Chargeback Reason Codes: The Ultimate Guide

Every chargeback has something which triggers the initial dispute. Chargeback reason codes were created to standardize the list of acceptable reasons why a bank may file a credit card chargeback or debit chargeback on their customer’s behalf.

In theory, the bank representative can review the list of reason codes, and either select the most appropriate code for the case at hand or reject the claim if none of the approved reasons apply. However, the process can still cause a lot of confusion, especially at the merchant level, where there’s no insight into the process of assigning a reason code.

We've provided a breakdown here of the four major US-based schemes to help demonstrate the similarities and differences between the chargeback codes of different card networks.

Need to look-up a chargeback reason code? Use the widget above simply key-in your reason code and get a detailed explanation of what it means. Need more information? Keep reading to get the reason code rundown.

What is a Reason Code?

Reason Code

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A chargeback reason code is a 2-to-4-digit alphanumeric code provided by the issuing bank involved in a chargeback, which is meant to identify the reason for the dispute. Each of the major card brands, including Visa, Mastercard, and others, have their own system of reason codes. Reason codes are important to help merchants address recurring chargeback triggers, as well as identify frivolous chargebacks, against which the merchant will need to fight back.

Let’s assume that a cardholder, or the issuing bank acting on the cardholder’s behalf, decides to dispute a transaction. The bank files a chargeback and attaches a chargeback reason code to the case, which is a 2-to-4-digit alphanumeric code meant to identify the reason for the dispute. You, the merchant, can either accept the dispute, or use the reason code to build a case with compelling evidence why the original transaction was valid.

Each of the major card networks—American Express, Discover, MasterCard, and Visa—has its own specific set of codes. Payment service providers like Paypal may also have unique codes, too.

Having multiple lists can be confusing, but the chargeback justifications behind them remain pretty consistent across all networks. Whatever the reason code designation being used, the lists all serve the same basic purpose: to identify and describe the underlying motivation behind the transaction dispute.

Reason Codes by Card Network

There are numerous different card brands throughout the world. Some are specific to certain regions or nations, while others are focused on specific industries like travel and entertainment cards, and each card scheme has their own system of chargeback reason codes. However, the four most widely-used in North America and Europe are Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover.

We've provided a breakdown here of the four major US-based schemes to help demonstrate the similarities and differences between the reason codes of different card networks:

Visa Chargeback Reason Codes: With the introduction of Visa Claims Resolution, Visa overhauled their entire reason code system, introducing a new list grouped into four categories: processing errors, authorization errors, fraud, and customer disputes. You’ll notice each category is denoted by a two-digit number, while the specific reason code is a subset of the that group represented by a decimal place.

Mastercard Chargeback Reason Codes: Like Visa, Mastercard revamped their own reason code system back in 2016, condensing the list to try and modernize the Mastercard chargeback reason code system. All Mastercard chargebacks active as of 2018 are denoted by a four-digit reason code beginning with a 48XX prefix.

American Express Chargeback Reason Codes: The American Express reason code system is divided into same four subheadings used by Visa, along with an additional “Miscellaneous” category. The alphanumeric code uses a letter to denote the section, then a number to identify the specific reason; for example, “No Cardmember Authorization” is reason code F14; “F” for fraud category, and 14 for the reason.

Discover Chargeback Reason Codes: Unlike the other three card schemes, Discover uses a mostly alphabetic reason code system. Some of these reason codes are easy to recognize; for example, the reason code “DP” denotes “Duplicate Processing.” Others are less obvious, though, like “RM” for “Quality Discrepancy.”

When Reason Code ≠ Reason

The goal behind the chargeback reason code system is to eliminate guesswork and opinion-based decisions. All parties can refer to the reason code and understand the issue that caused the chargeback. Issuing banks don't have to justify their decisions, and acquiring banks and merchants know what specific documentation they need for representment.

For the most part, the process works…at least for legitimate chargebacks. The problem: not all chargebacks are legitimate.

Established chargeback reason codes do a good job of addressing processing errors, merchant fraud, and other “legitimate” reasons for filing a dispute. But as research shows, more and more chargebacks are being filed for reasons that have little to do with the assigned chargeback code.

Friendly Fraud is On the Rise.

With your next chargeback, fight the reason behind the reason code. Learn how today.

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The real motives behind the disputes, such as buyer's remorse, family fraud, or an unwanted item that has gone beyond the return date, are not considered legitimate chargeback reasons. As such, they have no code. However, many customers do an "end run" around the problem by claiming that the transaction is fraudulent. This is a practice known as “friendly fraud.”

While there are cases where friendly fraud might be an accident or a simple misunderstanding, most merchants view this technique as a way of getting something for free: in other words, shoplifting.

Fighting Fraudulent Reason Codes

The arrangement sounds unfair to merchants…and it is.

Criminal fraud or merchant misbehavior may have nothing to do with the true source of the chargeback, but merchants are only allowed to fight back against the reason stated in the code. Unfortunately, once the issuing bank assigns reason codes, it's highly unusual for them to be changed, even when new information becomes available. You can fight and win disputes of this nature, but even so, a chargeback reversal is just a consolation prize. You still spend time contesting the chargeback and are forced to pay chargeback fees…win or lose.

It's far better if the invalid claim never gets past the issuing bank in the first place.

Need More Help?

You can’t implement a consistent and effective chargeback prevention strategy unless you can identify the true cause of chargebacks.

Chargebacks911® offers the first tool ever developed to make this a reality: Intelligent Source Detection™.

Our Intelligent Source Detection will identify the true chargeback triggers affecting your business, and help you understand the reason behind the chargeback reason codes. Contact us today for a free ROI analysis. We’ll show you how much more you can earn by accurately identifying chargeback causes, implementing an effective prevention strategy, and disputing illegitimate chargebacks.