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How to undo unauthorized card charges

By

To Her Credit
To Her Credit, Sally Herigstad
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 for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets.
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Question

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

Answer

Dear 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 any inheritance.

See related: How to win a credit charge-back dispute

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Gary Foreman, New Frugal You columnist Gary Foreman,
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Published: December 27, 2013


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