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The following information is meant to advise you generally of your rights under federal and California state law to challenge credit card charges. These rights are called "credit card chargeback rights." 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.
When you apply for a Visa card or MasterCard, it is usually issued by a bank. Your dealings are with the bank, called the "issuing bank" and not Visa or MasterCard. In order to issue such credit cards, a bank must agree to follow Visa or MasterCard regulations, but these regulations cannot take away any of your rights under federal and state laws. Merchants who wish to accept credit cards must also follow certain guidelines, including maintaining a reserve account in the merchant bank to cover chargebacks by dissatisfied cardholders.
Under these laws, you may have a right, in the situations described below, to the issuance of a credit by the bank or other financial institution that issued your MasterCard or Visa card or, if you used an American Express or Discover Card by those companies. On the back of your monthly statement is the address to which all inquiries and written requests for chargebacks should be directed.
In a credit transaction, a merchant takes your credit card, prints a receipt and deposits it with his "merchant bank." The merchant bank pays the merchant and sends the receipt to your issuing bank. Your issuing bank then pays the merchant bank and sends you a "statement" which shows all of your transactions during the period. There are two categories recognized by federal and state law under which you can resist payment, and these are known as "billing errors" and "claims and defenses". Your rights are different under each.
The types of "billing errors" include:
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.
If you get your letter challenging the charge to your bank within the 60 day period (some banks extend this to 90 days, but don't take a chance), 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 reached with other banks.
Restrictions on "claims and defenses" chargeback rights include:
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:
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.
In the event your bank denies your request and you believe that you have satisfied all of the required conditions, you can file or make a complaint with the Attorney General's Office website.