A Merchant's Guide to Chargeback Time Limits

For many merchants, chargebacks are a common source of frustration and confusion. Part of this comes from the fact that every card network sets its own rules for the chargeback process. While many of the basics tend to be similar from one network to another, one area in which the networks differ significantly is when it comes to the time limits and deadlines involved.

Sometimes, these differing time limits can cause a merchant to miss a deadline they thought was still weeks away. When that happens, the merchant loses the opportunity to fight the chargeback, and they may even be charged an additional fee for failing to respond in time.

While we always recommend a prompt response to chargebacks, it's important to be aware of exactly how much time you have just in case something gets in the way of a timely response. To help you avoid missing those crucial deadlines, we'll go over the current time limits set by each of the card networks for every stage of the process.

  1. When Can You Chargeback a Transaction?
  2. What’s the Time Limit for Filing a Chargeback?
  3. How Long Do Merchants Have to Respond to a Chargeback?
  4. What Are Visa's Chargeback Time Limits?
  5. How Long Do Merchants Have to Respond to Visa Chargebacks?
  6. What Are Mastercard's Chargeback Time Limits?
  7. How Long Do Merchants Have to Respond to Mastercard Chargebacks?
  8. What Are American Express's Chargeback Time Limits?
  9. How Long Do Merchants Have to Respond to American Express Chargebacks?
  10. What Are Discover's Chargeback Time Limits?
  11. How Long Do Merchants Have to Respond to Discover Chargebacks?
  12. Put Dispute Time Back on Your Side
  13. Preventing Chargebacks: A Proactive Merchant's Guide
  14. Do Banks Investigate Chargebacks?
New call-to-action

Each card network establishes time limits for the various stages of the chargeback process in order to ensure that it doesn’t drag out too long. Both sides of a dispute are subject to these time limits.

By establishing firm deadlines, the card networks make it clear how long each step in the process will take while providing time for the parties to gather whatever information is needed for the next step.

When Can You Chargeback a Transaction?

Cardholders can file a chargeback when they have been defrauded. This can include acts of merchant fraud, but it typically involves lost or stolen credit cards, stolen payment credentials, and account takeover attacks.

  • Lost or stolen credit cards: When an unauthorized third party uses a found or stolen card to make a purchase, the cardholder is entitled to a chargeback.
  • Stolen payment credentials: If a fraudster gains access to someone’s credit card information through something like a phishing scam, a database leak, or a server breach, the cardholder can chargeback any unauthorized transactions.
  • Account takeover attacks: Sometimes fraudsters gain access to a customer's account on an e-commerce site and use stored payment credentials to make purchases for themselves. The cardholder can obtain chargebacks for any such purchases.

Merchants shouldn't attempt to fight true fraud chargebacks. However, there are many instances where a customer falsely or incorrectly disputes a charge as fraudulent. This is called friendly fraud, and with the right evidence, merchants can fight these chargebacks and get them reversed.

There are also rare cases where a cardholder may be entitled to file a chargeback due to an uncooperative merchant.

On occasion, merchants will accidentally charge a customer twice for the same purchase, and sometimes merchandise gets lost or damaged in shipping. In these cases, most merchants will issue a refund as soon as they're made aware of the problem, but if the merchant refuses to offer a refund, the cardholder can file a chargeback. Cardholders are required to attempt to resolve these kinds of problems with the merchant before disputing a charge, but issuing banks don't always follow this rule with rigor.

While merchants can't fight legitimate chargebacks arising from these issues, they can prevent them by having readily accessible customer service and a refund policy that makes it easy for customers to obtain a satisfactory resolution.

What’s the Time Limit for Filing a Chargeback?

Each card network and issuing bank sets its own time limits for filing a chargeback, but U.S. law sets a minimum time limit of 60 days. Most banks give cardholders 120 days to dispute a charge.

How Long Do Merchants Have to Respond to a Chargeback?

The deadline for responding to a chargeback varies by card network, but the most common time limit is 30 days. Note that this is measured from the day the chargeback was filed, which may be several days prior to when the merchant is notified.

