What Is a Chargeback? Definition and Guide

what is a chargeback

A chargeback—also called a “reversal”—is the return of credit card funds used to make a purchase to the buyer. A chargeback can occur if a consumer disputes a purchase made using their credit card, claiming that it was fraudulent or made without their knowledge or permission.

When a buyer disputes a purchase, the credit card company involved reverses the charge, reimbursing the buyer in full and debiting the business’ account. Chargebacks can reduce a business's income and lead to penalties if they occur too frequently. 

Learn more: The Merchant’s Guide to Credit Card Chargeback

Reasons for the reversal

Most chargebacks are initiated due to fraud, but sometimes the consumer initiates a claim after receiving an item. In that case, it’s not a true fraudulent transaction so businesses refer to it as “friendly fraud.” Either way, it costs companies money.

When a credit card company issues a chargeback, they indicate the reason for the reversal, which can fall into one of four general categories:

  1. Fraud: the purchase was not made with the buyer’s knowledge or consent. This is the most common reason for a chargeback.
  2. Quality: the buyer never received the item they paid for.
  3. Clerical: the buyer was billed more than once for the same item, or a return was made and refund due.
  4. Technical: the buyer does not have the funds in their account to cover the cost or due to a bank error.

Chargeback dispute

Of course, a business can also dispute a chargeback if they believe the customer has misrepresented the situation. This could occur when the buyer indicates an item was not received but the merchant has proof of delivery, for example.

Fortunately, there are steps businesses can take to reduce the chance of a chargeback:

  • Proof of shipment or delivery: To avoid claims of non-receipt, get tracking information from delivery companies to prove items made it to their destination.
  • Claims of fraud: Fraudulent transactions do occur, but sometimes buyers simply forget that they made a purchase from you, or they don’t recognize the business name on their credit card statement. So gather as much information as possible from buyers, including the CCV on the back of their card, and their address. And make sure the business name appears on credit card transactions matches how your customers know you.
  • Avoid manual processing: To reduce the possibility of a clerical error, like charging the customer more than once or entering an invalid credit card number (which isn’t discovered until later), don’t type in information manually.
  • Make it easy to reach you: To encourage customers to call you with questions before automatically requesting a chargeback, add your phone number to your credit card transactions. When customers see, “Luxury Lighting 800-123-4567” next to the charge, they may be more likely to call you for more information first.

Chargebacks were originally initiated as a means of providing consumer protection from fraud.

What Is a Chargeback? FAQ

How does a chargeback work?

A chargeback is a process where a customer contacts their credit card company to dispute a charge on their account. The credit card company then reverses the charge on the customer's account and debits the merchant's account for the same amount. The merchant may be required to provide evidence the charge was legitimate in order to receive a reversal of the chargeback. The process usually takes 30-90 days to complete.

Is a chargeback a refund?

No, a chargeback is not a refund. A chargeback is a process that allows a cardholder to dispute a transaction with their card issuer and potentially have the purchase amount credited back to their account. A refund, on the other hand, is when a merchant voluntarily agrees to return a customer's money for a purchase.

What happens when a customer does a chargeback?

A chargeback is when a customer disputes a credit card charge and requests a refund from the issuing bank. When a chargeback is initiated, the merchant’s bank will retrieve the funds from the merchant’s account and return it to the customer’s issuing bank. The merchant will then receive a notification that a chargeback has been initiated and will be asked to provide evidence to support the disputed charge. If the merchant is unable to provide the evidence needed, the chargeback will be upheld and the customer will receive the refund. If the merchant is able to provide the necessary evidence, the chargeback will be reversed and the merchant will receive their funds.

What is a chargeback in simple terms?

A chargeback is a process that allows a customer to dispute a credit card transaction and have the money returned to them. It is usually initiated by the customer and involves the credit card company reversing the transaction and taking the money back from the merchant.