How to Spot and Avoid Credit Card Skimmers

How to Identify a Credit Card Skimmer and Protect Yourself

Card skimmers are small devices that fit into credit card readers (say, at a gas station or outside ATM) and snag your card information. This can then be used to steal your credentials and commit identity theft.

Unfortunately, credit card fraud is all too common, totaling more than 426,000 instances in the most recent year studied. These skimmers, installed by would-be criminals, contribute to this figure. Here’s another indicator of how pervasive skimmers are: The FBI reports that financial institutions and consumers lose more than $1 billion per year to this practice.

To help protect yourself against theft, keep reading to learn what credit card skimmers are, how to spot a credit card skimmer, and what to do if your credit card is skimmed.

What Is a Credit Card Skimmer?

Credit card skimming is a form of theft that occurs when someone installs a small electronic device, known as a credit card skimmer, into a card reader. This device can read and collect information from a credit card when someone makes a purchase. The skimmer does this by reading the magnetic strip on a debit or credit card, which provides the full name on the credit card as well as the credit card number and credit card expiration date.

Credit card skimmers have been around for almost a decade. They are most commonly attached to gas station pumps, ATMs, and other types of machines that accept payments from both secured and unsecured credit cards as well as debit cards.

Identifying Credit Card Skimmers

Knowing how to check for credit card skimmers is a great way to protect against potential theft. Especially when using an outdoor payment machine like a gas pump or ATM, take a look at the card reader for signs of a credit card skimmer. See if the card reader is sticking out at an angle or looks any different from other nearby card readers. Also check if the card reader is loose or the keypad is unusually bulky.

When skimmers first came into play, it was easier to spot a credit card skimmer as the card reader often appeared to be tampered with or wiggled when used. Today, skimmers can fit snugly over the scanner, which makes it much harder to tell if something is amiss.

In the instance that all seems well with the card scanner at a gas station, double check the pump. If a gas pump is open, unlocked, has had the tamper-evident security tape altered or removed, or anything else seems amiss, it’s a good idea to use a different pump.

If possible, it’s best to use a credit card pump that has an encrypted credit card reader. Ideally, use one that has the illuminated green lock symbol near the credit card reader — this symbolizes that it’s been encrypted.

What Happens When a Credit Card Is Skimmed

When a credit card skimmer reads a magnetic strip on the back of a credit or debit card, it can obtain the cardholder’s full name, credit card number, and the credit card expiration date. Sometimes, scammers add a small camera into the equation in order to watch someone enter their PIN number when using a debit card. Really, one of the few things that’s safe is the CVV number on a credit card, which is why it’s so important to keep this secure.

Once the thief has this information in hand, they can use the card anywhere that accepts credit card payments. They may have access to the cardholder’s bank account and could steal their identity. Or the thief can sell the information on the dark web.

Recommended: 10 Common Credit Card Scams and How to Avoid Them

Protecting Yourself From Credit Card Skimmers

If you’re old enough to get a credit card, it’s critical to know how to use it responsibly and safely. Here’s a few tips to keep in mind to avoid falling prey to credit card skimmers.

Use NFC or Supervised ATMs

To help avoid coming into contact with a card skimmer, try to use payment terminals that are supervised by security cameras or skip using the card reader altogether and make a Near Field Communication(NFC) payment. NFC payments are secure transactions made with a smartphone, allowing you to avoid swiping your card at all.

Check and Recheck the Keypad

When it comes to how to spot a credit card skimmer, remember to check the keypad for any signs of tampering. These days, it’s a bit harder to identify when a keypad has a skimmer on it, but if anything seems amiss, use another payment machine or go inside the gas station or bank to make a transaction or withdrawal.

Don’t Leave Your Card Unattended

Whenever possible, make a transaction or withdrawal inside of a gas station or bank. The odds of a criminal accessing inside payment terminals with a clerk watching are much lower compared to outside payment terminals. It only takes criminals a few seconds to add a skimmer to an outside payment terminal where no one is watching.

Just like taking the time to compare the APRs on credit cards, spending a few extra minutes going inside to buy gas or take out cash can pay off. It could help you avoid countless hours of dealing with identity theft as a result of credit card skimming.

Use Credit Cards With a Chip

If you’re familiar with what a credit card is, you’ll know that most credit cards today come with a “chip” that allows consumers to make payments without actually swiping their credit card. With an EMV chip, it’s possible to simply tap a credit card instead of swiping it to make a payment, which helps avoid credit card skimming. If you have a card that is old-school and lacks a chip, you might ask the issuer if an updated version is available.

