Chances are, most of the credit cards you process are issued by one of four banks: Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citibank. You’ll likely be dealing with this “Big Four” for most of your transaction disputes as well.
Taking a good look at the dispute policies of the Big Four will give you a decent baseline of what to expect when dealing with card issuers generally.
Here’s everything you need to know about handling chargeback disputes with the big four credit card companies and banks, plus how to handle those disputes when they (inevitably) happen to your business.
It All Begins With The Card Networks
Every issuer must comply with the guidelines set by the card network to issue its cards. There are lead times the issuing banks place on you, but issuers also have their own timelines to follow that are set by the card networks Visa and Mastercard; issuers must follow these rules in order to use their networks. If an issuer disputes a transaction with you, but the dispute falls outside these timelines, you may have a case to nullify the dispute entirely.
Cardholders have 120 days to dispute a Visa transaction through their issuer, starting on the transaction date. The issuer then must respond to the dispute within 30 days. This means the bank must investigate and either charge the transaction back — fully or partially — or turn down the dispute by this time.
Cardholders have 120 days to dispute a Mastercard transaction through their issuer, starting on the transaction date as well. The issuer then must respond to the dispute within 45 days, which means they will have to either accept or decline the dispute by this time.
These are the absolute deadlines for disputes. According to both Visa and Mastercard, transactions older than 120 days are likely not supported by their respective chargeback policies. Likewise, issuing banks have 30 days with Visa and 45 days with Mastercard to take action based on their cardholder’s dispute in order for their actions to be valid.
Note the relevant dates are the date of the transaction and the date of the chargeback. You’re not going to get word about a dispute until they chargeback the transaction. When fighting a chargeback, always check the time frame from the transaction date to the chargeback. If it exceeds the card networks’ timeline, the issuer may be in error, and the dispute may be invalid.
Disputes By Issuer
Now let’s see what the issuers do with these requirements. Generally, they trim the 120-day dispute timeline down to give themselves additional time to investigate and respond to cardholder disputes.
We do not include issuer fees here because the fee amount will vary by the time it hits your merchant account. An issuer’s fees make up a fraction of the actual charge to you. Processors and acquirers also tack on their fees, which again vary considerably depending on your arrangement with them.
The critical thing to remember as a merchant dealing with chargebacks is that these fees are best avoided through dispute alerts. With alerts, you can intercept a dispute and resolve or refund the transaction before it escalates to a chargeback.
Bank of America
BofA cardholders have 60 days from the statement issue date to dispute a transaction from that statement. So, at most, if the charge was made on day one of a given 30-day statement period, a transaction has just over 90 days to get disputed.
Once the cardholder initiates a dispute, BofA has 30 days to investigate and decide whether a chargeback will be issued. As a merchant, you can reasonably expect a chargeback to hit your account no more than 120 days out from the transaction date.
Citi works the same as Bank of America: disputes must be submitted within 60 days of the statement, and the response from Citi must come within 30 days.
Chase Bank gives its cardholders 60 days from the date a charge is posted to their account to raise a dispute — usually the transaction date, or no more than two-three days later, considering weekends and holidays. Chase claims it takes 30-60 days to investigate a dispute, but the bank must comply with the card-network lead times (Visa: 30 days/Mastercard: 45 days).
Like Chase, Wells gives cardholders 60 days from the posting of the transaction to raise a dispute. It does not provide a timeline for its response, partly because Wells may issue a retrieval request to get more information from the merchant. If you receive such a request, you have 12 days to respond with information that ties the cardholder to the sale to deflect a chargeback.
At a bare minimum, retrievals must include:
- Merchant name and location
- Transaction date
- Merchant location/website
- Description of goods or services
- Payment Card’s last 4 digits and card brand
- Transaction amount, with applicable transaction-currency symbol
- Authorization code
- Space for cardholder signature, if applicable
- Return/refund policy
If you have any other evidence that could help your case, including delivery confirmations, purchasing device’s ID, or IP address, definitely include them in your response. You should expect a quick response following a retrieval request since your 12 days to respond eats into Wells’ allotted time to rule on a dispute.
Merchant Response Guidelines
While each issuer does things slightly differently, they all adhere to the guidelines set forth by the card associations. Rather than try to keep up with the nuances of issuers, set a routine for your dispute responses that accommodate deadlines for all issuers.
Stay well under your deadlines and make sure the issuing banks stick to theirs and observe the following protocols:
- Keep transaction data handy for a minimum of six months or 180 days.
This way, you’re covered in case a cardholder resurrects a dispute at the last minute, and their bank maxes out its response time. Many chargeback fraudsters will initiate disputes just before the deadline because many merchants will no longer have the data or react promptly enough to fight back.
- Keep a rolling reserve on your merchant account.
Have funds ready to cover unexpected chargebacks and their fees. Some acquiring banks already require reserves of their high-risk merchants, usually around 5-10% of average monthly sales. But even low-risk merchants should be prepared so cash flow is not disrupted.
- Monitor your chargeback-to-sales ratio each month.
This ratio heavily influences how much you are charged per chargeback. As you approach 1%, your fees start going up, and remedial actions from the card networks are not far behind.
How Dispute Management Helps
Each member of “The Big Four” has slight differences in its policy, and you should expect such variations among all banks. Aggregate all your disputes comprehensively and in an organized fashion to stay one step ahead of all the different timelines and requirements.
As your sales volume increases, managing disputes can become a job in itself, and well outside of your core business. Dispute management can deliver significant savings to your bottom line, so consider outsourcing if your in-house resources cannot cover it.
Look for a dispute management partner that integrates Ethoca and Verifi alerts — which inform you of pending chargebacks and enable you to prevent them with refunds. They should also enable you to view transaction details preemptively to reduce retrieval requests and stop potential disputes before they are fully in the system. A quality partner should organize your disputes so that you can respond promptly to each and every one.
ChargebackHelp offers revenue protection for merchants, by merchants. Our dispute management solutions are built in part from our experiences as merchants. We know how to resolve the pain points of fraud and chargebacks because we’ve been there ourselves. Benefit from our experience and learn more from our merchant-curated blog here: https://chargebackhelp.com/news