Learn How To Fight Them The Smart WayTo 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 chargeback and losing money simply because you let a deadline slip by.

One important thing to keep in mind is that merchants receive notice about chargebacks from their acquiring bank, not the card network. It's entirely possible for one or more days of a time limit to have gone by before a chargeback notification reaches you. Always work with your acquirer to ensure that you're receiving notifications as early as possible.

What Are Visa's Chargeback Time Limits?

For Visa, the clock starts ticking the day after the transaction processing date. In most cases, cardholders have a 120-day window after that date in which they may dispute a charge. However, there is also a shorter 75-day window for certain issues.

Cardholders have 120 days to file a chargeback for issues related to:

  • Fraud
  • Late presentment
  • An incorrect transaction code, currency, account number, or amount
  • Duplicate transaction processing
  • Merchandise that has not been received
  • Damaged or defective merchandise
  • A recurring transaction that had been canceled

Cardholders have 75 days to file a chargeback for issues related to:

  • A card recovery bulletin (for stolen, lost, past due, or counterfeit cards)
  • Declined authorization, no authorization, or invalid data

How Long Do Merchants Have to Respond to Visa Chargebacks?

Visa starts counting the days for their time limits the day after the chargeback progresses to a new step in the process. In most cases, merchants have 20 calendar days to respond. When deciding whether to request arbitration, a shorter 10-day deadline applies.

These are the key time limits to be aware of:

  • The merchant has 20 days to fight a chargeback by submitting representment
  • The issuing bank has 20 days to initiate a pre-arbitration chargeback after receiving representment
  • Either party has 10 days to pursue arbitration after the pre-arbitration chargeback occurs

Each time a chargeback moves to a new stage of the process, the issuing bank has five days to provide documentation to both the merchant and the cardholder that explains the reasoning behind the decision they made.

What Are Mastercard's Chargeback Time Limits?

Mastercard has a time limit of 120 days for filing most chargebacks. Certain chargebacks are subject to a shorter deadline of 45 days. Unlike Visa, Mastercard starts the clock on the day of the transaction, not the day after.

Cardholders have 120 days to file a chargeback for issues related to:

  • A discrepancy in the transaction amount
  • No 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 provided
  • ATM dispute
  • Credit not processed
  • Chip or PIN liability shift
  • Any other unclassified cardholder dispute

The time limit for Mastercard chargebacks is just 45 days for:

  • A warning bulletin file
  • Account number not on file

Before processing 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.

How Long Do Merchants Have to Respond to Mastercard Chargebacks?

Mastercard allows 45 days to respond at each stage in the chargeback process. Again, Mastercard differs from Visa by starting their time limit on the day the process moves to the next step, not the day after.

These are the time limits you'll need to follow:

  • The merchant has 45 days to fight a chargeback by submitting representment
  • The issuer has 45 days to initiate an arbitration chargeback after receiving representment
  • Either party has 45 days to pursue arbitration after an arbitration chargeback

It's also important to note that Mastercard will sometimes request additional information about a dispute before escalating it to a chargeback. Merchants have 18 days to respond to these requests.

What Are American Express's Chargeback Time Limits?

In most cases, American Express cardholders can file a chargeback up to 120 days after the transaction occurs. For chargebacks related to damaged or defective items, the deadline is 120 days from the day the item was received.

For products or services that weren't received at all, cardholders have 120 days from the day they expected to receive the product or service or from the day they became aware that they would not receive it, whichever came first.

How Long Do Merchants Have to Respond to American Express Chargebacks?

American Express only gives merchants 20 days to respond at each stage of the chargeback process.

Since American Express typically acts and both the card network and the issuing bank, its process is a bit different. Cardholder disputes may begin with an inquiry to the merchant, in which case the merchant has 20 days to respond.

If the response to an inquiry doesn't resolve the issue, or if American Express decides to skip the inquiry altogether, a chargeback will be filed. Merchants also have 20 days to respond to a chargeback. There's no arbitration process for American Express chargebacks.

What Are Discover's Chargeback Time Limits?

