What is a Chargeback? | Chargeback Gurus


Chargebacks are an important protection that increases public confidence in credit and debit card payments, especially in online transactions. However, they can also be a huge headache for the merchants that have to deal with them. Many customers dispute transactions that don’t fall under the narrow list of problems chargebacks are intended to address or file a dispute without first contacting the merchant.

The overall number of chargebacks is increasing every year, and the coronavirus pandemic caused a huge spike in disputes in 2020 and 2021. Existing evidence on customer behavior suggests that most customers who dispute a charge once will do so again, so there’s reason to believe the number of chargebacks might not simply return to pre-pandemic levels. As chargebacks have increased, more and more businesses are taking action to prevent and fight them.

If you have any questions about how to protect your business from chargebacks, please feel free to reach out to us directly.

Table of Contents

  1. What is a chargeback?
  2. How do chargebacks work?
  3. How many chargebacks occur annually?
  4. How do you file a chargeback?
  5. Why do customers file chargebacks?
  6. When can a cardholder legitimately dispute a charge?
  7. What are chargeback reason codes?
  8. American Express Chargeback Reason Codes
  9. Visa Chargeback Reason Codes
  10. Mastercard Chargeback Reason Codes
  11. Discover Chargeback Reason Codes
  12. What are the three types of chargebacks?
  13. What is the EMV Liability Shift?
  14. Who is liable for chargebacks?
  15. Should merchants fight chargebacks?
  16. How do you write a chargeback rebuttal letter?
  17. Can you prevent all chargebacks?
  18. How much are chargeback fees?
  19. Know the facts about chargebacks
  20. What’s the difference between a chargeback and a refund?
  21. How long do you have to fight a chargeback?
  22. What is a chargeback threshold?

What is a chargeback?

A chargeback is a process by which a cardholder can dispute a charge on their debit or credit card and, if successful, have that charge refunded. Customers who want to dispute a charge contact their bank and provide information about the reason for the dispute.

The meaning of the word chargeback is fairly straightforward. The bank will charge back the amount of the disputed transaction to the merchant, returning the money to the cardholder without needing the merchant’s approval.

When a cardholder disputes a charge, banks typically review the transaction, and if the reason for the dispute is valid, provide a provisional credit to the customer’s account while the chargeback claim is resolved.

Chargebacks for credit cards were first implemented in the 1974 Fair Credit Billing amendment (§ 161. Correction of billing errors) to the Truth in Lending Act, and debit card chargebacks were implemented later by the Electronic Funds Transfer Act in 1978. These acts were intended to outline protective measures for consumers.

Chargebacks were a direct response to widespread abuse by fraudsters who could use and abuse stolen credit information without much the cardholder could do about it.

Think about it this way: A credit card is lost or stolen and used to make fraudulent purchases. Before the Fair Credit Billing Amendment, the cardholder would most likely have little or no recourse to get their money back once the merchant had been paid. The chargeback process allows consumers to get their refunds from their banks, and to let banks (rather than cardholders and merchants) make decisions on how to handle the situation. While the process was not yet called a chargeback, it would become the foundation for the dispute system we know today.

How do chargebacks work?

Chargebacks are initiated by cardholders, evaluated by banks, and paid for by merchants. A single chargeback, from initiation to resolution, can last months or even years.

  1. The cardholder disputes a transaction with their issuing bank who then extends provisional credit.
  2. The issuing bank may optionally send a retrieval request to the acquiring bank (the merchant’s bank) to obtain additional information.
  3. The acquiring and issuing banks resolve the dispute if possible, otherwise the acquiring bank transmits a chargeback notification through the acquiring bank to the merchant.
  4. The merchant either accepts the chargeback or fights it by resubmitting the charge along with a rebuttal letter and the necessary evidence to disprove the claim through representment.
  5. The issuing bank will review the new evidence and make a final decision. If they find in favor of the merchant, the provisional credit will be reversed and returned to the merchant.
  6. At this point, any party unhappy with the decision can request further review, which puts the chargeback process into the pre-arbitration phase. *Note: The back-and-forth of the pre-arbitration and arbitration phases can last for months, and arbitration fees adding up to hundreds of dollars must be paid to the card networks by the losing party.
  7. If the banks cannot come to an agreement during pre-arbitration, the process enters arbitration. The card network will examine the evidence and make a final decision.

