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Let’s say you’ve purchased a new pair of jeans with your credit card.
You think they’re going to look great on you. Once you get home or once your purchase arrives, however, you’re not so in love with the jeans after all. You decide to return them and get a refund.
How soon you get that refund depends on several factors. These include whether you bought the jeans in a store or online, how you return them, and your credit card company’s refund policies.
What’s the average time for a credit card refund?
StellaService, a company that helps businesses improve customer service, conducted a study between July 2013 and June 2014 (the most recent data available from them) to find out the average time for a credit card refund to be processed, starting from when the return was shipped to when a refund was posted on a credit card statement.
Out of 5,000 online purchases from 138 retailers, StellaService found the average time for a credit card refund was 15.8 days. Hewlett-Packard and Amazon.com had the shortest time for a refund at 6.3 days.
“The timetable for a credit card refund depends on the policies and procedures of both the seller and your issuing [credit card company],” says Monica Eaton-Cardone, co-founder and chief operating officer of Chargebacks911.com, a company that helps merchants manage credit card disputes.
Read on to find more examples of refund policies for several merchants, and to learn the difference between billing disputes and fraud disputes.
Credit card refund policies vary by merchant
A review of credit card refund policies for a number of merchants, payment processors and card issuers shows that there’s no consistency around the time that it’ll take for a refund to show up in your credit card account.
Below are examples of refund policies that we found online. Keep in mind that both the merchant and the credit card issuer are involved in the process. This means that each will need time to work on your refund.
PayPal — an online payment service that lets you send or receive payments — says refunds to a credit card can take up to 30 days, depending on the credit card company involved.
Square, another online payment service, says it can take two to seven business days to process a refund. Then it can take another two to seven business days — depending on the card issuer’s refund-processing speed — for the refund to show up in your account.
This retailer says a credit card refund takes an average of seven days. Kohl’s notes the processing time can vary based on the issuer of your credit card.
Home Depot, the home-improvement retailer, says if you return an item to one of its stores, your account will be credited at the time of the return.
But if you send back an item by mail, your account will be credited once the item is processed at the retailer’s warehouse.
After returning an item to a store or by mail, it may take two to 10 business days for the refund to appear in your account, Home Depot says.
Billing disputes can make a refund take longer
If you’re not returning an item, but instead are disputing an error on your credit card statement, the time it takes to receive a refund may be longer.
The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) gives you ammunition to fight billing errors. Among the errors covered by the law are charges that list the wrong amount or date, transactions involving goods or services that you never got, and transactions involving merchants that didn’t deliver goods or services in the way they were promised.
To take advantage of the law’s consumer protections, the creditor responsible for the error must receive a dispute letter from you within 60 days after the bill with the error was mailed to you.
By law, the credit card issuer must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days after receiving it, unless the problem already has been resolved, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
The issuer must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles — but not over 90 days — after getting your complaint.
So, under this scenario, it could take a maximum of six months for a refund of a disputed charge to be posted to your credit card account.
Hmm … that seems like a long time
It may not take nearly that long, though. For instance, card issuer American Express says most disputes are resolved within a month, although complicated cases could last longer.
You may be able to avoid a long wait if you approach the merchant about a potential error, according to Bank of America.
For instance, if the merchant mistakenly swiped your card twice, resulting in two charges, you can show the merchant your receipt and credit card statement. If it was an online transaction, you can call or email the merchant and submit copies of related documents.
In many cases, according to Bank of America, a merchant can cancel or reverse a charge without involving a credit card issuer. But if that’s not possible, then you’ll need to contact the issuer of your card.
A refund for a fraud dispute is similar to a billing dispute
If you’re seeking a credit card refund related to fraud (for example, someone steals your card and uses it to make unauthorized charges), the refund may show up in your account right after you’ve reported it or it could take weeks or months for that to happen.
For instance, card issuer Discover says it can take up to 90 days to wrap up.
Just as with any other credit card dispute, you must lodge a complaint about suspected fraud within 60 days of your statement being sent to you in order to take advantage of the FCBA’s consumer protections.
But Bank of America recommends contacting the credit card issuer immediately if you think your card was stolen or used to make unauthorized purchases.
“Some disputes can be addressed over the phone, while others require an exchange of emails with the company until it completes its investigation. If you choose to dispute the charge over the phone, follow it up with a letter to the credit card company,” according to Debt.org, which helps people resolve debt problems.
It might take persistence and patience to secure a refund for a charge on your credit card. But don’t give up. After all, it’s your money.
Keep in mind there’s no set amount of time it’ll take to get the refund. You can stay on top of the refund process by checking your credit card account online or calling the card issuer.