What Is a Chargeback? What Business Owners Need to Know

A chargeback is a reversal of funds after a customer has disputed a transaction with their bank.
Randa KrissFeb 2, 2021

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As a business owner, the last thing you want is a dispute with a customer. Unfortunately, with the increased incidence of chargebacks due to “friendly fraud,” businesses are at a greater risk of losing money from customers who opt to file a dispute with their bank instead of working directly with merchants to resolve the issue or receive a refund.

To prevent your business from facing frequent chargebacks — and the merchant services fees associated with them — it’s important to understand how these disputes work and what you can do to refute them.

Overall, the chargeback process works like this:

Although chargebacks are typically initiated by consumers, businesses technically have the ability to initiate the process as well.

In this case, you would reach out to your credit card processing company or acquiring bank, with the request. Then, your payment processor would contact the customer’s credit card-processing network to send payment from your merchant or bank account to their credit card account.

At this point, you might be wondering, “Is a chargeback a refund?” In short, the answer is no — although both chargebacks and refunds can involve the returning of funds to a customer, there are important differences between the two.

It’s also worth noting that a chargeback is different from a voided transaction, sometimes called a voided charge. With a voided charge the transaction is canceled before it settles with the customer’s debit or credit card account.

As an example, if you accidentally charge a customer twice for a single item and notice immediately, you can void the transaction through your , thereby canceling it before it’s cleared the customer’s account.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems associated with chargebacks is the fees you often face. In short, chargeback fees are incidental fees that your payment processor may charge each time one occurs. Typically these fees can range from about $20 to $50 but may reach up to $100, depending on your payment processor.

While some processors will charge a flat fee for each chargeback you incur, others will charge additional fees associated with the process of researching and disputing the chargeback on your behalf.

As an example, the merchant account provider  charges $25 per incidence of chargebacks, whereas PayPal charges a $20 fee and Stripe charges a $15 fee. Generally, more expensive chargeback fees are associated with older, more traditional merchant service providers that are historically known for charging extraneous and hidden fees.

Luckily, with the growth of the merchant services industry, these fees have become more transparent — but they haven’t completely disappeared. It’s also worth noting that many providers impose larger chargeback fees on businesses that are considered high-risk — either because of their industry or their chargeback history.

Therefore, before you commit to a merchant services provider, carefully read the fine print of any agreement and talk to a representative to find out how the processor handles chargebacks, what tools (if any) it has in place to prevent chargebacks and what kind of credit card processing fees it charges for disputes or chargeback incidents.

Chargebacks are both an operational and a financial issue for small-business owners. Despite the decline in the percentage of revenue lost to chargebacks in recent years, businesses reviewed still lost 4.4% of revenue to chargebacks in 2019. Merchant revenue lost to chargebacks in 2017 equaled a substantial total of $19 billion.

It’s important to understand why customers initiate chargebacks — and what you can do to both prevent and dispute them. Here are some of the most common reasons that customers might file a chargeback:

Whether caused by legitimate or friendly fraud, chargebacks are problematic for small businesses. Therefore, let’s review some of the best tactics you can employ to prevent (or at least lessen) the number of chargebacks your business faces:

First and foremost, you can prevent chargebacks by following credit card guidelines, remaining PCI-compliant and using all the tools available to you to prevent legitimate fraud.

For example, you’ll want to ensure that you use a reliable POS system or payment gateway, provide receipts to customers and train your employees on the acceptable ways to process credit cards. You should ensure that all of your POS hardware is EMV compliant — and if you do have cards that are swiped, that you require signature or ID.

Similarly, if you’re processing debit cards, you’ll want to make sure that customers either enter their PIN number or sign a receipt in order to authorize the transaction. Additionally, if you accept credit cards online or over the phone, you’ll want to require that customers provide all the card details — including the expiration date, type of card and CVV code.

Generally, your POS or payment gateway provider will include fraud prevention tools and technology as part of its service. Along with employing these standard best practices, you can use these tools to prevent chargebacks.

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Although following credit card acceptance policies will help prevent incidents of legitimate fraud, they may not be as effective at preventing chargebacks that result from friendly fraud. One of the best actions you can take to prevent these kinds of chargebacks is to develop clear and visible business policies — especially those that relate to shipping and returns.

Many friendly fraud chargebacks stem from customers who have an issue with their purchase but feel that it’s easier to dispute the charge with their credit card issuer instead of working with you, the merchant.

To prevent this, you want to make it as easy as possible for customers to return merchandise, understand the shipping timeline and talk to you about any issues they have. For example:

Although it may be difficult to avoid every incidence or type of friendly fraud, by focusing on some of the most common causes, you can hope to prevent chargebacks before they happen.

Finally, another way you can help prevent chargebacks at your business is to work with a top merchant service provider. When it comes down to it, your merchant service provider not only provides you with the tools you need to accept and process card-based payments, but it’ll also be the one working with you through chargebacks when they do occur.

Therefore, you’ll want to compare different providers carefully and talk to them about how they handle chargebacks, what their fees look like and what tools they have available to prevent both legitimate and friendly fraud.

Ideally, your merchant service provider should be able to help you through the dispute process and refute illegitimate chargebacks that your business faces.

This being said, if you’re a brick-and-mortar business looking for an all-in-one payment processor and POS provider, you might work with a company like , which has a very simple dispute process with no associated dispute fees.

If you’re instead looking for a more traditional merchant account provider (as opposed to a payment service provider) you might work with a reputable processor like Payline Data, Payment Depot or Fattmerchant.

No matter how proactive you are, it’s very likely that your business will face chargebacks at some point — therefore, it’s important to understand what to do when this occurs.

If your business is notified of a chargeback, the first thing you’ll want to do is determine whether or not it’s legitimate. If, based on your investigation and records, the charge does seem suspicious, you’ll want to relay that to your merchant services provider.

In this case, it will work with the issuing bank to return the funds to the cardholder and hopefully, work with you to investigate further and take action to avoid future incidents of fraud.

On the other hand, if you think that a chargeback you receive is a case of friendly fraud, you’ll want to dispute the chargeback. In this case, one of the first things you can do is try to reach out to the customer to try and resolve the issue.

If you can come to some sort of agreement with the customer, you can then ask that they retract the chargeback with their credit card issuer. If you try to reach out to the customer and they don’t respond or you can’t come to a reasonable agreement, you can work with your merchant service provider to offer evidence to fight the chargeback.

You might provide invoices or receipts, confirmation numbers, shipping details, any information or records that you have available to prove that the transaction is legitimate. Your merchant service provider will then offer that evidence to the issuing bank to use in its decision-making process.

Here are a few important tips to keep in mind:

A version of this article was first published on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.

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