With the coronavirus pandemic leading to summer camp cancellations, many parents are wondering: How do I get my deposit back? The answer might depend on the camp’s policy, as well as how you paid.
“Every camp is different, so we expect a broad range of decisions in terms of refund policies for families who have already paid to send their kids to camp,” says Kyle Winkel, spokesperson for the American Camp Association.
Here’s what parents need to know about their financial options after getting the news that camp is canceled.
First, consider making it a 'donation'
Given the widespread COVID-19-related cancellations, many camps are struggling to survive. If you can afford it, letting the camp keep your deposit — or part of it — as a donation could help it stay afloat for future summers.
“Your camp needs you now more than ever before," Winkel says. "The American Camp Association would encourage every individual who has been positively impacted by the summer camp experience to donate to your camp today.”
Next, check in with the camp
If a donation isn't feasible, the next step is to get the details from the camp about your options. In some cases, camps are offering to hold virtual programs instead, put deposits toward next summer’s camp fees or issue partial refunds.
But if it's indeed a full refund you want, you should request it.
“We encourage parents to feel comfortable speaking with their camp directors about these policies,” Winkel says.
Then, turn to your credit card
If the camp declines to provide a full refund, and the policy states that the money paid is nonrefundable, parents still have an option: They can argue that they paid for the camp and now are not getting that service, explains Dee Pridgen, professor emeritus of law at the University of Wyoming. This is especially true if they paid for camp by credit card.
Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, credit card holders have access to a dispute settlement procedure known as a chargeback, which allows them to contest a billing error by contacting the card issuer in writing. The issuer can then credit the charge to the consumer while it investigates the issue. If the issuer finds that the cardholder was indeed wronged, the cardholder can keep the credit.
“It’s a good tool to put pressure on the merchant,” Pridgen adds.
Still, resolution in favor of the cardholder is not guaranteed.
“The resolution of a lot of these claims might end up mired in whatever contract or policy the parents agreed to or signed when making payment with the camp organization,” says John Cabell, director of banking and payments intelligence for J.D. Power, a marketing research company. “Some billing disputes might result in chargebacks to the buyer, but others might be backed by a valid contract and the issuer may decide the parent owed the funds.”
Nerdy tip: In general, credit card companies ask that consumers try to work out billing issues with the merchant directly — in this case, the summer camp — before attempting a chargeback. “In this type of situation, we would suggest the cardholder first attempt to contact the merchant for a reasonable alternative or solution," says Jim Issokson, spokesperson for Mastercard. "If unsuccessful, the cardholder should contact their issuer if they feel they have a legitimate dispute."
If you paid via other methods, you have fewer options
If you paid your deposit or installment by debit card or check, then your options for seeking a refund are more limited.
“There is a very limited right to stop payment on checks or even on electronic transfers, but this must be done almost immediately, and a fee is charged by the bank,” Pridgen says.
You can, however, be sure to stop any future withdrawals for scheduled automatic payments.
Pridgen adds that if you feel the camp has been unresponsive or misleading, then you might even consider contacting your state attorney general’s office or consumer protection office for help.