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Understanding Your Credit Card Rights

Dec 14, 2007
When you apply for and are issued credit, your signature on the credit application acts as your acceptance of the terms set forth by the issuing financial institution. Even though it may seem that the issuer has the upper hand in all matters related to using the credit, that's not entirely true.

You have certain rights, many of which are provided under the Fair Credit Billing Act. What's important when exercising these rights is ensuring that you take all required steps in the order and time frame specified. Let' start with the biggest credit problem, billing disputes.

Billing disputes

Billing disputes in which merchants charge cardholders for items not received or items received defective happen all the time. According to the Fair Credit Billing Act, you have a right to dispute such charges by taking the following steps.

Step 1

Within 60 days of the date you received the first statement listing the disputed item, you must contact the issuer of the credit card in writing. Be sure to use the separate address listed for Billing Inquiries. Also be sure to mail your letter which must include your name as listed on the cardholder account, account number, details of the disputed item and what you want to happen (i.e., that the error be corrected).

Step 2

Before sending the letter, sign it and make a copy for your records. Include copies of all supporting documentation (dated receipts, etc.) and use a mailing method that offers proof of delivery such as certified mail. The issuer will notify you within 30 days of receipt of your written dispute and will then investigate the matter.

While the investigation is underway you are not required to pay for the item in dispute nor the corresponding finance charges. If the dispute sides in your favor, you are released from further liability in the matter. If not, you will be responsible for making the payment as outlined in cardholder agreement.

Unauthorized charges

This is another big problem with credit cards. However, as a cardholder, your responsibility for proven unauthorized charges is limited to $50; not the full amount. Unauthorized charges can easily run into the hundreds and thousands of dollars so even though it seems high, $50 is a small price to pay if you're ever a victim of identity theft.

When you cannot pay your bill

When you use credit cards to make purchases you're considered a debtor. If you're ever not able to repay credit debt that you incur, you'll likely be contacted by a debt collector.

In the past, debt collectors used all sorts of threatening and intimidating tactics in their efforts to collect debt. Fortunately, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits such unfair treatment of debtors. The Act also determines when and how debt collectors may contact debtors. For example, debt collectors are prohibited from making false statements about you or your debt or about any consequences of you not paying that debt, such as saying you'll be arrested or that your wages will be garnished.

None of the above means you're relieved of your responsibility to repay your debt. It just means you have the right to be treated fairly while debt collection efforts are underway.

For more information

If there's ever any question about your credit card rights and you need fair, unbiased answers including an explanation of your rights, try contacting the FTC at www.ftc.gov. There you can learn about credit card fraud, dealing with lost or stolen credit/debit cards, fair billing rights, unfair or deceptive business practices, internet and phone orders, and more. Information on these and other consumer issues is free.

To better understand your credit cards rights as they relate to complicated issues such as declaring bankruptcy or divorce, consider consulting an attorney.
About the Author
Read reviews for First Equity credit cards and cards from all other major issuers at CreditorWeb.com.
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