Time limits for merchants to respond to a dispute vary based on the credit card network and the reason code. Note that the timer begins when the chargeback is initiated, not when the merchant is notified, so the merchant’s deadline may not be the exact time frame outlined by the card network’s policies.

How many chargebacks occur annually?

Chargebacks are initiated by cardholders, evaluated by banks, and paid for by merchants. A single chargeback, from initiation to resolution, can last months or even years.

Even worse, chargebacks continue to grow year after year. The total amount of money lost by merchants due to chargebacks is anticipated to exceed 40 billion dollars before 2025.

How do you file a chargeback?

Filing a chargeback without first consulting the merchant is not advised and, in some cases, unlawful. If you’ve already attempted to reconcile the issue with the merchant with no success, simply call your bank and request to dispute the transaction.

The bank will typically give you a provisional credit for the amount of the charge while they investigate the validity of the claim. Be prepared to describe the problems you’ve had with the merchant and the steps you’ve taken to resolve the matter.

Why do customers file chargebacks?

Customers often dispute a charge when they don’t recognize a transaction or are somehow dissatisfied with their purchase. As friendly fraud becomes more prevalent, it's important to note that in some cases the customer may simply be trying to get something for free.

Every chargeback has a reason code associated with it. The major card networks (Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express) established these codes to clearly identify the reason a chargeback was requested.

What are chargeback reason codes?

Reason codes tell merchants the reason the customer is disputing a charge, according to the information they provided to their bank. Each reason code has certain standards of proof and evidence associated with it that determine whether the chargeback is valid or not.

While the reason code will tell you the reason that the cardholder gave to the bank for why they wanted to dispute the charge, it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t always the real reason for the chargeback.

Some customers may incorrectly think that a charge on their account was unauthorized because they don’t recognize the name of the business listed in their account. Others may have forgotten a recurring charge they agreed to.

There are also some customers who want to file a chargeback because of a negative experience they had with the merchant, but know that the reason they have isn’t legitimate. In order to get the chargeback, they lie to the bank about their reason for requesting one. In some cases, a customer may have made a purchase with the intention of fraudulently disputing the charge later in an effort to get their money back.

When can a cardholder legitimately dispute a charge?

Chargebacks are not something that cardholders can just use whenever they don't like an item they purchased. There is usually only one situation where a cardholder should reach out to a bank first for chargebacks: True fraud.

If a cardholder is a victim of true fraud (card theft, identity theft, etc.) then a chargeback is not only legitimate, but is the ethical route for the issuing bank and the merchant to take.

Customers can also file chargebacks when they didn’t receive the product or service they paid for, whether because of a lost or damaged shipment or an incorrect item being sent. Being double-charged or overcharged the agreed purchase amount is another legitimate reason for a dispute. However, these problems are usually resolved more quickly and easily when the customer contacts the merchant, and a chargeback should only be used when the merchant is uncooperative.

There are multiple meanings to the word "chargeback", based on the cardholder's actions. The primary legitimate use of the word is for true fraud chargebacks, but some customers commit "friendly fraud" by filing a chargeback without a legitimate reason.

Customers can’t dispute a charge simply because they are dissatisfied with the product or service they received. These issues must always be resolved with the merchant directly.

