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How do I win a credit card dispute?

Leslie McFaddenQuestionDear Credit Card Adviser,
I'm having a dispute with a credit card company and am not paying until it is resolved. I know this is hurting my credit, but is there anything else I can do? The card company can hurt my score as leverage, but I don't know if there's anything I can do to leverage my side of the dispute. Thank you!
-- Robin

AnswerDear Robin,
What leverage do you have in a credit card dispute?

Federal law offers some consumer protection but you have to file your complaint correctly. My story "Disputing a credit card purchase" explains the procedure for raising various types of disputes.

For example, to challenge a "billing error" as defined under the Fair Credit Billing Act, or FCBA, you must send your dispute letter to the address for billing inquiries within 60 days of the first statement that contained the mistake. The issuer must acknowledge the complaint in writing within 30 days after receiving your letter, investigate the claim and resolve the dispute within two billing cycles or 90 days, whichever comes first.

"If the bank determines that a billing error occurred as claimed, then it must correct the billing error and credit your account with any disputed amount and any related finance or other charges and must send a correction notice to you," explains HelpWithMyBank.gov, a consumer information website set up by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

If the bank concludes that no mistake was made, it still must send you an explanation.

During the investigation, you can withhold payment on the portion of the bill in dispute and the bank can't report that unpaid debt as delinquent while it investigates your claim. If your bill contains undisputed debt, you must make at least the minimum payment due. Otherwise, you may face late fees, a penalty interest rate after 60 days and delinquencies on your credit report that will lower your credit score.

What can you do if the issuer breaks the rules? You can report FCBA violations to your state attorney general, the Federal Trade Commission and the regulatory agency that supervises that type of financial intuition. Use the search tool at FFIEC.gov to find the appropriate regulator. You can also sue the company or go through the arbitration process. A mandatory arbitration clause in your card agreement means you can't sue the card issuer in court, and instead must settle disputes through a private arbitrator or judge.

Ask the adviser

To ask a question of the Credit Card Adviser, go to the "Ask the Experts" page, and select "Credit Cards." Read more columns by the Credit Card Adviser.
 

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