Be Vigilant

If someone does need to use an outdoor ATM or gas pump, use one that is close to the building and preferably in the line of sight of an attendant, security guard, or security cameras. The more hidden a payment terminal is, the more likely it is that there is a credit skimmer placed on it. Also make sure to be aware of your surroundings when using any exterior payment terminals.

Sign Up for Credit and Debt Alerts

One way to catch fraud is to sign up for alerts that send a notification any time a purchase is made with the card. After all, it’s unlikely a fraudster’s activity will result in a negative balance on a credit card.

By receiving an alert right when a purchase is made, you can confirm whether or not you made it. If you believe an unauthorized purchase was made, contact your bank or credit card issuer immediately.

Check Your Account Regularly

To be extra vigilant, double-check debit and credit card statements frequently to make sure that no unauthorized charges slipped through the cracks. It can be easier to stay on top of charges if you check in throughout the month rather than waiting until you receive your credit card statement and being shocked that you’re almost at your credit card limit due to unauthorized spending.

Can You Get a Refund if Your Card Gets Skimmed?

If you realize your credit card or debit card has been skimmed, check in with your bank or credit card issuer about next steps. You should also put a freeze on your credit report to ensure that the fraudsters aren’t applying for new credit cards in your name. In some cases, you may need to file a police report.

The credit card issuer or bank will have fraud protections in place and should refund you for any money lost. These protections are an important part of how credit cards work. Still, the sooner you cancel the cards and stop the fraud, the better. Most top credit cards have zero-liability policies that will refund the full amount of the fraudulent charges. If they don’t, the maximum liability anyone has as a consumer is $50.

The Takeaway

Skimmers, small devices that fit over credit card readers, are unfortunately a common way that financial credentials can be stolen and unauthorized charges or identity theft enacted. These are especially common at gas station pumps and outside ATMs. With a debit card, consumers aren’t entitled to as much protection regarding theft, so it’s helpful to use a credit card whenever making purchases at an outdoor payment terminal that’s vulnerable to skimmers. Still, it’s important to know how to spot credit card skimmers so you can hopefully avoid them.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

What does a credit card skimmer do?

Credit card skimmers illegally collect information from credit and debit cards. Skimmers are typically attached to outside payment terminals like ATMs or gas stations.

Are card skimmers illegal?

Yes, credit card skimmers are illegal. This is why credit card issuers are creating new technology like chips to help make purchases more secure.

How common is credit card skimming?

Credit card skimming is all too common. The FBI reports that it costs financial institutions and consumers more than $1 billion per year.


Photo credit: iStock/greyj

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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What Is an ACH Credit and How Does It Work?

An ACH credit is an electronic transfer that takes money from an account at one bank and credits it to an account at a different bank. All banks and credit unions in the U.S. are connected electronically via a system known as the Automated Clearing House (ACH). This allows for easier movement of money between accounts at different financial institutions.

One of the most popular forms of ACH credit is the direct deposit of your paycheck from your employer. However, there are other times when you may receive or send an ACH credit.

Here’s what you need to know about ACH credits, including their meaning and how these transactions work.

Key Points

•   An ACH credit is an electronic transfer from one bank account to another across different financial institutions via the Automated Clearing House network.

•   Common uses of ACH credits include direct deposits from employers and payments from government agencies.

•   To initiate an ACH credit, the sender needs the recipient’s bank details and transaction specifics; processing can take a few hours to two business days.

•   ACH credits differ from ACH debits; credits are “push” transactions initiated by the sender, while debits are “pull” transactions requested by the recipient.

•   Fees for ACH credits vary, with some banks charging for expedited or same-day processing.

What Are ACH Credit Payments?

Automated Clearing House (ACH) credit payments occur when someone instructs the ACH network to send or “push” money from an account they own at one bank to an account at a different bank, either owned by them or someone else. One common reason why you might get ACH credits to your bank account balance is if you signed up for direct deposit at work. In this case, your employer pushes money from their bank account (usually via a processing partner) to your checking or savings account each time you get paid.

You may also see an ACH credit if you receive a payment from a government agency, or if a friend sends you money using a peer-to-peer transfer service like Venmo or CashApp.

