request a chargeback, it’s important to note that some situations qualify and some don’t. The Fair Credit Billing Act is a federal law that dictates how credit card fraud and billing disputes are handled. It defines a number of situations as billing errors, including “goods or services not accepted by the obligor or his designee or not delivered to the obligor or his designee in accordance with the agreement made at the time of a transaction.”

In other words, if you order a product and it never arrives—or if you refuse delivery because it’s not what you expected to receive or it’s been damaged before getting to you—you’re entitled to your money back.

On the other hand, being unsatisfied with a purchase or a product isn’t a reason to request a credit chargeback. The National Consumer Law Center notes in its guide to credit card rights, “You cannot raise a complaint about the quality of merchandise or services you bought with a credit card in the form of a billing dispute.”

Your disappointment will probably help you get a refund, but involving your bank in petty grievances isn’t the way to go. Besides, cardholders who “cry wolf” too often and request too many credit chargebacks will have their requests taken less seriously and may even be put off for months.

Does a Chargeback Affect Your Credit?

A chargeback does not usually affect your credit. The act of filing a chargeback because of a legitimate cause for complaint against a business won’t affect your credit score. The issuer may add a dispute notation to your credit report, but such a notation does not have a negative effect on your credit. You may also be expected to make payments on the disputed charge until the investigation is completed, and late payments will affect your credit score.

However, if your complaint is illegitimate or determined to be fraudulent, your account can be closed by your credit provider, which can affect your score. Even if your charge is legitimate, sometimes the bank will side with the merchant, and then you’ll have to pay accompanying fees. Still, there usually isn’t any negative outcome for your credit score for simply requesting a credit chargeback.

How Do Banks Handle Chargebacks?

As long as the credit card issuer follows the guidelines set out in federal law, it can set its own procedures for how to handle disputes. Take, for instance, the timeframe in which cardholders must contact their issuers, which is set by the FCBA at a minimum of 60 days. Some institutions may extend the timeframe allowed to dispute a charge, but they cannot go below 60 days.

Banks can also ask for documentation to support the cardholder’s claim, including any documentation that will help the issuer fully inform the merchant about the nature of the dispute. So, don’t dispute a charge unless you have some evidence to back up your claim.

Think of disputing your charge like you’re going to court. If you want to make a case against someone or some entity, you need solid, concrete evidence to even have that person arrested and charged. You’ll need some proof of the validity of your dispute for a credit card issuer to even consider your chargeback case.

Finally, it’s worth noting that some banks may go above and beyond the general dispute resolution guidelines to achieve optimal customer satisfaction. Some may even provide a courtesy credit to customers at a loss for the bank.

How Does a Visa Chargeback Work?

Every credit card company handles disputes and credit card issues in a different way. Visa, one of the largest credit card companies, changed its chargeback rules and techniques in 2018 in hopes to streamline and speed up the process.

Visa defines a chargeback as “the reversal of the dollar value (in whole or in part) of a transaction by the card issuer to the acquirer, and usually, by the merchant bank to the merchant.”

At one point, Visa chargebacks took over a month and a half to resolve. However, the process is now mostly automated, meaning customers and merchants don’t have to wait weeks for an issue to be settled.

The process Visa follows is mostly like other companies. When a customer disputes a charge, Visa asks the customer for information about the transaction. An acquirer can then forward that information to a merchant, giving the merchant the option to dispute the customer’s complaint with evidence of its own. The acquirer then collects all of the information and decides who is at fault.

Visa now addresses these disputes from an unbiased perspective, in contrast with its prior perspective as a representative of the customer. Visa’s automated systems act impartially and assign liability to whichever party it deems responsible.

What Is a Return Item Chargeback on a Bank Statement?

A return item chargeback isn’t actually related to the act of disputing a charge through a credit chargeback. A return item chargeback occurs when a bank charges a fee to a cardholder or consumer because of a bounced or rejected check.

A bank will attempt to cash or accept a check for deposit, but the other bank will refuse to make the funds available or a problem will be encountered with the check itself. Thus, a fee will be charged to the writer of the rejected check.

These return item chargebacks will show up on a bank statement as a fee. Consumers want to make sure to avoid this by regularly reviewing their bank statements and always ensuring they have adequate funds before writing a check.

Credit Chargebacks as Consumer Tool

Chargebacks are a potent tool in the consumer’s arsenal, to the point that even threatening a chargeback may scare shady merchants into resolving the disputes themselves. After all, businesses can be seriously hurt if too many chargebacks are requested, even to the point of a bank shutting down its account. Every chargeback also costs merchants a fee, so it’s understandable that merchants want to avoid these if possible.

If the retailer still doesn’t blink, however, don’t hesitate to follow through and take advantage of this key aspect of consumer protection.

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