Don't Run Out the Clock: Understanding Chargeback Time Limits

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Table of Contents

  1. What are chargeback time limits?
  2. When can I chargeback a transaction?
  3. Do banks really investigate disputes?
  4. How long do I have to respond to a chargeback?
  5. What are Visa's Chargeback Time Limits?
  6. How long do I have to respond to a Visa Chargeback?
  7. What are MasterCard's Chargeback Time Limits?
  8. How long do I have to respond to Mastercard Chargebacks?
  9. What are American Express’ Chargeback Time Limits?
  10. How long do I have to respond to American Express chargebacks?
  11. What are Discover's Chargeback Time Limits?
  12. How long do I have to respond to Discover chargebacks?

When it comes to chargebacks, time limits are everything. Cardholders, merchants, and banks are all subject to chargeback time limits that determine how long they have to initiate or respond to various steps in the chargeback process, and time limits for chargebacks can vary considerably, depending on the nature of the chargeback dispute and card networks involved.

What is a chargeback time limit? Every chargeback has a timeframe that banks, merchants, and cardholders must abide by during the dispute process. This timeframe differs for each major card network, but they do share many similarities across the different networks. 

When you're dealing proactively with chargebacks and trying to successfully challenge as many illegitimate chargebacks as possible, it's of vital importance that you understand the chargeback time constraints you may be working under, complete all necessary preparations while you can, and file your responses on time.

Enterprise Chargebacks

What are chargeback time limits?

To better serve customers and place limits on how long a cardholder or merchant can drag out a chargeback, card networks put chargeback time limits in place. These time limits help all parties understand what the limitations are for disputes and how long they have to get documentation and other information to relevant parties in a timely manner. 

When can I chargeback a transaction?

Cardholders can chargeback transactions in cases of fraud. This includes:
  1. True fraud due to identity theft. If a cardholder has had their information stolen and used as part of a fraudulent purchase, then they can claim a chargeback. 
  2. Lost or stolen cards. if a cardholder loses their card or it is stolen and used for purchases, then they can claim a chargeback. 
Merchants and banks should, in both cases, not fight such chargebacks. However, if there is reason to believe that the chargeback is fraudulent, or if they cardholder is attempting to avoid paying for an accidental charge, then disputing the chargeback is called for. 
Merchants have a strict set of requirements for how long they have to respond to a chargeback. if a merchant does not respond to a cardholder's chargeback in that time, then they automatically forfeit and lose the dispute. 

Do banks really investigate disputes?

In certain phases. When a dispute begins, the issuing bank will review evidence from the cardholder and, if necessary, field their own fraud team to conduct an investigation to investigate their claims and make a judgement. 
Following that, the merchant's acquiring bank will not investigate. it is typically up to the merchant and their chargeback management team to handle the investigation and counter dispute.

How long do I have to respond to a chargeback?

Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover all have similar, but non-identical, chargeback terms and time limits.

To deal with chargebacks effectively, you should be familiar with the particulars of each type of card your business accepts.  You don't ever want to be in the position of getting hit with a fraudulent chargeback and losing money, simply because you let a deadline slip by.

What are Visa's Chargeback Time Limits?

For Visa, the clock starts ticking on the transaction processing date. Cardholders have a 120 day chargeback filing window after the transaction processing date. The time limit varies, depending on the reason for the chargeback.

Generally speaking, cardholders have 120 days to file a chargeback for issues related to: 

  • counterfeit or non-counterfeit fraud
  • other cases of fraud (with or without card present)
  • late presentment
  • an incorrect transaction code, currency, account number, or amount
  • duplicate processing
  • merchandise not being received or received defective
  • a canceled recurring transaction

Cardholders see their filing time reduced to 75 days, for issues related to:

  • a card recovery bulletin (for stolen, lost, past-due, false, or otherwise problematic cards)
  • declined authorization, no authorization, or invalid data

Merchants and banks likewise have time limits imposed on how long they can take to respond to a chargeback, via claims resolution.  

How long do I have to respond to a Visa Chargeback?

