How Do You Dispute a Debit Card Charge?

Since debit cards don’t offer the same consumer protections as credit cards, disputing a debit card charge is more challenging than for a credit card. In a credit card dispute, you have the option to withhold payment. When you dispute a debit card purchase, your bank is deciding whether or not to restore money that's already left your account. You're more likely to succeed in disputing a debit charge if you act quickly and support your argument with evidence such as receipts.

How Do You Dispute a Debit Card Charge?

If you notice a charge on your checking account statement that you don't recognize, check to see if it matches your spending. Thieves often start with small purchases and follow up with larger sums if the account holder fails to act. To check if a charge is fraudulent, look at the merchant name and match it against your past purchases.

Disputing a debit card charge involves contacting your bank and asking it to cancel the error, which restores your balance to its previous level. The bank's final decision can take up to 10 business days. Call your bank’s customer service hotline, which you can usually find online or on the back of your debit card. Report the fraudulent charges and provide as much detail as you can. For example, you could show the bank a receipt showing a different price than what was actually charged, or show that purchases were made at an online store where you don’t have an active account.

Once you’ve called the bank, follow up your dispute with a written letter to the bank. The letter should include your bank account information, your name, when you noticed the fraudulent charges, and when you first reported them. The Federal Trade Commission has a sample letter on their website which you can use. Make sure to keep a copy of all documents you send to the bank, and write down the times and dates of any follow-up calls you make.

You may have more difficulty disputing a charge if your PIN number is lost or stolen. A thief using your PIN makes it seem like you’re still the one authorizing purchases. In general, PIN purchases are more difficult to dispute than signed purchases. Choosing to process your debit card transaction as a signature-based credit card purchase forces your bank to follow dispute rules set out by the credit card company, which could offer more consumer protections.

Should You Cancel Your Debit Card Completely?

Canceling your debit card may not be necessary if you’re only disputing one fraudulent charge or in instances where you're overcharged for a legitimate purchase. If you want to make sure your information wasn’t stolen, consider just changing your PIN number to be safe. If you suspect that your sensitive information may be compromised, it’s better to cancel the card. For example, if you notice multiple transactions showing up over a period of time, your card may be compromised.

Before canceling your debit card, you may need to update your details with merchants that have your saved card information. This includes places where you have online subscriptions or automatic payments—such as a monthly subscription fee for Netflix. In such cases, you’ll need to contact each merchant to update your information before the scheduled payment date to ensure there aren’t any interruptions.

Avoiding Account Errors and Fraudulent Debit Charges

To avoid errors on your debit card, keep all receipts and monitor your statements carefully. For those who dine out often, service staff may misread the tip you write and charge the wrong amount. Monitoring your bank account for fraudulent charges is also helpful to prevent overdrafts. If you have automatic payments scheduled every month, you’ll need to account for those so you have enough money in your balance to cover them.

Avoid fraudulent charges by staying alert to scams. For instance, an identity thief might call you claiming to a bank employee that needs to verify your information. Financial institutions never ask for your information unless you initiate contact first. In addition, ensure that nobody obtains your PIN number. This includes everyday practices as simple as keeping the keypad covered when you type in your PIN at ATMs and payment machines.

You should also avoid using ATMs that look like they’ve been tampered with. Thieves sometimes install disguised devices on third-party ATMs that steal your account information. To be safe, only use ATMs located at a bank branch or a connected vestibule. Machines in such locations are better protected and monitored more rigorously than standalone ATMs.

Since it’s more difficult to recover losses from a debit card than to prevent them in the first place, it’s always a good idea to monitor your accounts and be aware of suspicious activity in your statements after you go shopping. Some banks may offer text alerts to let you know of unusual purchases or withdrawals made on the account. You can also take advantage of mobile banking options to track your balance at frequent intervals.