Credit Card Refunds: Everything You Need to Know

By Walecia Konrad · June 03, 2024 · 7 minute read

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Credit Card Refunds: Everything You Need to Know

Getting a credit card refund is usually a straightforward process, whether you’re asking for one because a product is defective or you’ve simply changed your mind. When you get a refund on a credit card, you’ll receive a credit on your account for the amount you paid for returned goods that you’d charged to your card.

Although credit card refunds are routine, there are some important things to know about the process. Read on to learn more about how credit card refunds work.

What Is a Credit Card Refund?

A credit card refund is the money you get back when you return something that you’d paid for with your credit card. Rather than getting cash back for the full amount of the returned item, you’ll receive a credit to your credit card account for that amount. The process of a credit card refund is started when you go to return the item, and it can take a few days or longer to see the money credited to your account.

How Do Refunds on Credit Cards Work?

When using a credit card to make a purchase, there’s a third party involved in your transaction. The store or other merchant at which you swipe or tap your card to buy something requests their payment from the credit card issuer. When your credit card issuer pays the charge, it adds the amount of the purchase to your account balance. Then, you pay your credit card bill to pay back the credit card issuer for the purchase you made.

When you return a purchase, the merchant issues a refund to the credit card issuer, not directly to you. In turn, your credit card company posts the credit to your account. This process is why credit card refunds aren’t immediate like cash refunds.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

Types of Credit Card Refunds

There are two basic types of credit card refunds. It can be helpful to know the difference between the two and how a refund to a credit card works in each instance. It may not be something that you took note of when applying for a credit card.

Refund at the Point of Sale

This is when you return an item, either by going to the store in person or sending back an online purchase. The retailer then credits you for the return when the item is received.

Disputed Transaction

Disputed transactions are different from straightforward returns. With a disputed transaction, you’re making a complaint about the purchase as opposed to just making a return. For instance, you might dispute a credit card charge for an online purchase that never arrived. Or you might dispute a charge for a canceled event.

In most cases, you must file a dispute within 60 days of the transaction, providing details and perhaps documentation of the problem. From there, your credit card company has 90 days to investigate the issue and resolve the issue.

While it’s best to start with the merchant when you have an issue with the goods or services provided, you do have options if the merchant will not grant you a credit card refund. In this instance, you can request a credit card chargeback, which reverses your original charge after you have filed a claim with your credit card company.

With a chargeback, the refund process is initiated by the credit card company (often automatically once you dispute a charge), whereas with a credit card refund, the merchant initiates the process.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

How Long Does a Credit Card Refund Typically Take?

The amount of time it takes to receive a credit card refund depends on the retailer and the type of refund you’re requesting. It typically takes about three to seven business days to see your refund from a routine return you make in person, and sometimes it’s even faster than that.

Online merchants may take a bit longer to issue a credit card refund because you need to allot time for shipping and processing the returned merchandise. As mentioned above, chargeback or disputed charge refunds can take much longer — sometimes as long as 90 days due to the time allowed to file and investigate a disputed charge.

Do Credit Card Refunds Count Toward Payments?

No, credit card refunds are not considered a payment or partial payment, and they do not automatically go toward that month’s minimum payment on your card.

Instead, you’ll see a credit in the amount of the refund in your account statement and, depending on where you are in the billing cycle, this could reduce the total amount you owe by the amount of the refund. You will still need to make your monthly minimum payment while you’re waiting for a refund credit to appear on your account. In fact, one of the cardinal credit card rules is to always make your minimum payment on time.

Keep in mind that interest will continue to accrue on your charge until the refund credit appears. Depending on how much the purchase is for and where you are in the billing cycle, this can affect your overall balance.

How Credit Card Refunds May Affect Your Credit Score

To understand how credit card refunds work when it comes to your credit score, it’s important to understand something called credit utilization ratio. This term refers to the percentage of your total credit limit that you are currently using. Credit utilization can be an important factor in calculating your credit score — the lower your credit utilization ratio, the better. Most financial experts suggest a credit utilization ratio of no more than 30%, with 10% being a good figure to aim for.

In some situations, a refund may build your credit score if the refund reduces your balance and lowers your credit utilization ratio. On the other hand, a delayed refund could lower your credit score if the amount of the purchase pushes your credit utilization higher during a certain billing period.

What to Do With a Negative Account Balance

Sometimes a refund will give you a negative balance on your credit card, meaning your available credit is more than the amount you owe on the card. This can often happen with cardholders who pay their balance in full each month.

If you have a negative balance, it’s usually not a problem. The negative balance will be applied to the next purchase you make on that card, eventually bringing your balance back to $0 or above. A negative balance will likely not affect your credit score because that’s something that credit card companies report to credit bureaus.

However, a negative balance can be problematic if you’re receiving a large refund and don’t often use that credit card. In these instances, you can ask your credit card company to issue a refund via check, money order, or direct deposit. Your credit card issuer may require this request in writing in order to issue the refund.

How Credit Card Refunds Affect Your Rewards

Any credit card rewards you earned on a purchase that was returned, such as cash back rewards or miles, will not be awarded after your refund is processed.

If you decide that it makes more sense to keep the rewards, you can ask the merchant or service to refund you in the form of a merchant credit or store credit. However, that means you will still have to pay for the purchase on your credit card.

The Takeaway

Knowing how credit card refunds work will help you manage both your budget and your credit score. Credit card refunds are usually straightforward transactions. But they can take longer than a purchase made with cash, and they can affect your credit score. Additionally, you usually won’t be able to hang onto the rewards you’d earned from the purchase you returned.

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 credit card refunds affect your credit

Yes, refunds can affect your credit score. A refund can lower your credit utilization — or the total amount of credit you’ve used compared to your overall credit limit. Credit utilization is something credit rating agencies look at closely when determining your credit score. A delayed refund could hurt your credit score because if the charge stays on your account for a while, it may increase your credit utilization ratio, thus negatively impacting your store. On the other hand, when you receive a refund, that may lower your credit utilization, helping to build your credit score.

Do credit card refunds affect the rewards earned from a refunded purchase?

In most cases, you will not receive the rewards that you may have earned from a purchase you’ve returned. You may want to consider getting a store credit for your refund if you want to keep your rewards, but you will then have to pay for the full amount of the purchase on your credit card.

What happens if I have a negative balance after a credit card refund?

Sometimes you’ll get a refund credit, and it will exceed the balance you have on your card. This is usually not an issue, as the amount of the credit will be applied to the next purchase you make on the card. If the refund is quite large and you don’t use the card often, you may want to ask your credit card issuer for a refund via check or direct deposit.


Photo credit: iStock/Amax Photo

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.

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