You’ve likely also sent many ACH credits, perhaps without realizing it. When you set up payment through your bank or credit union to make a one-time bill payment or send money to a friend through a payment app, this would be processed as an ACH credit. In both cases, you are pushing money out of your account and into the other party’s account.

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How Does ACH Credit Work?

One way to think about an ACH credit is that it is the digital equivalent of someone writing a paper check. Instead of filling out a check, however, the sender instructs their bank to send money directly into the recipient’s account via the ACH system. To send money via ACH credit, you simply need the recipient’s name, bank account number, routing number, and basic transaction details. The process can take anywhere from a few hours to two business days.

Behind the scenes, your bank batches all of its ACH transfer requests together and sends them out at regular times throughout the day to a clearinghouse that verifies the transfers. The clearinghouse then sends each transfer to the recipient’s financial institution. The National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA) oversees the ACH network.

What Is an ACH Credit Refund?

An ACH refund (or return) is an electronic transaction that’s sent back to the original sender by the recipient’s bank. This could happen if the recipient’s bank can’t process the transaction due to insufficient funds, an invalid account number, a closed account, among other reasons.

Once the transaction’s been returned, the sender’s bank will notify the original payer and may charge a fee for the return. The sender’s bank may also try to resend the payment, or contact the payee directly in order to resolve the issue.

Recommended: How to Stop or Reverse ACH Payments

What’s the Difference Between an ACH Credit and an ACH Debit?

An ACH credit and ACH debit are two different types of transactions that are processed through the ACH network. The only difference between them is who initiates the transaction.
In an ACH credit transaction, the originator requests to transfer money from their account to the recipient’s account. This is often referred to as a “push” payment.

In an ACH debit transaction, the originator requests to withdraw money from another party’s account and have it transferred to their own account. This is ypically called a “pull” payment.

If you have a service provider you make regular payments to, they might ask you to set up ACH debits to make processing the payment easier on both ends. With a recurring ACH debit, you don’t need to remember to make a payment each month, and the receiver doesn’t need to process manual payments — they automatically pull the money from your account each month.

With ACH credits vs. debits, there is also a difference in transfer speed. A bank can choose to have ACH credits processed and delivered within the same day, or in one to two business days. ACH debit transactions, on the other hand, must be processed by the next business day.

Fees Associated With ACH Credit Transactions

There are fees associated with ACH transactions that are paid to NACHA by the banks involved in the transaction. Banks generally pay both an annual fee to participate in the ACH network, as well as a tiny fee per transaction. There may be an additional fee required for faster or same-day ACH transactions.

These ACH fees may or may not be passed down from the bank to the actual account holder. Check with your bank to see if they charge a fee for sending or receiving an ACH debit or ACH credit transaction.

Future of ACH Credit

The ACH Network has grown in popularity since it was officially established in the mid-1970s, and shows no signs of slowing down. NACHA, its participating banks, and the government continue to work together to make sure that the ACH network remains safe and stable. Other fintech companies are also working to innovate concerning the future of electronic payments.

The Takeaway

The Automated Clearing House (ACH) is a network of banks that allow electronic transactions to be sent to and from accounts. An ACH credit allows you to “push” money online from an account you own at one bank to an account at another bank, either owned by you or someone else.

ACH credits are push transactions. This means the person making the payment originates the transaction. An ACH debit, by contrast, is a pull transaction, and is initiated by the party receiving the money.

There are a variety of reasons why you might see an ACH credit on your account, but one of the most common is a direct deposit or payroll entry from your employer.

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FAQ

What is an ACH credit and how does it work?

An Automated Clearing House (ACH) credit transaction is when someone instructs the ACH network to send money from their account to someone else’s.

A common example of an ACH credit is direct deposit of your paycheck. In this case, your employer pushes money out of their bank account and into your bank account using the ACH network. ACH credits are also used for bill payments and peer-to-peer payments.

What does the future look like for ACH credits?

The National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), the organization that oversees the ACH network, is working with the government and other stakeholders to ensure that the ACH network remains safe, secure, and stable. While some of the behind-the-scenes details may change, it’s likely that inter-bank credits and debits will continue well into the future.

Is an ACH credit the stimulus check?

An Automated Clearing House (ACH) credit transaction occurs when an individual or organization instructs the ACH network to send money from their account to someone else’s. There are a variety of reasons why you might see an ACH credit transaction on your account, including direct deposit of your paycheck and direct payments from the government, such as a stimulus check.