American Express Chargeback Reason Codes

Learn how to fight each of these American Express Chargeback Codes >>>

Chargeback Code Description
A01 Charge Amount Exceeds Authorization Amount
A02 No Valid Authorization
A08 Authorization Approval Expired
F10 Missing Imprint
F14 Missing Signature
F24 No Card Member Authorization
F29 Card Not Present
F30 EMV Counterfeit
F31 EMV Lost/Stolen/Non-Received
Card Member Dispute  
C02 Credit Not Processed
C04 Goods/Services Returned or Refused
C05 Goods/Services Cancelled
C08 Goods/Services Not Received
C14 Paid by Other Means
C18 “No Show” or CARDeposit Cancelled
C28 Cancelled Recurring Billing
C31 Goods/Services Not as Described
C32 Goods/Services Damaged or Defective
Processing Error  
P01 Unassigned Card Number
P03 Credit Processed as Charge
P04 Charge Processed as Credit
P05 Incorrect Charge Amount
P07 Late Submission
P08 Duplicate Charge
P22 Non-Matching Card Number
P23 Currency Discrepancy
R03 Insufficient Reply
R13 No Reply
M01 Chargeback Authorization
M10 Vehicle Rental - Capital Damages
M49 Vehicle Rental - Theft or Loss of Use
FR2 Fraud Full Recourse Program
FR4 Immediate Chargeback Program
FR6 Partial Immediate Chargeback Program

Visa Chargeback Reason Codes

Learn how to fight each of these Visa Chargeback Codes >>>

Chargeback Code Description
57 Fraudulent Multiple Transactions
62 Counterfeit Transaction
81 Fraud - Card-Present Environment
83 Fraud - Card-Absent Environment
93 Visa Fraud Monitoring Program
10.1 EMV Liability Shift Counterfeit Fraud
10.2 EMV Liability Shift Non-Counterfeit Fraud
10.3 Other Fraud — Card Present Environment
10.4 Other Fraud — Card Absent Environment
10.5 Visa Fraud Monitoring Program
70 Card Recovery Bulletin or Exception File
71 Declined Authorization
72 No Authorization
73 Expired Card
78 Service Card Violation
11.1 Card Recovery Bulletin
11.2 Declined Authorization
11.3 No Authorization
Processing Errors  
12.1 Late Presentment
12.2 Incorrect Transaction Code
12.3 Incorrect Currency
12.4 Incorrect Account Number
12.5 Incorrect Amount
12.6 Duplicate Processing/Paid by Other Means
12.7 Invalid Data
Point-of-Interaction Error  
74 Late Presentment
76 Incorrect Currency or Transaction Code
77 Non-Matching Account Number
80 Incorrect Transaction Amount or Account Number
82 Duplicate Processing
86 Paid by Other Means
Consumer Disputes  
30 Services Not Provided or Merchandise Not Received
41 Cancelled Recurring Transaction
53 Not as Described or Defective Merchandise
75 Transaction Not Recognized
85 Credit Not Processed
90 Non-Receipt of Cash or Load Transaction Value at ATM
13.1 Merchandise/Services Not Received
13.2 Cancelled Recurring
13.3 Not as Described or Defective Merchandise/Services
13.4 Counterfeit Merchandise
13.5 Misrepresentation
13.6 Credit Not Processed
13.7 Cancelled Merchandise/Services
13.8 Original Credit Transaction Not Accepted
13.9 Non-Receipt of Cash or Load Transaction Value

Mastercard Chargeback Reason Codes

Learn how to fight each of these Mastercard Chargeback Codes >>>

Chargeback Code Description
4837 No Cardholder Authorization
4840 Fraudulent Processing of Transaction
4849 Questionable Merchant Activity
4863 Cardholder Does Not Recognize — Potential Fraud
4870 Chip Liability Shift
4871 Chip / PIN Liability Shift
4807 Warning Bulletin File
4808 Requested / Required Authorization Not Obtained
4812 Account Number Not on File
Point-of-Interaction Error  
4834 Point-of-Interaction Error
4831 Transaction Amount Differs
4842 Late Presentment
4846 Correct Transaction Currency Code Not Provided
4850 Credit Posted as Purchase
4999 Domestic Chargeback Dispute (Europe Region Only)
Cardholder Disputes  
4853 Cardholder Dispute – Defective / Not as Described
4841 Cancelled Recurring Transaction
4854 Cardholder Dispute – Not Elsewhere Classified (U.S. Region Only)
4855 Non-receipt of Merchandise
4859 Cardholder Disputes
4860 Credit Not Processed

