Chargeback Time Limits: Here’s Everything You Need to Know
Is there a time limit on chargebacks? The short answer is “yes.”
In fact, there are two different types. First, we have the chargeback time limit dictating how long cardholders have to file disputes. We then have limits imposed on banks and merchants, determining how long they have to respond to a cardholder’s claim at each stage of the process.
These limitations benefit everyone involved in some ways. They speed up the chargeback process; because of all the back-and-forth necessary to resolve a dispute, the complete chargeback process could take weeks or even months. The time limits are there to ensure disputed transactions get settled quickly, and the funds go to the correct party.
But, while they are beneficial, the limits might not seem fair. Cardholders often have extended filing periods; generally 120 days after the transaction or order delivery. Merchants, on the other hand, must deal with shorter turnaround windows (usually 30 days or less).
In this post, we’ll take a look at how chargeback time limits work for both merchants and cardholders. We’ll also talk about circumstances that can alter the normal time frames, and see why these deadlines are so important.
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What Are Chargeback Time Limits? Why Impose a Time Limit on Chargebacks?
The entire chargeback process was designed as a safety net to protect consumers from fraud and dishonest merchants. The Fair Credit Billing Act of 1974 mandates that all cardholders have a minimum of 60 days to dispute illegitimate charges.
Banks, processors, and the card networks can set their own deadlines, though, as long as they meet the minimum requirements under the law. Card schemes, for example, usually give cardholders 120 days to dispute a charge. This is double what the law requires. There are specific time limits for merchants, as well.
Unfortunately, these rules are not universal. Chargeback time limits for merchants can vary by card scheme, location, processor, bank, product category, and other factors. Even the reason for the chargeback can affect the deadline, on top of any of the other wild cards.
All things considered, calling it confusing is an understatement.
How Long Do Cardholders Have to File a Dispute?
How Long Do Merchants Have to Respond to a Dispute?
For merchants and acquirers, the chargeback process is broken into phases. The merchant’s time frame for response can vary widely based on the card network and other factors.
Generally speaking, merchants will have 30 days to respond to each phase when dealing with Visa or Discover chargebacks. For Mastercard, the time limit is 45 days per phase, and with American Express, the response time frame is only 20 days per phase.
What Factors Determine a Chargeback Time Limit?
So far, we’ve mostly talked about time limits “in general.” What about specifics? How long do cardholders and merchants actually have to file or respond to chargebacks? And, who decides what these limits are?
Let’s start with cardholders. Legitimate cardholder disputes will most likely be cases of fraud, such as a stolen card or identity theft. Keeping in mind the potential shifting of start days, most chargeback reason codes allow 90-120 days from the transaction date to file a dispute.
Chargebacks can also be caused by processing errors on the merchant’s end, however. These usually have a smaller window of time in which to file a chargeback, as they are more likely to be caught by the bank or processor before reaching the consumer.
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The merchant will normally have a maximum of 30-45 days in which to respond to any given phase. That may sound like plenty of time, but there are other considerations.
As we mentioned earlier, it’s not just the card networks who can control the time frames for chargebacks. Acquirers have to meet the deadlines, too, and they may move up the merchant’s deadline to buy themselves a little more time.
For example, a Chase Bank cardholder will only have 60 days to dispute a transaction, despite the network’s limit being 120 days. The networks say merchants have a 45-day response window, but the Chase credit card chargeback time limit for merchants is 39 days.
On the other hand, PayPal—which can serve as a credit card processor for merchants—allows buyers up to 180 days to file a claim. That’s 50% more time than what the major card networks allow. The merchant, however, must respond within seven days.
There are two other points to consider here as well. First, while the chargeback time limit starts on "Day One" of each phase, merchants may not actually receive notice until a few days later. They may also need to leave 2-3 days for actual delivery, depending on the submission method. As one can see, a 30-day window can get much smaller very quickly.
Second, the point that qualifies as "Day One" will reset at each stage of the chargeback process. So, while the time limit on chargebacks is predetermined, it will still move around as one progresses to a different stage of the dispute:
We cannot stress this enough: All the limits presented here are based on the most current information available. They are subject to change, and may or may not apply in individual situations. Always check card network regulations and bank/processor requirements for definitive timelines.
Card Network Time Limits: Visa and Mastercard
When it comes to regulating chargeback time limits, the card networks themselves have the most influence. Each card brand has its own rules and uses its own terminology, even if the core elements are the same.
For each of the individual schemes, we’ve split the time limits into two categories: those that apply to the issuer/cardholder, and those that apply to the merchant/acquirer. Remember, any of these timeframes could be subject to exceptions. We'll start by examining the Visa Chargeback and Mastercard chargeback time limits.
Mastercard Chargeback Time Limits
Issuer/Cardholder: Mastercard users have 120 calendar days from the Central Site Business Date to file a chargeback in most situations. The CSBD would be the day the original transaction was processed, or the date the order was delivered.
Certain types of Mastercard disputes may have as few as 45 days. In other cases, customers may have over a year to file. We’ll discuss some of the exceptions later on.
