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You’re shocked when you open your monthly credit card statement. You don’t remember charging that expensive meal at a French restaurant three towns over. And you certainly don’t remember charging $200 worth of electronics from a Web site that you’ve never even heard of.
After your shock wears off, you realize that your credit card company made a billing error.
This happens. In fact, it’s not uncommon at all. Credit card companies aren’t perfect, far from it. They make their share of mistakes, often listing charges on your monthly statement that you’ve never made.
The problem with credit card billing errors, though, is that we’ve all become so dependent on our credit cards today. We use them to pay for everything from packs of gum at the local convenience store to fast-food meals on our way home from work. And when those bills arrive in our mailbox every month, many of us don’t even bother to skim it.
We assume, because our credit card issuer is a major financial institution, that the charges it lists are the right ones. And because there are so many charges to read — credit card bills can run two, three even four pages depending upon how busy you and your plastic were in the last 30 days — you’d rather just pay your bill and be done with it.
That approach, though, can prove to be a costly mistake.
Study That Bill
Consumer advocates recommend that consumers take a close look at their credit card bills each month.
This means more than skimming. It means sitting down and looking at each charge listed. If any charge looks suspicious, or doesn’t ring any reminder bells, it’s time to do some investigating.
If you do find a charge that you think is erroneous, write to your credit card issuer with 60 days of the date on which your bill was sent. In your letter, point out the incorrect charge and provide your name, account number, date and amount of the charge in question. Also include a clear description of why you are disputing this charge.
Make sure to send your letter separate from your payment. And send it to your credit card issuer’s address as printed on your bill. You can send this letter by certified mail if you want to be sure that your credit card company received it.
Your credit card company is then required to acknowledge your letter, by writing you a follow-up letter, within days after receiving your missive. The card company must then investigate your claim within 90 days. You won’t have to pay the disputed charge while the investigation is going on.
If your credit card company rules in your favor, it will reimburse your account for the charge. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to pay up.
The Hassle Factor
Disputing an incorrect charge is a hassle. It does take time and energy. But don’t forget that credit card companies make mistakes, too. And there’s no reason why you should have to pay for them.
In today’s rough economy, every dollar counts for a growing number of consumers. Don’t throw your money away by blindly mailing your payment off to your credit card issuer every month. Do the research, and mail your payment with confidence that you’ve not overpaying by one cent.