Discover Chargeback Reason Codes

Learn how to fight each of these Discover Chargeback Codes >>>

Chargeback Code Description
UA01 Fraud – Card Present Transaction
UA02 Fraud – Card Not Present Transaction
UA05 Fraud – Chip Counterfeit Transaction
UA06 Fraud – Chip and PIN Transaction
UA10 Request Transaction Receipt (swiped card transactions)
UA11 Cardholder Claims Fraud (swiped transaction, no signature)
NA No Authorization
DA Declined Authorization
AT Authorization Noncompliance
Processing Errors  
IN Invalid Card Number
LP Late Presentation
5 Good Faith Investigation
AA Does Not Recognize
AP Recurring Payments
AW Altered Amount
CD Credit/Debit Posted Incorrectly
DP Duplicate Processing
IC Illegible Sales Data
NF Non-Receipt of Cash from ATM
PM Paid by Other Means
RG Non-Receipt of Goods, Services, or Cash
RM Cardholder Disputes Quality of Goods or Services
RN2 Credit Not Processed
DC Dispute Compliance
EX Expired Card
NC Not Classified

What are the three types of chargebacks?

The three types of chargebacks are true fraud, friendly fraud, and merchant error. Each type results from different circumstances and should be handled in a different way. Friendly fraud is by far the most common type of chargeback, making up 60%-80% of all chargebacks.

True fraud

True fraud chargebacks are what chargebacks were invented for: unauthorized charges against a credit card by a scammer or identity thief. Merchants are strongly advised not to waste time or resources attempting to dispute these chargebacks.

True fraud chargebacks are best prevented through fraud prevention tools. AVS and CVV matching are the bare minimum, but many merchants also use 3-D Secure 2.0 or third-party tools that use machine learning to try to weed out fraudulent transactions.

Friendly fraud

Friendly fraud chargebacks are when customers report valid charges as fraudulent to get the charge reversed. They might do this deliberately, with malicious or criminal intent, or they might do it out of impatience or confusion. Friendly fraud chargebacks often masquerade as true fraud chargebacks, with the customer falsely claiming they never authorized the charge.

These chargebacks are difficult to prevent, but can be fought through representment to recover lost revenue. Customers who file friendly fraud chargebacks can also be blacklisted.

Merchant error

Merchant error chargebacks occur when the cause of the chargeback is an error made by the merchant, such as shipping the wrong item. Disputes like this can sometimes be fought effectively, but the flaws in merchant operations these chargebacks reveal must be remedied to prevent similar future chargebacks.

Merchant error chargebacks can be prevented by improving business operations, by having easily available and helpful customer service, and by having a generous refund policy.

What is the EMV Liability Shift?

October 1st, 2015, the EMV Liability Shift went into effect. This means that merchants using the magnetic stripe on a card that has an EMV chip will be automatically held liable for any fraud or chargeback associated with that transaction.

The basic idea is that if an EMV card is used fraudulently and the merchant had not upgraded their processing equipment to EMV-compliant standards, the blame for that fraudulent transaction lies with the merchant.

The EMV Liability Shift caused most merchants to upgrade to EMV payment technology, which is much less vulnerable to fraud than traditional magnetic strips. However, it may also have resulted in an increase in fraudulent chargebacks. Savvy fraudsters have learned that if they convince a merchant to swipe a card with an EMV chip and later dispute that charge, the merchant will lose the dispute.

Who is liable for chargebacks?

Merchants are liable for chargebacks in most cases and bear the burden of proof in any dispute. A merchant must make their case for why a chargeback should be reversed. If no action is taken by the merchant, the cardholder wins by default.

For retail merchants, if the purchase is made using an EMV chip, and the transaction turns out to be fraudulent, the issuing bank is held liable instead of the merchant. There is a similar exception for card-not-present transactions. If a merchant uses 3D Secure and the transaction is verified, the issuing bank is liable for all chargebacks associated with true fraud. In either case, the merchant is still responsible for chargebacks arising due to merchant errors.

Should merchants fight chargebacks?

In the event a chargeback seems illegitimate, it’s important merchants fight back through representment whenever possible. Though a customer might claim a transaction was fraudulent, merchants very often have the evidence they need to prove otherwise, which could allow them to recover their losses.

