How to dispute a billing error

It’s the end of another billing cycle for your credit card. You get your latest statement in the mail (or via email if you prefer the paper-free approach). As you do every month, you take out the statement and carefully examine its contents.

And you see something that’s not quite right. There’s a charge on there that you don’t recall. You review your receipts. You wrack your brain. You ultimately conclude that the charge is a mistake.

Now what?

You could try to track down the company who charged you and correct the error that way. You could also pick up the phone and call your credit card company.

Your best bet, though, is the one guaranteed to you by law. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) spells out exactly what you must do when you find such an error, and has the added benefit of requiring that creditors address the issue in a timely manner.

Respond quickly

You have 60 days from the time the billing statement is sent to request a correction, so act quickly. After 60 days you’re going to have a much harder time getting your bill corrected.

Your request needs to be in writing

A creditor may very well assist you over the phone (that’s good customer service, after all), but they are required by law to respond to a written request (assuming it’s within the 60 day time limit). Draft and send your letter immediately (and it’s not a bad idea to get confirmation that it was received).

Your letter needs three specific pieces of information

Per the FCBA, your written request must clearly identify the account in question, the disputed charge or charges, and the reason why these charges are in error. (The reasons don’t have to be complex – you can simply say, “I did not make this purchase” if that’s the case.)

It’s not a bad idea to enclose a copy of your statement with the letter.

Then you wait

The creditor has 30 days from the moment they receive the letter to respond, confirming that they’ve received the request. They then have no longer than two complete billing cycles to investigate the issue and either confirm that the charge is correct, or remove the erroneous charge and correct any additional charges (interest, etc.) that may have occurred as a result of the error.

Don’t withhold payment!

Assuming there are other, legitimate charges on your account, don’t neglect to pay your bill. While the creditor is investigating the error your account is not frozen and you can still become delinquent if you fail to make required payments on legitimate debts.

Cover yourself

Taking advantage of the FCBA is the best way to cover yourself in these situations. If a creditor does not reply to your letter within the required timeframe they can forfeit the right to collect on the disputed debt. So while letter writing is a bit of a lost art form these days, in this case it’s the best way to ensure that someone addresses your issue quickly and thoroughly.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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