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SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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Guide to Applying for a Credit Card With No Security Deposit

Guide to Applying for a Credit Card With No Security Deposit

Getting a credit card with no deposit can be easy if you have an established credit history with a good or excellent credit score. But if you’re just establishing your credit history or are trying to build your credit score, it can be much more challenging to apply for a credit card with no deposit.

For some, a secured credit card (one requiring a security deposit) might seem like the only option, but there are other paths to building your credit history. In this guide, we’ll cover how to find and apply for credit cards with no deposit — and what steps you can take to get closer to approval if you’re getting denied.

What Is a Credit Card Security Deposit?

Because of their established credit history and decent credit scores, many borrowers can open credit cards with no money down (or any other kind of collateral). This is called an unsecured credit card. However, if you don’t have any credit history or have a low credit score, you might find that credit card issuers will only offer you a secured credit card — meaning it requires a security deposit.

A credit card security deposit is refundable and often equal to the value of the credit limit on the card. Typically, the deposit amount ranges from $50 to $300.

While going this route can’t help you with unexpected expenses (as with a debit card, you are technically only able to spend money you already have), it can be a good way to build credit. However, you’ll want to ask the card issuer if they report to the credit bureaus, just to ensure they do.

Eventually, you may be able to graduate to an unsecured card if you consistently make on-time payments — one of the cardinal credit card rules.

Applying for a Credit Card With No Security Deposit

Applying for a secured credit card requiring a deposit might not be appealing to every potential borrower, especially because you need the money for the deposit upfront. These cards also typically have higher interest rates and fees. Fortunately, you have other options when shopping for a credit card.

Checking Your Approval for a Card

There’s no such thing as guaranteed credit card approval with no deposit. However, if you’re receiving emails or snail mail with credit card offers saying you’re preapproved, you might find success when you apply. You’ll still have to go through the formal application process and could ultimately get rejected, but getting a preapproved offer is a good start towards getting a credit card.

You can also proactively check your approval for a credit card online. Take a look at your credit score and then search online for offers for credit cards with no deposit that include your credit score in their target range.

Becoming an Authorized User

If you aren’t having success getting approved for a credit card on your own, ask a parent, family member, or trusted friend about being an authorized user on their credit card. As an authorized user, you’ll receive a credit card with your name on it and can use it like a traditional credit card, but you will not be the primary account holder.

The primary account holder is the one responsible for making on-time payments and monitoring credit usage. As an authorized user, you won’t have control over things like credit limit, and the primary cardholder can even set spending limits on your card.

However, if the primary cardholder uses the credit card responsibly — making regular, on-time payments and keeping credit utilization low — you will likely see a positive impact on your own credit score. Eventually, your score might improve enough for you to try applying for your own card again.

If someone makes you an authorized user on their card, however, it’s important to pay them what you owe each month. Never rack up credit card charges beyond what you’ve discussed with the cardholder. If you abuse your card privileges, it will affect your credit score and the score of the account holder — and the friend or family member will be solely liable for paying off your debts.

Getting a Student Credit Card or a Subprime Card

If the thought of affecting someone else’s credit score as an authorized user makes you uncomfortable, you aren’t out of options. You might be eligible to apply for a student card or a subprime card.

•   Student credit card: Most student cards do not require a security deposit and are designed for students who have no credit history. Some cards might even offer cash back rewards and no annual fees. However, as the name implies, you must be able to prove you are a student as part of the application process.

•   Subprime credit card: A subprime card is an unsecured card (i.e., no-deposit card) designed for borrowers with bad credit (generally a score below 580 in the FICO® score model). While subprime credit cards provide a way for bad-credit borrowers to get a credit card with no deposit, they often come with their own drawbacks. Typically, subprime cards charge an application fee; some might have annual or even monthly fees. Credit limits tend to be low.

Transitioning to an Unsecured Card

If you have no luck with a student or subprime card and can’t become an authorized user, you may need to consider applying for a secured credit with a deposit after all. Although it might not be ideal, it can be a good first step toward building your credit history.

If you make regular on-time payments, the credit card issuer might eventually transition you to an unsecured card. Alternatively, you can be proactive: After building your credit history and score over several months with a secured credit card, you can apply for a credit card with no deposit through another issuer. You might find that you’re more successful this time around.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

What to Know About the Effects of Your Credit Score

An unsecured credit card can potentially affect your credit score if the credit card issuer reports to the credit bureaus. Before opening a credit card with a security deposit, ask the issuer if they report to the bureaus.

