How to undo unauthorized card charges
To Her Credit
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also writes regularly for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Steward Radio and other programs. See her website SallyHerigstad.com
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Dear To Her Credit,
I am in a dilemma. When we were preparing for the funeral of
my mother, I provided my personal credit card to the funeral home to charge the
newspaper obituary. Several days later, I discovered that the total bill for
funeral expenses was charged to my credit card.
What recourse do I have to remove this debt from my credit
card? Thank you for your advice. -- Sharon
Unless you signed for or otherwise authorized the funeral expenses
with your card, you shouldn't have to pay them. The fact that the funeral home
had your card for the purpose of the newspaper obituary doesn't give it the
right to use the account for anything else.
Putting all the charges on your card may have been an innocent
error on the funeral home's part. However, if you didn't authorize charges, you
can have them removed from your bill.
To dispute this charge on your credit card bill, first try
contacting the funeral home and explaining what happened. Be sure you have
copies of any receipts that you did sign. The funeral home may remove the
charge. If you know who should pay the bill -- for example, your mother's estate
or another family member -- try to work with the funeral home to make sure the
bill gets paid.
If the funeral home won't remove the charge, you should send
a letter to the credit card company. Include your name, address, account number
and a description of the billing error to the address given for "billing
inquiries." Make sure the issuer receives it within 60 days of sending you
the bill with the unauthorized charges. Keep a copy of all your correspondence.
You may also dispute the charge online with your card issuer on its website.
The Fair Credit Billing Act is the federal law that protects
consumers from unfair billing practices, such as unauthorized charges. Under
this law, the bank must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days
after they receive it. The dispute must be solved within two billing cycles, or
before no more than 90 days, whichever is less.
While you are disputing the unauthorized charge on your
card, be sure you do not pay the charge. Some card issuers will remove the
charge from your bill while it is in dispute. If there are other charges on your bill, of course you must pay those and any interest associated with those purchases. If the funeral home disputes the
bill by saying the charge was authorized, the credit card company makes a
decision. If it decides the funeral home is correct, it may reinstate the
charge on your bill. If that happens, your only recourse is to go to court.
Instead of disputing the charges, another option is to pay
the funeral expenses on your card and then get reimbursed for them. This should
work if another person or your mother's estate should have paid the funeral
expenses. If your mother's estate has any funds, final expenses such as funeral
bills are generally given top priority before many other bills and debts. The
reimbursement you receive for funeral expenses should not reduce your share of
See related: How to win a credit charge-back dispute
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Published: December 27, 2013