Reviewing the Chargeback Time Limit for Banks, Cardholders, & Merchants
The chargeback process involves many different players, including merchants, banks, cardholders, processors, card networks, and third-party vendors. With all the back-and-forth necessary to resolve a dispute, the whole process could take weeks or even months. In response, card networks impose strict chargeback time limits to try and keep things moving.
The term “chargeback time limit” describes the specific time window allowed by the card network for parties to respond to each phase of a chargeback dispute. Cardholders, banks, and merchants all need to adhere to the deadlines imposed by the card networks or risk losing a claim. This ensures that cardholders’ rights are upheld, while keeping the process from dragging out.
Responding within the time frame does not guarantee success. That said, missing the deadline will almost always get the case thrown out: no questions asked.
Do Visa & Mastercard Have Different Time Limits?
To demonstrate how the requirements can deviate between schemes, let’s first take a look at the two largest networks, Mastercard and Visa.
Contrary to popular belief, chargeback time limits are not standardized across card networks. At one point, the time limits for Mastercard and Visa varied only slightly from one other. However, changes made to the chargeback process over time, like Visa Claims Resolution, created much more distinct differences . Now, time limits can vary by as much as two months, depending on the chargeback type.
VCR was implemented, in part, to speed up the chargeback dispute process. That included cutting the allowable times for responses and equalizing response windows across all parties. Visa also removed the “timing out” option; under the legacy system, merchants had the option of simply ignoring a request for response until the allowable time ran out. They could effectively accept the chargeback by default. Now, Visa imposes a fine on merchants who don't respond in a timely manner—even if they're only responding to accept the chargeback (follow this link for more on Visa’s chargeback process).
Mastercard implemented similar overhauls to their chargeback process in 2019 with Mastercard Dispute Resolution (MDR). This streamlined processes in a manner similar to VCR. However, these processes now involve different stages, which impact cross-network chargeback time limits.
Terminology & Stipulations
One of the most obvious differences between Visa and Mastercard chargebacks is the terminology. The phases of the process are similar, but the names used in reference to those phases differ:
|Mastercard Term||Visa Term|
|Chargeback||Dispute (Chargeback Dispute)|
|Second Presentment (Chargeback Representment)||Dispute Response/Pre-Arbitration|
|Arbitration Chargeback (Pre-arbitration Chargeback)||Dispute Response Reversal|
It's also important to understand when the clock starts ticking on these deadlines. Again, this point differs between the two networks.
All timeframes are measured from day one of the applicable phase. However, Mastercard counts days from the actual applicable date (the “Central Site Business Date” or CSBD). In contrast, Visa timeframes start on the day after.
"Day one" of a chargeback filing refers to the processing date of the original cardholder purchase. As the chargeback process progresses, the Central Site Business Date (CSBD) resets for each phase. For example, when a customer files a first chargeback, the CSBD is the day the original transaction was processed. For the representment phase, though, the CSBD is the day the first chargeback is processed. Whenever a phase is completed, that date becomes the CSBD for the next phase.
Confused by Card Network Rules and Terminology?
We can help, and increase your ROI in the process. Click to learn more.
What Are the Actual Time Limits?
Now that we’ve covered when time limits begin, let’s look at where they end. We can break chargeback time limits into two categories: those that apply to the issuer/cardholder, and those that apply to the merchant/acquirer.
Mastercard Chargeback Time Limits: Issuer/Cardholder
The deadlines for chargeback responses on the issuer or cardholder side are based on whatever reason code was assigned to the claim. The issuer has leeway in some cases to alter the time limits offered to the cardholder, but the customer must act within that predetermined time limit.
In most cases, cardholders may only file a chargeback within 120 calendar days of the Central Site Business Date (in this case, the day the original transaction was processed). There are a few exceptions that may require shorter timeframes, which we will cover separately. Also, if the merchant submits a representment following a chargeback, the issuer may want to initiate an arbitration chargeback (respond to the merchant’s representment). This must be done within 45 calendar days of the CSBD (the day the bank received the second presentment).
The day the response is processed becomes the new CSBD if the dispute continues. Note that these limits apply only to the issuer and/or cardholder; separate requirements exist for acquiring banks and merchants.
Mastercard Chargeback Time Limits: Acquirers/Merchants
Merchants and acquirers have chargeback rights allowing them to challenge a cardholder's claim. However, they are bound by much more stringent time limits:
- The acquiring bank must submit the second presentment within 45 calendar days of the CSBD (the day the bank processed the chargeback).
