Getting a refund tougher if you buy with debit card

To Her Credit columnist 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, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Question Dear Sally,
I used a MasterCard debit card to put down a deposit on furniture equal to one-half the purchase price. The MasterCard has a 90-day dispute window. Unfortunately, I am now at 80 days and reported to my bank that the retailer seems to be stalling and has not scheduled delivery of the furniture.

I confirmed with the large, reputable manufacturer that the production time for what I ordered is five weeks. It has now been 11 weeks. If the retailer keeps my money, and the bank cannot refund it to me because I am outside their 90-day window, I wanted to see if I might have another option.

My question is: If I make full payment on the furniture, then the purchase date would be the day I make full payment, correct? If so, can I file a dispute for the entire amount and get my money refunded? Thanks for any help you can provide. – Jennifer


Dear Jennifer,
Ordering furniture is often fraught with delays, although I'm glad you picked a large and reputable manufacturer. A big company should be able to be more responsive with disgruntled customers and potential refunds.

I don't think your idea will work, though. Instead of adding the remaining balance of your purchase to your debit card, I would begin disputing the charge right away. There's no erasing the fact that you made the first payment 80 days ago. Debiting the rest of the purchase now would be considered a second purchase, with a new dispute window.

Why not wait? Well, according to the Federal Trade Commission website: “You may not be able to dispute a debit and get a refund for nondelivery or late delivery. Still, some debit card issuers may voluntarily offer protections and solutions to problems like not getting merchandise you bought with a debit card.”

Your bank has rules about when it must honor a dispute, but it is not limited to only going as far as those rules. But I'd rather be safe than sorry. The good news is that when you file a debit card dispute, your bank is required to investigate, but it can take more than a month to get an answer. If you signed for the debit card purchase as "credit" instead of using a PIN, then your dispute will have to follow MasterCard rules, which helps.

For future large-ticket purchases, use a credit card, as they carry more protections. The Fair Credit Billing Act gives you rights to dispute charges made with a credit card, and even withhold payments under certain circumstances. Don't risk the cash in your bank account. Disputing a charge with a credit card company is simpler with less risk to your financial well-being. What you also could try to do before you dispute the debit card charge is ask the furniture manufacturer to refund your money and put the first down payment on a credit card instead. Then you can relax a bit knowing if the furniture doesn't arrive, you can dispute the credit card charge months later.

I wouldn’t wait any longer. If you have called the place you ordered the furniture from and haven’t received a satisfactory answer, you should write or call your bank card company and explain the situation. If the expected delivery date was five weeks, and it’s now been 11 weeks, it’s been six weeks since the expected delivery date, or about 42 days. Assuming your dispute window starts the day you should have received your furniture, you have a little more than half of your 90-day window to enter a dispute. Be sure to use the address on the back of your statement for disputes and billing inquiries.

See related: How to dispute a debit card purchase

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Updated: 02-21-2019