Fair Credit Billing Act provides protection to consumers

All Things Legal

By Jane M. Winand, Chief, Legal Assistance Division

Black Friday and Cyber Monday were record breakers for online retailers as well as brick and mortar stores. Consumers made the majority of purchases with credit cards.

As the monthly credit card bills roll in, it is important to monitor each account and inspect each monthly bill to make sure that there aren’t any errors. Should you discover an error on your credit card bill, the Fair Credit Billing Act, or FCBA, gives you some protection.

The FCBA applies to “open end” credit accounts like credit cards and revolving charge accounts, such as those offered by department stores. The FCBA does not cover installment contracts, loans or extensions of credit you repay on a fixed schedule such as car loans.

Some of the more common billing mistakes covered by the FCBA include charges made by someone on your account without your permission, charges for items or services you’ve already paid for, charges for items or services you never received, charges for items you returned, and even basic mistakes in addition or subtraction.

The FCBA does not cover charges for items you do not want any longer or charges for items that you unsuccessfully tried to return.

If your credit card bill has a mistake, first read the bill in its entirety, even the small print. If the bill includes instructions on how to notify the creditor about billing errors, follow those instructions and make notes on who you spoke with and what arrangements were to be made to correct the mistake.

However, if the bill does not detail a dispute process, you may then exercise your rights under the FCBA. To take advantage of the law’s consumer protections, you must write to the creditor at the address given for “billing inquiries” — not the address for sending your payments —and include your name, address, account number and a description of the billing error.

You must send your letter so that it reaches the creditor within 60 days after the first bill with the error was mailed to you. It’s a good idea to send your letter by certified mail and ask for a return receipt. Include in the letter copies (not originals) of sales slips or other documents that support your position that a billing error has been made.

Retain a copy of your dispute letter and documents for your records.

Under the FCBA, calling the creditor or writing a short note on the part of the bill you send back with your payment is not enough. You must notify the creditor in a detailed writing.

However, you still need to pay the portion of the bill that is actually correct.

After receiving your complaint, the creditor has 30 days to act. The creditor must look into your claim and either correct the mistake or explain to you why there is no mistake.

The creditor must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (and not more than 90 days) after receiving your complaint.

If the billing mistake is not corrected and you need further assistance, consider filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint.

Maryland residents should also call the Maryland Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 410-528-8662.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with a Fort Meade Legal Assistance attorney, call 301-677-9504 or 301-677-9536.

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