If they do, regular on-time payment could build your score over time. On the flipside, late or missed payments could adversely affect your score.

Getting a No-Deposit Credit Card: What You Should Know

So, should you get a no-deposit credit card? In general, these unsecured cards offer greater flexibility at the start because you aren’t required to pay a security deposit.

However, opening a credit card of any type is a big decision — and not one to be taken lightly. It’s important to consider the potential effects of opening a credit card and to be aware of how much a credit card costs. For example, if you max out a credit card with a high interest rate, you might find yourself drowning in the fast-growing debt it creates.

Before opening a no-deposit credit card (or any credit card), think about the implications it can have on your finances. You might consider alternate ways of establishing credit, like credit-builder loans or even small personal loans.

However, these options don’t offer some of the same perks and protections that a credit card does, such as credit card chargebacks. If a credit card feels like the right step for you, begin your research process online.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

The Takeaway

Credit cards without a security deposit, called unsecured credit cards, can be appealing because there is no money down at the start of the loan. However, borrowers without a credit history or who are struggling with bad credit may find it challenging to get approved for a no-deposit credit card. If applying for a secured credit card (i.e., one with a security deposit) is not ideal for your financial situation, you can ask to become an authorized user on someone else’s card or apply for a student or subprime credit card.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

Do all credit cards require a deposit?

Only secured credit cards require a security deposit. Those with no credit history or bad credit scores might only be eligible for secured credit cards. If you have a good credit score, you can apply for a credit card without a deposit.

Can I get a credit card if I have no credit history?

It is possible to get a credit card with no credit history. A secured credit card requires a security deposit but makes it easier for borrowers with no credit history to get approved. Students can also consider student credit cards, which are often issued to student borrowers without any credit history.

What credit score is required for approval?

While having a good to excellent credit score (typically 670+) is ideal for getting the best credit cards with the lowest rates, some credit card issuers do offer cards for borrowers with fair or even poor credit (meaning scores between 580 and 669). These cards might have higher fees and fewer perks and may require a security deposit.


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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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How to Dispute a Credit Card Charge: All You Need to Know

How Do You Dispute a Credit Card Charge? All You Need to Know

If you’re unhappy with a recent purchase or believe an unauthorized charge occurred, you can dispute credit card charges by filing a claim with your card issuer.

Whether you willingly made the purchase or a criminal got a hold of your credit card details, you may still be protected under the law so that you don’t necessarily have to pay.

Read on for more details on instances on when you may and may not consider disputing a credit card charge, as well as instructions for how to do so.

Disputing Credit Card Charges

Disputing a credit card charge involves filing a claim with a credit card issuer that argues that the cardholder shouldn’t be responsible for paying for a specific purchase made with their credit card.

A cardholder can’t make a dispute if they simply don’t like the item or service they received. However, they can dispute a credit card charge if the merchant is acting maliciously, such as if they don’t deliver an item the consumer ordered or don’t properly reimburse a return. A cardholder also can dispute credit card charges when certain billing issues are made or if they believe there was a fraudulent charge.

The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) gives consumers the right to dispute a charge and to request an investigation into the issue. Thanks to the FCBA, consumers are also entitled to a quick response from their credit card issuer and to have their credit score protected during the course of the dispute investigation, which is critical given how credit cards work.

Recommended: Charge Cards Advantages and Disadvantages

When To Dispute a Credit Card Charge

There are a few different times when disputing a credit card charge makes sense. Here are examples of when a person might consider a dispute.

Fraudulent Charges

You can dispute a credit card charge that was the result of theft, such as if you fell victim to a credit card skimmer or due to unauthorized use. Before you report a fraudulent charge, make sure it was not just another authorized user on the card who made the charge or that you didn’t let someone else use your card. Also keep in mind that merchants may use another name or address for billing.

If it does appear to be a fraudulent charge after review, report it immediately. By law, you can’t be held liable for more than $50 in fraudulent charges, and many credit card issuers have a $0 liability policy. This would mean you wouldn’t have to worry about the charge at all, let alone any interest that may have accrued based on the APR on a credit card.

Billing Errors

Billing errors can also occur and are a good reason to dispute a charge on your credit card.

For example, if the credit card issuer sends a bill to the wrong address, which interferes with the cardholder paying their bill on time, they can dispute any credit card interest or late fees that have accrued.

