Most credit card transactions go through smoothly, but you can run into an occasional mishap.

For instance, what if you buy something on sale and later see the full price charged for it on your credit card statement? Everyone makes mistakes, but you don’t need to pay for a billing error.

The first thing you should do though is attempt to resolve the issue with the retailer, and receive credit for the excess charge. If that doesn’t work, your rights under the Fair Credit Billing Act also allow you to put in a credit card dispute with your card issuer.

Sometimes, even the issuer dispute may not result in a fix. In case the issuer denies your dispute, you still have other recourse.

What is a credit card billing error dispute?

There are certain types of credit card purchase situations in which you can dispute a billing error. For instance:

  • You don’t recognize a charge on your credit card bill and suspect that you did not authorize it
  • You see a charge for an incorrect amount
  •  A charge for a purchase that was not delivered, or that you returned
  • Your card issuer did not give you credit for a payment you sent
  • The issuer did not send your card statement to your current address (provided that you gave adequate notice of any address change)
  • Your card is billed twice for the same transaction

While a dispute is being investigated, you don’t need to pay the amount in question, although you should continue paying on the rest of the balance due. The issuer cannot consider the disputed amount to be delinquent.

Receiving a dispute denial

After conducting an investigation, your card issuer may deny your dispute. For example, if the issuer may not find evidence that the transaction you disputed was unauthorized.

The issuer may deny the entire disputed amount or a part of it; either way, it should inform you in writing about the denial and how much you owe.

You will also be notified about when you need to make your payment, including any interest that accumulated on the amount while it was in dispute. You should pay this amount by the date due so that you are not delinquent.

What are your options after a denial?

If you don’t agree with the issuer’s findings, you can ask for documents that support the decision to deny your dispute. You can also appeal the decision with the issuer within 10 days of being notified about it or before the deadline for you to pay the disputed amount, whichever comes later.

You could also consider filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or even your state attorney general’s office or consumer protection agency. It may be a good idea to consult with an attorney about how to follow up. While this can get costly, if they file a case that is resolved in your favor, you could be awarded damages and also have your attorney’s fees covered.

The issuer can report your account as delinquent to the credit bureaus if you haven’t paid up within the time the issuer allowed you and start collection activity on the amount due from you.. However, it should also note to the bureaus that you are disputing the billing error.

How to prepare before you file a billing error dispute

Before filing a dispute, make sure that you are not mistaken about the error. For instance, you may see a merchant name you don’t recognize and think it’s a billing error, but the merchant is simply billing under a different corporate name.

You should write to your card issuer (at its address for billing inquiries and not the address to which it receives payments) providing your card information and a letter describing the issue. Also include copies of any documents and receipts that support your case.

The issuer must receive your letter within 60 days of the time you got the first card statement with the billing error. Send it by certified mail and ask for a return receipt so that you have proof that the issuer got your letter.

Then, you’ll receive written acknowledgement of your dispute letter within 30 days of the issuer receiving it. The issuer will conduct an investigation and resolve the matter within 90 days of receiving your dispute notification.

The bottom line

If you have an issue with a billing error on your credit card statement, you can file a dispute with your credit card issuer after you attempt to resolve the matter with the merchant.

In case the card issuer denies your dispute, you still have options. You should follow up with the lender to ask for an explanation and any supporting documentation. If you think your dispute was incorrectly denied given that reasoning, you can file a complaint with the FTC, the CFPB or your state authorities.