Merchants who receive a chargeback that they believe is unfounded have the right to dispute the case.

To do so, they’ll first need to submit a rebuttal letter to argue their case, along with a number of supporting documents and pieces of evidence. Exactly what evidence they’ll need will depend on the exact reason code associated with the chargeback.

When a merchant disputes a cardholder chargeback, it then enters representment. During this process, the merchant provides information regarding the transaction and why they believe that transaction was legitimate.

The merchant works with their sales Fight & Recover Chargebacks - Get The Guidedepartment and/or their chargeback management company to build a dispute package that outlines the evidence and attempts to convince the issuing bank according to that bank’s guidelines.

Following this, the acquiring bank sends the information back through the credit card network to the issuing bank, who makes their decision and informs the involved parties.

If you plan to dispute a chargeback, it’s important to act quickly. Issuers often lag behind when notifying acquirers and merchants of chargebacks, so you may have a very small window in which to respond. Having a chargeback representment team at your disposal can help you act swiftly and efficiently, no matter what the deadline may be.

How do you write a chargeback rebuttal letter?

Depending on the credit or payment provider, you can either write a letter or submit a form containing your dispute information package. A rebuttal letter outlines your case and addresses the cardholder's complaint.

A prompt rebuttal later can help you better address fraudulent chargebacks and win disputes. When done right, a rebuttal letter provides a simple overview of why the customer’s claims are false and what evidence you have to prove it. When disputing friendly fraud chargebacks, a good rebuttal letter combined with sufficient evidence will typically convince the issuing bank to rule in your favor and return your revenue.

Can you prevent all chargebacks?

Not every dispute can be prevented. Some are the result of genuine criminal activity, and some come about because of mistakes or oversights on the merchant’s behalf. When appropriate measures are taken, merchants can reduce their chargebacks by about 70%.

Studying and fighting disputes will help you learn why they’re happening to you, and addressing those root causes is by far the best thing you can do to prevent future chargebacks.

How much are chargeback fees?

Chargeback fees typically range from $20-$100 depending on your acquiring bank. However, the true cost of a chargeback is often up to 2.5 times the transaction value. So, for a $100 chargeback, a merchant would pay $250 in fees, fines, customer acquisition costs, and more.

Expense Physical Goods Digital Goods & Services
Transaction Cost $250 $250
Processing Fee $10 $10
Chargeback Fee $25 $25
Product/Service Cost $75 $50
Marketing Cost $100 $100
Fraud Management Cost $5 $5
Fulfillment Cost $5 $3
Customer Service Cost $2 $2
Operations Cost $50 $35
Total Revenue Loss $522 $480
True Cost 2.1x 1.92x

Chargebacks can threaten your cash flow and put your merchant accounts at risk, too. They can increase your merchant account costs or cause your accounts to be shut down, preventing you from accepting payments altogether.

Know the facts about chargebacks

When you understand what chargebacks are, you can fight them more effectively, learn from them, and take steps to prevent them. Even when choosing a chargeback management firm to deal with them for you, having a solid grounding in the facts about chargebacks will help you know whether that firm is providing you with a good return on your investment.

Regardless of your level of experience with chargebacks, Chargeback Gurus can guide you to the best possible outcomes for your company. Download your copy of the Chargebacks 101 Guide to better help you understand the causes of chargebacks, and how the overall chargeback process works so you can fight customer chargebacks and prevent them in the first place.


What’s the difference between a chargeback and a refund?

In a chargeback, the cardholder contacts their issuing bank to force a reversal of a transaction. In a refund, the customer contacts the merchant first, and the merchant can initiate a return payment, avoiding the fees and other consequences associated with chargebacks.

How long do you have to fight a chargeback?

Depending on the card network, merchants have between 7 and 30 days to respond to a chargeback. If the merchant takes no action by the deadline, they will lose by default, and may be assessed an additional fee for not responding.

What is a chargeback threshold?

A chargeback threshold is typically calculated as a ratio of chargebacks to total transactions, with 1% being the most common limit. Merchants exceeding their chargeback threshold may face penalties up to and including have their accounts terminated.

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