A credit card bill can also have numerical errors if the charges were incorrectly totaled. Any bill with the wrong date or amount included on it can also count as a billing error, such as if you pay taxes with a credit card but the total reflected in your statement is different than what you actually paid.

Bad or Unrendered Services

Even if someone agreed to pay for a purchase, it is possible to dispute a credit card charge for goods or services that were not delivered or that were unsatisfactory. This can include if someone doesn’t receive an item they purchased through a merchant that accepts credit card payments or if they didn’t receive a refund after making a return.

Per the FCBA, to take advantage of this protection, you must first make a good faith effort to resolve the issue with the merchant. Additionally, the purchase must be for more than $50, and it must be made either within your home state or within 100 miles of your billing address.e for more than $50, and it must be made either within your home state or within 100 miles of your billing address.

When You Should Not Dispute a Credit Card Charge

There will be times when making a dispute isn’t doable. To save time and stress in the future, here’s when disputing a credit card charge may not be the right step.

If a Friend or Relative Made a Purchase

For a credit charge to be considered “unauthorized use,” the purchase must be made by someone who doesn’t have a right to use the credit card.

Unauthorized use can happen if someone steals a credit card (whether the physical card or credit card information, like the CVV number on a credit card), or if they find one that doesn’t belong to them and then uses it.

On the other hand, if someone gives a friend or family member official permission to use their credit card, but they use it for a purchase the cardholder didn’t approve, this is still considered authorized use.

This is why it’s important to only authorize trusted users. If a friend or family member abuses their access to a credit card, the cardholder would need to contact their credit card company and remove them as an authorized user. In the meantime, the cardholder would remain responsible for any charges the individual made when they were an authorized user — even if they push them up to their credit card limit.

You Did Not Inform the Merchant Concerning the Issue First

If it’s a complaint regarding the quality of goods and services, you must first contact the merchant about the issue before making a dispute. Credit card companies may want to see proof that you’ve tried to work with the merchant before you turned to them, though this will vary by issuer.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

How to Dispute a Credit Card Charge

The process for how to dispute a credit card charge depends on the credit card issuer as well as the reason for the dispute. Just as issuers have their own process for how to apply for a credit card, they also have their own process for filing a dispute. That being said, here is the general process for each type of credit card dispute:

•   Billing error disputes: The billing error dispute process is regulated by the FCBA. To dispute a credit card charge related to a billing error, contact the credit card issuer’s billing inquiries department (and make sure to keep track of this; say, save a copy of the email). You should use the sample letter for disputing charges provided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to do this. In your letter, detail the reason for the dispute and include any supporting documentation.

•   Fraudulent charge disputes: If a dispute is related to fraudulent charges, the cardholder can contact the credit card company. The company may request proof of a police report or other documentation that proves their credit card was either lost or stolen.

•   Bad service or unrendered services disputes: When it comes to service issues, it’s best to start with the merchant. If the merchant won’t refund the purchase, the cardholder can request a credit card chargeback online or in app, over the phone, or by mail. They should include any supporting documentation that backs up their claim and shows their attempts to work with the merchant directly first.

It’s important that you do not pay for the disputed charge while the issue is still being resolved, though you’ll still want to make the credit card minimum payment to avoid late fees or other penalties.

Generally, consumers have 60 days to file a request to dispute a credit card charge. After filing a dispute with the credit card issuer, the issuer has 30 days to send a letter acknowledging the dispute, and they must settle the issue within 90 days of receiving the letter.

The Takeaway

If a consumer believes that a billing error occurred, their card was used fraudulently, or they received bad service or unrendered services, then they have a right to dispute the charge with their credit card issuer. Not all issues can be resolved with a dispute. However, it’s worth confirming what options the credit card issuer has for moving forward when you’re unhappy with a charge.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

How long do you have to dispute credit card charges?

In the case of a billing error or unsatisfactory charges, you must make a dispute within 60 days of receiving your statement. There are no limits on how soon you must dispute a charge related to fraud.

What happens if you dispute a charge on your credit card?

There’s no guarantees that a dispute will work out in the cardholder’s favor. The credit card issuer must resolve the investigation surrounding the dispute within 90 days of receiving it.

Does a dispute affect credit score?

Filing a dispute doesn’t necessarily impact a credit score. However, if the dispute is surrounding an inaccurate late payment or other negative event, having the issue resolved after a dispute can help build the account holder’s credit score.

What happens if a credit card dispute is denied?

