How to Cancel a Pending Credit Card Transaction

Pending charges usually can be canceled only by the merchant, not the credit card company.
May 25, 2022

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One advantage of using credit cards is the delay when you pay.

Your money isn't immediately transferred to the seller. Part of that lag time is when the charge has been authorized but is still "pending," meaning the transaction has not yet been finalized or posted.

That limbo status means you have a time window, often a few days, to request the cancellation of a pending credit card transaction. But depending on the situation, you might have trouble reversing the charge or it might be a cinch.

Two big-picture things to know about canceling pending charges:

  • Be patient. Hold off on cancellations until you understand the pending charge, which is temporary and can change. (Sometimes, it’s a “hold” that will disappear or change dollar amounts.)

  • Deal directly with the merchant. With pending charges, you will often have to work out a problem with the vendor, not the credit card company.

Here's what to know for several common situations in which you might want to cancel a pending credit card transaction.

Billing error

Contact the merchant if you notice a pending transaction that is a billing error, like a duplicate charge or a retailer failing to apply a discount. With many credit card online accounts, you can see the merchant's phone number listed along with the transaction.

Or, if you make a mistake — like hitting the online checkout "submit" button twice — again, alert the seller, which may be able to reverse a pending transaction.

Why contact the merchant and not the bank?

Chase, a major issuer of credit cards, says merchants can resolve charge errors within a few days, but it can sometimes take banks weeks to fix.

Take notes on your interaction with the merchant, like the date, who spoke with you and their reply. If you decide to dispute a charge later, the bank might ask for those details.

Sometimes a pending charge can be confusing because you'll see two charges for the same purchase, but it's not always a mistaken duplicate charge. One is for the authorized amount and one is for the final total. The issuer will clear the initial pending charge when processing is complete.

More about how pending transactions work

If we personified the players in most pending transactions, a conversation might go like this:

  • Merchant: "Hi, Bank. Jane Smith wants to use her credit card to make a purchase here for $40. Is she good for it?"

  • Bank: "Yes. She has that much credit."

  • Merchant: "OK, great. Mark it down as a pending charge, and I'll get back to you with the final amount in a couple of days. It will probably be $40, but we're not sure yet."

  • Bank: "Sounds good. After you confirm the amount, I'll remove it as a pending charge and mark it as posted."

Regret or user error

If you change your mind about a purchase, your best recourse is to work it out with the merchant.

For example, if you contact the seller before an item ships, the seller might agree to cancel the transaction. If so, the dollar amount will disappear from pending transactions and never advance to posted status.

Alternatively, if the merchant has a generous return policy, you can probably return the item for a refund after the purchase posts.

Nerdy tip: A pending charge is not yet added to your account balance. However, the amount is subtracted — at least temporarily — from your credit limit, the amount of credit you have available on the card.

Dissatisfaction

You, as the cardholder, can't officially dispute a pending transaction. You have to wait until it posts. Then federal law gives you the right to challenge the charge.

If you have already tried to work out a problem with the merchant and the charge has already been posted, you can dispute the charge in a process the payments industry calls a "chargeback."

The process could be as simple as viewing the charge in your online credit card account or the app and marking the charge as disputed. However, the merchant can choose to fight the chargeback.

Chargebacks are costly to retailers. Not only do they lose money from disputed sales, but they also incur chargeback fees and potentially higher processing rates. So it's only fair to use chargebacks judiciously.

Fraud

If you see a pending transaction you don't recognize — and you know authorized users of your card didn't make the purchase — contact the credit card company. It's easiest to call the phone number on the back of the card.

Don't fret if the fraudulent charge advances from pending to posted. You can still notify the card issuer of the fraud. And the vast majority of card issuers have a zero-liability policy. You're not responsible for fraudulent charges.

Nerdy tip: Even without zero-liability policies, federal law — the Fair Credit Billing Act — generally limits your liability for unauthorized use of your credit card to $50.

'Holds' on a credit card

Some pending transactions are routine but might seem like a mistake.

For example, pay-at-the-pump gas stations, hotels and car rental companies will often put a hold on a specific dollar amount on your credit account. That's because they don't yet know what the final bill will be — how many gallons of gas you will buy or whether you'll raid the minibar in the hotel room and incur more charges.

As with all pending transactions, you temporarily lose access to that dollar amount of your credit line with that card.

The merchant releases the hold when it finalizes the transaction, although that might take a day.

If you want to get the hold lifted quicker, try asking the merchant to release the hold.

Anti-fraud preauthorizations

Sometimes, the amount is just a $1 preauthorization showing up as a pending transaction. It is often a sign the vendor is confirming that the card is valid and not lost or stolen. The charge doesn't officially post to the account.

Like most of these pending charges, the preauthorization is typically released — and the charge deleted — in three to five days.

What not to do

You can't directly prevent a pending charge from posting without the help of the merchant. For example, it won't help to:

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