Acquirers/Merchants: Merchants and acquirers generally have 45 days to respond to each phase of a Mastercard chargeback. An important exception is a request for information concerning a dispute. Merchants only have 18 days to respond to this.Learn more about Mastercard Chargeback Time Limits
Visa Chargeback Time Limits
Issuer/Cardholder: Visa cardholders can only file a chargeback within 120 days of the original transaction or delivery date, in most cases. Like Mastercard, Visa mandates shorter timeframes for certain disputes. In some cases, for instance, claims must be filed within 75 days of the transaction.
Acquirers/Merchants: For their part, acquirers and merchants must respond within 30 days of Day One for each phase. The one exception 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.Learn more about Visa Chargeback Time Limits
Card Network Time Limits: Amex & Discover
American Express and Discover are different from Visa and Mastercard. These companies operate as issuing banks, while also managing their own proprietary card networks. In contrast, Visa and Mastercard are both card networks who work with member banks to issue payment cards and deal with customers. American Express and Discover, on the other hand, do both: issue cards and process transactions from those cards.
What this means is that cardholders filing an American Express chargeback are also customers of the American Express issuing bank. That can make the overall process less complicated and more efficient, but in many ways it also constricts the merchant's ability to respond.
Amex Chargeback Time Limits
Issuer/Cardholder: In the past, Amex cardmembers had no time limits for disputing a charge. The company has since imposed a 120-day limit for filing almost all chargebacks. The start date may vary in some circumstances, but those are the only exceptions. However, cardmembers are limited to two disputes per transaction.
Acquirers/Merchants: When a card member contacts American Express about a dispute, the bank side of the company will either file the chargeback or send the merchant an inquiry. They then have 20 days to respond to the inquiry, either accepting the dispute or offering evidence that the chargeback is invalid.
In most instances, Amex will simply escalate the case straight to a chargeback. The company doesn’t have the same complex mechanism for merchants to contest disputes. If the bank decides the chargeback is legitimate, the merchant can’t really appeal to the card network, as the two are one and the same.Learn more about Amex Chargeback Time Limits
Discover Chargeback Time Limits
Issuer/Cardholder: While Discover largely still functions as its own bank and card network, it also works with other select issuers. The company’s chargeback process is therefore similar to Visa’s and Mastercard’s. Discover typically allows cardholders to file a dispute up to 120 days after the transaction.
Acquirers/Merchants: The merchant has 20 days for initial Discover responses. However, individual banks and processors may be more strict with timelines. Appealing the representment decision must be done within 30 calendar days.
If there is a second chargeback, the merchant has 30 days to submit additional documents. Merchants have 15 calendar days to request that the case progress to Discover arbitration.Learn more about Discover Chargeback Time Limits
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Reason Codes and Recurring Payments
Every chargeback is filed with a reason code that identifies the given reason for the dispute. These may impact the dispute time limits.
For example, some reason codes offer cardholders over a year to file. Others require banks to wait for a certain period before they can issue a chargeback. For defective or “Not as Described” reason codes, the 120-day window may still apply, but “Day One” will vary depending on the circumstances.
This can be particularly relevant for merchants using an installment billing (subscription) business model. In these situations, the merchant supplies goods or services on an ongoing basis, but the customer’s card may only be charged once a year. Not only can cardholders file a chargeback months beyond the actual transaction date, they may also be allowed to dispute back payments for several months—or even years—of the term of the subscription.Learn more about chargeback reason codes
Chargeback Time Limits: One More Thing to Worry About
Like other parts of the process, learning all the types and exceptions of chargeback time limits will take a lot of effort and money.
Understanding chargeback time limits is a critical part of recovering revenue, though. Without knowing how different banks, card schemes, and reason codes affect the timeframe, it’s extremely easy to miss a deadline…and automatically lose a case.
Most merchants find it hard to try and handle chargebacks in-house. Deadlines are firm, but they’re not standardized. One issuer may closely follow card scheme guidelines, while another may enact their own, stricter rules. Disputes can blindside a merchant months after the transaction was settled.
For merchants, it can seem like a no-win situation. Contesting chargebacks takes a lot of time and resources, with no guarantee of success. At the same time, not fighting illegitimate chargebacks is essentially throwing away revenue. 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 the merchant's behalf. Contact us today to learn more about ensuring representment success amid restrictive chargeback time limits.
What is the time limit on chargebacks?
Chargeback time limits refer to the deadlines merchants, banks, and cardholders have when filing different phases of the chargeback process. Also called credit card dispute time limits, they vary from one card brand to another, but are often set at 120 days following a purchase.
How long does a cardholder have to file a chargeback?
In general, cardholders have 120 days in which to dispute a purchase. This is not the same across the board, however: different banks, card networks, and merchants can all have an impact on the exact time frame. For certain types of chargebacks, the limit could be as low as 75 days.
How long does a company have to fight chargebacks?
Most responses must be made within 30-45 days. Part of that window, however, will be taken up by the merchant's processor and acquirer. It is probable that the merchant will only have a few days to create a response.
What happens if I miss the chargeback time limit deadline?
A timely response does not guarantee a reversal, but missing the deadline usually means the merchant's case is thrown out, no questions asked.
What types of things can affect the chargeback time limit deadline?
Each individual card network sets its own base regulations. Every bank brand can set tighter timeframes for its cardholders. Processors can also impact deadlines, and even the type of chargeback itself may affect the allowed limit.