The credit card issuer can choose to approve or deny a dispute. If the filer disagrees with the result of their investigation, they can appeal the decision by writing to the creditor within 10 days of receiving the explanation for why the dispute was denied.

Can you dispute a charge after 90 days?

Generally, consumers only have 60 days to dispute a credit card charge after receiving their bill. The only exception to this timeline is fraud, which has an unlimited window for reporting. That being said, if someone realizes a charge is inaccurate after 60 days, it’s worth consulting their credit card issuer about their options.


Photo credit: iStock/Just_Super

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

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10 Advantages of Credit Card: Perks of Using It

10 Advantages of Credit Cards

You may already know that credit cards offer an easy and convenient way to make purchases, but that’s just one of many potential credit card benefits. From rewards offerings like cash back, travel points, and one-time bonuses, to financial benefits like payment security, the opportunity to build credit, and a grace period, there are a number of reasons to keep a credit card in your wallet.

Read on to learn 10 advantages of using a credit card, as well as some tips to ensure you use your card responsibly.

1. Cash Back

Many credit cards allow you to earn cash back on everyday purchases, such as gas or groceries, a reward introduced long ago in the history of credit cards. Essentially, with cash back, you get a small amount back in cash that’s a percentage of how much you spent.

With cash-back cards, you can usually put any cash you receive towards your credit card balance, or you can opt to receive the money through a direct deposit to your bank account, as a check or gift card, or put it towards other purchases.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

2. One-Time Bonuses

Credit cards sometimes will offer a one-time, introductory bonus that allows you to earn enhanced rewards as long as you spend a certain amount on your card within the first months your account is open. For instance, you might be able to earn a bonus of 75,000 reward points if you spend $4,000 within the first three months of opening your card. These rewards can be a great way to get something extra out of opening a new credit card.

3. Reward Points

Reward points are similar to cash-back rewards in that they offer an incentive for you to use your card. You’ll earn points for every dollar you spend on your card, such as one cent for every dollar spent. You can then redeem those points to put towards travel, gift cards, merchandise, charitable donations, or statement credits.

4. Safety

Another one of the many perks of how credit cards work is the built-in security and safety features they offer. Many major credit card issuers offer a zero-liability policy for fraud, meaning you won’t be responsible if any fraudulent purchases are charged to your account. Other credit card safety features include encryption and chip-and-pin technology, which keeps your account information safe when using your card for in-store transactions. Plus, many credit cards offer fraud and credit monitoring services to allow you to easily keep tabs on your account.

Compared to debit cards, credit card security tends to be much more robust and the protections against fraud are more consumer-friendly.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

5. Grace Period

This usually isn’t the first advantage of a credit card that comes to mind, but it’s a major one and a key part of what a credit card is. A credit card’s grace period between when your billing period ends and when your payment is due. During this grace period, no interest accrues. So if you are able to pay your balance in full during the grace period, you won’t owe any interest.

6. Insurance

Many credit cards come with insurance. For instance, travel credit cards might come with travel insurance, trip cancellation insurance, trip delay insurance, or rental car collision insurance. Cards may also offer price protection, extended warranties, purchase protection, or phone protection.

7. Universal Acceptance

Credit cards are pretty much accepted anywhere, and you can use one whether you’re paying a bill via snail mail or making a purchase in store, online, or over the phone. A credit card can be used to pay for most things, including paying taxes with a credit card.

Breaking it down by credit card network, Visa and Mastercard are accepted in over 200 countries, as are Discover cards; American Express cards are accepted in over 190 countries. This comes in handy when you’re traveling and don’t want to fret about converting your U.S. dollars into foreign currency.

If you’re running a business, accepting credit card payments can help prevent fraudulent activity, such as someone trying to pay with counterfeit bills. It can also make it easier to keep track of transactions and purchases related to your business.

8. Building Credit

Another major perk of using a credit card is that it can help you build credit. Credit card issuers report your activity to the three main credit card bureaus — Transunion®, Equifax®, and Experian® — which is then used to calculate your credit score.

If you maintain a continuous streak of on-time payments, it will help with your payment history, which makes up 35% of your credit score. Plus, the longer you keep a credit card open, the more it helps with your length of credit, which is 15% of your score. A credit card can also help you build credit because it helps with your credit mix, which makes up 10% of your score.

