…The Bill is Incorrect?
If your bill contains an error, the creditor must explain to you – in writing – the corrections that will be made to your account. In addition to crediting your account, the creditor must remove all finance charges, late fees or other charges related to the error.
If the creditor determines that you owe a portion of the disputed amount, you must get a written explanation. You may request copies of documents proving you owe the money.
…The Bill is Correct?
If the creditor’s investigation determines the bill is correct, you must be told promptly and in writing how much you owe and why. You may ask for copies of relevant documents. At this point, you’ll owe the disputed amount, plus any finance charges that accumulated while the amount was in dispute. You also may have to pay the minimum amount you missed paying because of the dispute.
If you disagree with the results of the investigation, you may write to the creditor, but you must act within 10 days after receiving the explanation, and you may indicate that you refuse to pay the disputed amount. At this point, the creditor may begin collection procedures. However, if the creditor reports you to a credit bureau as delinquent, the report also must state that
you don’t think you owe the money. The creditor must tell you who gets these reports.
…The Creditor Fails to Follow the Procedure?
Any creditor who fails to follow the settlement procedure may not collect the amount in dispute, or any related finance charges, up to $50, even if the bill turns out to be correct. For example, if a creditor acknowledges your complaint in 45 days – 15 days too late – or takes more than two billing cycles to resolve a dispute, the penalty applies. The penalty also applies if a creditor threatens to report – or improperly reports – your failure to pay to anyone during the dispute period.
An Important Caveat
Disputes about the quality of goods and services are not “billing errors,” so the dispute procedure does not apply. However, if you buy unsatisfactory goods or services with a credit or charge card, you can take the same legal actions against the card issuer as you can take under state law against the seller.
To take advantage of this protection regarding the quality of goods or services, you must:
- have made the purchase (it must be for more than $50) in your home state or within 100 miles of your current billing address;
- make a good faith effort to resolve the dispute with the seller first.
The dollar and distance limitations don’t apply if the seller also is the card issuer – or if a special business relationship exists between the seller and the card issuer.
Suing the Creditor
You can sue a creditor who violates the FCBA. If you win, you may be awarded damages, plus twice the amount of any finance charge – as long as it’s between $100 and $1,000. The court also may order the creditor to pay your attorney’s fees and costs.
If possible, hire a lawyer who is willing to accept the amount awarded to you by the court as the entire fee for representing you. Some lawyers may not take your case unless you agree to pay their fee – win or lose – or add to the court-awarded amount if they think it’s too low.