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The Five: When purchases go wrong

January 27, 2013|By Scott J. Wilson
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  (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles…)

If you have a problem with a product you've purchased — it's damaged or defective, or is never delivered — you have extra legal protection if you bought the item with a credit card. Federal law gives consumers the right to withhold payment on credit card purchases in certain situations. Key things to know:

•First, try to resolve the dispute directly with the seller. If you call the seller or visit in person and don't get resolution, also send a letter so that the issue is documented. In the meantime, don't pay the amount that is in dispute, the California Department of Consumer Affairs says.

•If the problem remains unresolved, call your credit card company and tell it you want to withhold payment for the disputed transaction. Follow up with a letter to the card company, and send a copy to the seller. This will "demonstrate to the seller that you intend to follow through with your complaint, and that will increase the chance that the seller will resolve the problem voluntarily," the consumer agency said.

•The credit card company will contact the seller and try to resolve the dispute. Your card issuer may not, while the item under investigation, report you as "delinquent" for withholding payment, provided you follow the steps above. But the card company can describe the amount as "disputed." "Since the dispute probably will end up on your credit record, the right to withhold should never be used frivolously," the agency said.

•Your right to withhold payments does not apply if the transaction was for less than $50, or if it took place more than 100 miles from your home and in a state other than your own. But those restrictions are waived if the credit card was issued by the seller — a department store credit card, for example.

•You can withhold payment only if you use your card as a credit card. Using it as a debit card is like paying cash.

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