9. Increased Purchasing Power

Having a credit card can increase your purchasing power, as you’ll have access to a line of credit that can make it easier to buy big-ticket items. For instance, if you’re down to $1,000 in the bank, you won’t be able to purchase that new $2,000 laptop. But if you have a credit line of $3,000 (and know you have a paycheck en route), you can purchase that laptop you’ve been wanting when it’s on sale and then pay it off when the funds hit your bank account.

Take this credit card advantage with a grain of salt, though — using your credit card to cover more than you can immediately afford to pay off can lead you to get into credit card debt.

10. Keeping Vendors Honest

Unscrupulous behavior from vendors does happen, unfortunately. If you pay a vendor through another means, such as cash, Venmo, or by writing a check, the vendor will have an easier time getting away with not providing the goods or services they promised.

But if you pay a vendor using a credit card, the credit card issuer has an incentive to get to the bottom of the issue and prevent fraud. And if you dispute a credit card charge, the issuer will withhold funds from the vendor. In turn, the transaction won’t go through, and you may be able to get your money back.

What to Look for in a Credit Card

Before applying for a credit card, do some comparison shopping first. Think about what kind of credit card you might need. Depending on your needs, preferences, and lifestyle, a travel credit card or cash-back card might be the best fit for you. Or, if you’re after a card with a low APR and minimal fees, a solid everyday card might be a better fit. If you’re working to rebuild your credit, you might consider a secured card.

Besides any credit card perks, look at the card’s interest rate. Your annual percentage rate (APR) will vary depending on your creditworthiness and the type of card you’re applying for (top rewards cards tend to have higher APRs than more basic cards). In general, however, a good APR for a credit card is one that’s below the current average credit card interest rate, which is 22.8%, according to the Federal Reserve.

Additionally, it’s important to check whether a card has an annual fee. If it does, look at its perks and how much you anticipate putting on the card in a given year to see if that fee is worth it. Also take into consideration any other fees a credit card may charge, such as late payment fees, foreign transaction fees, and balance transfer fees. You may want to avoid as many credit card fees as possible.

Using a Credit Card Responsibly

To use a credit card responsibly, it’s crucial to make on-time payments of at least the minimum payment due each billing cycle. This ties in with not spending more than you can afford to pay back, or running up a high balance on multiple cards, both of which could lead you into credit card debt.

Another rule of thumb to use your credit card responsibly is to keep your credit utilization ratio — the total amount you owe divided by your total available credit — under 30%. The average credit card limit in the U.S. is currently just under $30,000. So, to maintain a 30% credit utilization ratio, you’d need to keep your balances below $10,000.

When Not to Use a Credit Card

If you’re spending more than you can afford to pay back (or pay back within a reasonable amount of time), then it’s best to avoid using a credit card. The advantages of a credit card aren’t worth it if using credit cards is causing you to get into debt.

You’ll rack up interest charges on any remaining balances each month, and those costs can start to add up fast. While there are options like credit card debt forgiveness, they aren’t necessarily easy to get, and you can damage your credit score in the process.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

The Takeaway

As you can see, there are a number of potential advantages of credit cards, from rewards to payment security to an interest-free grace period. Enjoying credit card benefits requires using your credit card responsibly though. If you’re racking up more charges than you can afford to pay back, the interest and other implications could quickly outweigh the credit card advantages.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

How secure are credit cards?

Credit cards come with many security features, such as pin-and-chip technology, fraud and credit monitoring, and zero-liability fraud protection. Plus, there are usually features like two-factor authentication or biometrics at login, and you can temporarily freeze your credit card if you suspect fraudulent activity.

How can I protect myself from credit card fraud?

You can protect yourself from credit card fraud by reviewing your credit card statement regularly, storing your cards safely, keeping your passwords protected, and being vigilant when using your credit card. You can also set security alerts for transactions over a certain dollar amount or for in-person, online, or phone purchases. If you suspect fraudulent activity, block your card, and report the suspicious activity immediately.

Do credit cards allow you to save more?

Credit cards usually enable you to spend more. However, if used smartly and responsibly, they can help you save through credit card rewards and other advantages, such as insurance and discounts. However, you’ll want to stay on top of payments and ideally pay your balance in full. Otherwise, the interest charges might outweigh any perks.

Should I use a credit card if I have a poor credit score?

If you have a poor credit score, it could be a good idea to use a credit card to build your score — as long as you can use it responsibly and manage on-time payments. Keep in mind that those with poor scores likely won’t get approved for the cards with the most competitive rewards, and they may face a higher APR and fees.


Photo credit: iStock/Suphansa Subruayying

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

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