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Chargeback Prevention

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  3. Billing Descriptors

Billing Descriptors

Billing Description

Here’s Why Your Billing Descriptor May be One of Your Best Chargeback Prevention Tools

Anytime you complete a transaction online, a record of that sale pops up on your customer’s billing statement. This information refers to the name the customer sees in connection to the sale. It identifies your business and the total price of the goods or services purchased.

You might not pay much attention to how those charges appear on the customer’s end…but your customers do. Even if you don’t realize it, failing to optimize your billing descriptor could have a major impact on your bottom line.

What is a Billing Descriptor?

Billing Descriptor

[noun]/* bil ● ing ● də ● skrip ● tər/

A billing descriptor is the label which appears on a cardholder’s bank statement, which is used to identify the transaction and the merchant tied to the purchase. This is usually set up by the merchant when their account is opened.

Billing descriptors are one of those business details you use constantly, but maybe don’t always recognize right away. One could say they’re hidden in plain sight…and for good reason.

Your billing descriptor is like a numerical fingerprint that banks and credit agencies will use to identify your business. It may not be recognizable at first glance, but we can’t overstate its importance.

Why Billing Descriptors Matter

Billing descriptors might not seem like a major concern in the grand scheme of things. They could spell big trouble for your business if improperly handled, though. For instance, faulty billing descriptors can lead directly to a spike in chargebacks.

We estimate that 20-40% of all chargebacks are the result of merchant error. One of the most common errors committed by merchants is a poor billing descriptor.

Your billing descriptor is one of your best lines of defense against invalid chargebacks.

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To illustrate: let’s assume you just launched a new merchant account. You have a billing descriptor tied to that account. If your descriptors are off in any way (misspelled, include incorrect location data, etc.), your customers may be unable to recognize your charges when they show up later on their statements. The buyer might believe the transaction is fraudulent and file a chargeback.

Types of Billing Descriptors

As mentioned above, the billing descriptor (also called a merchant descriptor in some instances) describes the way your name appears on your customers’ monthly statements. Descriptor length is usually limited to between 20-25 characters that commonly include your business name and, in some cases, your address and phone number at the end. However, there is more than one type of billing descriptor you need to know about.

There are three key types with which you need to be familiar:

 Soft Descriptors

Soft Descriptors

A soft descriptor appears on a customer’s online statement immediately after their bank authorizes a transaction. The soft descriptor is a temporary note that will be replaced once the transaction is finalized. Until then, the soft descriptor works as a placeholder, noting a pending transaction in progress.

 Hard Descriptors

Hard Descriptors

The hard descriptor is the permanent merchant billing information that replaces the soft descriptor on the customer’s statement. Transaction settlement typically takes a few days, but once a transaction settles, the hard descriptor will appear on the buyer’s statement, along with a final price for the goods or services purchased.

 Dynamic Descriptors

Dynamic Descriptors

A dynamic descriptor is a customized billing descriptor you’re able to configure for each individual transaction via an API. For example, a dynamic descriptor can provide individual transaction details, such as listing the goods or services purchased. Some processors offer soft dynamic descriptors, while others provide both soft and hard dynamic descriptors.*

* Consult with your processor for more information about dynamic descriptors.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you use dynamic or fixed billing descriptors. In either case, you need to ensure your descriptors are easy to understand and accurately reflect your business.

Billing Descriptors

The 2021 Chargeback Field Report

The 2021 Chargeback Field Report is now available. Based on a survey of over 400 US and UK merchants, the report presents a comprehensive, cross-vertical look at the current state of chargebacks and chargeback management.

Free Download

Billing Descriptor Rules

Optimizing billing descriptors is one of the easiest things you can do to prevent chargebacks. It’s also one of the most effective.

Here are some tips to get started:

Simplify Descriptors

Give your buyers a clear and concise reminder of your transaction. Using an easy-to-understand format for your billing descriptor will help avoid confusion.

Pro Tip: Include your website domain name and, if using a dynamic descriptor, a very brief description of the item purchased.

Use Your Trade Name

Many businesses have a legal name that goes on their important filings, and a separate name for use by customers. For example, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media (DCPI) is the legal name of The Disney Store. How many cardholders do you think know that?

Pro Tip: Customers may not recognize your legal name, so be sure to avoid it in billing descriptors. Use your common trade name instead.

Include Your Phone Number

Your customer service line should be visible in your billing descriptor in case customers have questions about a charge. This line should be accessible 24 hours a day, with live service during as much of that time as possible.

Pro Tip: When live service is unavailable, your service line should direct customers to other service channels like email or social media. 

Own Your Trade

Use both your trade name and domain name regularly on your website, while still distinguishing the two. This will help remind customers of where the purchase originated.

Pro Tip: Mirror this effort on social media from time to time, as many customers will purchase directly from their favorite channels, rather than your website. 

Test Transactions

These descriptors may display differently for different card schemes. Send out test transactions before you start operating to be sure your soft descriptor and final billing descriptor are optimized.

Pro Tip: If you change platforms or edit a catalog, run another series of tests. Better safe than sorry. 

Billing Descriptors

While it is true that dynamic billing descriptors are the most…well, dynamic option…that doesn’t mean they’re essential. Good billing or merchant descriptors should include the most accurate, convenient, and recognizable details you can include.

If you manage only the basics we’ve listed in this article, you’re ahead of the game. Sometimes, though, the devil really is in the details.

Become a Billing Pro

Once you’ve established what you sell, how you sell is a next logical step. Knowing how your business is being represented across all formats, from billing descriptors to public perception, are all part of the process.

Savvy merchants understand that no area in your business is too minor to invest effort. Therefore, tightening up something as simple as your merchant descriptors should be a small challenge that will pay off repeatedly in the long run.

Have questions about your billing descriptors and where to get started? Continue below to learn more.


Prevent Chargebacks.

Fight Fraud.

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