In most cases, the maximum time allowed for a response is 30 calendar days.

This time limit is applicable to the following circumstances:

  • The acquiring bank has 30 days to fight a chargeback, by submitting a chargeback representment
  • The issuing bank has 30 days to initiate a pre-arbitration chargeback, in response to a chargeback representment
  • Both the acquiring bank and the issuing bank have 10 days to pursue arbitration after the pre-arbitration chargeback occurs

Once any of these chargebacks occur (the initial chargeback, the chargeback Download the eGuide, 4 Reasons to Hire a Chargeback Management Companyrepresentment, or the pre-arbitration chargeback), the bank that submitted the chargeback has five days to provide documentation that supports their claims

What are MasterCard's Chargeback Time Limits?

Depending on the circumstances, the time limit in most cases is 120 days.

MasterCard's process is similar, but it has different chargeback time limits and uses specific terminology.  MasterCard uses the term "Central Site Business Date" to refer to the date of any transaction that effectively resets the clock on how soon a response must be filed.  At the start of the process, the Central Site Business Date is the date of the original transaction.

For most issues, cardholders have 120 days to file a chargeback for a MasterCard transaction.  This, including issues related to:

  • discrepancy in the transaction amount
  • lack of cardholder authorization
  • fraudulent processing of transactions
  • canceled recurring transaction
  • late presentment
  • an incorrect currency code
  • questionable client activity
  • credit posted as a purchase
  • product not as described
  • goods or services not being provided
  • ATM dispute
  • credit not being processed
  • chip or PIN liability shift
  • any other unclassified cardholder dispute

The time limit for MasterCard chargeback filings drops down to 45 days for:

  • a warning bulletin file
  • an account number not being on file 

In chargebacks arising from the “Credit Not Processed” reason code, banks must wait 15 days after the date on the credit document, the date merchandise was returned, or the date services were terminated, before processing chargebacks.

How long do I have to respond to Mastercard Chargebacks?

As with Visa, 45 days is the magic number, when it comes to allowing time for the merchant or the acquiring bank to issue dispute responses.

The time limits are the same, but MasterCard uses the following terms:

Default Term

MasterCard Term

Original transaction

First Presentment

Initial chargeback request

First Chargeback

Chargeback representation

Second Presentment

Pre-arbitration chargeback

Arbitration Chargeback

Each of these transactions resets the Central Site Business Date, meaning that all chargeback time limits are calculated forward from that date.  For any chargeback reason code, an issuing bank may only file one chargeback per transaction, within the given time frame

What are American Express’ Chargeback Time Limits?

For cardholders, there is no chargeback time limit for disputing transactions.

How long do I have to respond to American Express chargebacks?

American Express gives merchants 20 days to respond after a chargeback has been issued.

American Express' chargeback process sometimes begins with an inquiry to the merchant, to obtain information that can be used to verify the disputed transaction.  The merchant has 20 days to respond to this inquiry, or the inquiry automatically becomes a chargeback.

What are Discover's Chargeback Time Limits?

Although they recommend consumers file disputes within 120 days, Discover does not impose a strict chargeback time limit on cardholders' rights to dispute a transaction.

How long do I have to respond to Discover chargebacks?

They typically begin the chargeback process by sending an inquiry – which they call a ticket retrieval – to the merchant. The merchant then has 20 days to respond, or the inquiry may turn into a chargeback.

Put Dispute Time Back on Your Side

Every time a customer sets a chargeback request into motion, the clock starts ticking on the merchant's ability to gather and present evidence to refute the chargeback.  

The best way to make sure you're not losing revenue – by missing deadlines, or by getting overwhelmed with the task of finding and organizing the documents you need to fight chargebacks – is to have the support of a dedicated team who has the resources and the know-how to put up a compelling case on your behalf – on time, every time.

Are you looking to stop the ever-growing chargeback trend and protect your revenues?  If so, you must first take steps to understand the problem.  Download the free Chargebacks 101 Guide to better understand the root causes of chargebacks, and how the overall chargeback process works, so you can fight customer chargebacks and prevent them in the first place.

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