- If either party seeks arbitration, it must be initiated within 45 calendar days of the CSBD (the day the arbitration chargeback is presented).
As a side note, the bank must provide all necessary documentation within 8 calendar days of submitting the chargeback, second presentment, or arbitration chargeback.
Visa Chargeback Time Limits: Issuer/Cardholder
Under VCR, chargeback disputes are tracked through one of two workflows. While the chargeback time limits for merchants and acquirers have seen a mandatory reduction, the limits for cardholders can vary from one issuer to another.
Generally speaking, Visa cardholders can only file a chargeback within 120 days of the original transaction. That said, Visa also gives individual issuers some freedom in setting limits.
Visa Chargeback Time Limits: Acquirers/Merchants
As with Mastercard, the time limits above apply to cardholders and/or issuers only. For their part, acquirers and merchants must respond within 30 days of the CSBD for each phase.
The one exception here is the timeframe for arbitration, which has the tightest deadline of all. If a party wants to escalate a dispute to arbitration, they must do so within 10 days of the CSBD. Visa would like to have all disputes resolved within 31 days, if possible.
Chargeback Time Limits: Mastercard Exceptions
As we noted earlier, while the chargeback time limits are fairly strict, there are some exceptions or conditions that can alter that timeframe. For Mastercard, the codes 4850, 4854, 4855, and 4860 offer varying time limits, based on the circumstances of the claim.
|Chargeback Reason Code||Time Limit in Calendar Days|
|4850: Installment Billing Dispute||
|4854: Cardholder Dispute, Not Elsewhere Classified||
|4855: Goods or Services Not Provided||
|4860: Credit Not Processed||
Chargeback Time Limits: Visa Exceptions
For Visa, the most significant time limit modifiers are attached to three specific codes: 13.1, 13.3, and 13.6. These are outlined below:
13.1: Services Not Provided or Goods Not Received
If the delivery of goods or services can reasonably be expected after the actual transaction date, then chargeback time limits are calculated based on multiple criteria. First, the issuing bank must wait 15 calendar days before initiating a dispute. This time period starts on either:
- The transaction date, if the anticipated delivery date for goods/services was unspecified.
- The date the cardholder returned or attempted to return the merchandise (if the merchandise was returned due to late delivery).
Additionally, the dispute must be processed either:
- Within 120 days of the last date the cardholder expects to receive the goods or services, not to exceed 540 calendar days after the transaction.
- Within 120 days of the date the cardholder was informed that the goods/services would not be provided, not to exceed 540 calendar days after the transaction.
13.3: Not as Described or Defective Merchandise
Under this reason code, if the cardholder deems the goods or services defective or not as described, the chargeback time limit is calculated based on one of the following, depending on the situation:
|Situation||Start of Time Limit|
|The goods/services were purchased on or before the transaction processing date.||120 calendar days past the date the cardholder expected or was promised to receive goods or services|
|There is a delay in delivery of the goods or services||120 calendar days past the date the cardholder was told the goods/services would not be delivered/provided|
|Goods or services were provided after the transaction processing date||120 calendar days past the date the cardholder received the goods or services|
13.6: Credit Not Processed
Finally, this reason code deals with chargebacks stemming from a credit goin unprocessed. Issuers must wait 15 calendar days from the credit transaction receipt (CTR) date before initiating a dispute. This does not apply if the CTR is updated, or if doing so would cause the dispute to go beyond the time limit.
For filing, the dispute must be processed no later than 120 calendar days from either:
- The transaction processing date.
- The date on the credit transaction receipt, or the date the cardholder returned the merchandise or canceled services (if the CTR is updated).
Prospering Despite Strict Deadlines
Managing chargebacks is challenging under the best of circumstances. While chargeback time limits provide a benefit, they can make the process even more stressful for merchants. Having the two major card networks handling chargeback disputes in different manners, using different terminology and time limits, only makes things more confusing.
Having said that, merchants who don't fight illegitimate chargebacks are throwing away revenue. Each chargeback representment is a unique opportunity to reclaim money that never should have been lost in the first place. This balancing act often leaves merchants feeling helpless.
Outsourcing the task of chargeback representment ensures a much higher win rate. In fact, Chargebacks911® offers a guaranteed ROI for all chargeback disputes we compile on your behalf. Contact us today to learn more about ensuring representment success amid restrictive chargeback time limits.