Although they recommend customers file disputes within 120 days, Discover does not impose a strict time limit on cardholders' ability to dispute a transaction, choosing instead to determine whether to approve a dispute on a case-by-case basis.

How Long Do Merchants Have to Respond to Discover Chargebacks?

Merchants have 20 days to respond to a Discover inquiry, 30 days to respond to a chargeback, and 10 days to file for arbitration.

Like American Express, Discover may or may not send an inquiry before filing a chargeback, in which case merchants have 20 days to respond. When a chargeback occurs, merchants have 30 days to initiate a representment request. Once a chargeback has been decided, any party who wants to take the case to arbitration has 10 days to do so.

Put Dispute Time Back on Your Side

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

In order to successfully get a chargeback reversed and recover the lost revenue, the merchant must put together a representment package that includes compelling evidence proving that the chargeback is illegitimate and a rebuttal letter summarizing their case and the evidence that supports it. Especially for smaller merchants, that can be a difficult task to try to squeeze in along with normal business operations.

The best way to make sure you're not losing revenue is to have the support of a dedicated team with the resources and the know-how to submit a compelling case on your behalf on time, every time.

If you're looking to fight back against chargebacks, the first step is to understand the problem. If you want to be better equipped to fight and prevent chargebacks, download the free Chargebacks 101 Guide to learn all about the root causes of chargebacks and how the overall chargeback process works.


Preventing Chargebacks: A Proactive Merchant's Guide

While understanding the time limits for responding to chargebacks is crucial, proactive measures can significantly reduce the likelihood of disputes. Merchants who take a preemptive approach can create a robust defense against chargebacks and foster positive customer relationships.

Clear Communication and Transparency

One effective strategy is maintaining clear communication with customers throughout the purchasing process. Providing detailed product descriptions, transparent pricing, and ensuring that terms and conditions are easily accessible can prevent misunderstandings that may lead to chargebacks.

Robust Fraud Prevention Measures

Implementing robust fraud prevention measures is essential. Utilize advanced security protocols, address verification systems (AVS), and 3D Secure to authenticate transactions. Educate your customers about the security measures in place to instill confidence in the safety of their transactions.

Seamless Refund and Return Policies

A straightforward and customer-friendly refund and return policy can mitigate disputes. Ensure that your policy is clearly communicated on your website and invoices. Promptly process refunds and replacements, demonstrating a commitment to customer satisfaction.

Enhanced Customer Service

Investing in exceptional customer service can prevent chargebacks stemming from customer dissatisfaction. Respond promptly to inquiries, address concerns, and strive to resolve issues amicably. A satisfied customer is less likely to resort to a chargeback.

Accurate Transaction Descriptors

Ensure that your business name and descriptors on customers' statements are easily recognizable. Confusion regarding the transaction details can lead to chargebacks, but clear descriptors help customers identify purchases accurately.

Regular Transaction Monitoring and Analysis

Regularly monitor transactions for any unusual patterns or discrepancies. Anomalies may indicate fraudulent activity, allowing you to take preventive action before a chargeback occurs.

Stay Informed About Industry Trends

Keep abreast of industry trends and changes in payment regulations. Adapting your practices to align with the latest standards ensures that your business remains compliant and less susceptible to chargebacks.

Customer Education

Educate your customers on the proper procedures for addressing issues, emphasizing the importance of reaching out to customer support before initiating a chargeback. Many disputes can be resolved through direct communication.
By proactively implementing these strategies, merchants can not only reduce the incidence of chargebacks but also build a positive reputation and enhance customer trust. Taking preventive measures is a key aspect of a comprehensive chargeback management strategy, complementing the timely responses dictated by card networks' time limits.


Do Banks Investigate Chargebacks?

Yes, to an extent. Banks will make sure the customer's claim fits a legitimate chargeback reason before opening a dispute, and will examine any evidence provided by the merchant. However, banks tend to err on the side of the customer.

Thanks for following the Chargeback Gurus blog. Feel free to submit topic suggestions, questions or requests for advice to: win@chargebackgurus.com

Get the guide, Chargebacks 101: Understanding Chargebacks & Their Root Causes

Ready to Start Reducing Chargebacks?