How to protect your purchases this holiday season with credit cards

Last-minute shoppers will be flocking to D.C.-area stores this weekend looking for good deals.

But experts recommend using credit cards instead of cash to buy those holiday gifts.

“When you use a credit card, you automatically get incredibly strong consumer protections that you don’t get when paying via debit card, cash or payment app,” Kevin Brasler, executive editor with Washington Consumers Checkbook, said.

He added this can help consumers in a bind with purchase problems.

“Federal law and the policies credit card companies themselves say basically that if fraud occurs or if something wasn’t delivered as promised or you’re simply not happy with the product or service that you can contest that charge,” Brasler said.

But before asking for a refund, Brasler recommends contacting the retailer first. If they don’t budge, just ask the credit card company to step in.

“If you ask your credit card company for a charge back, it will freeze the amount in your account, and you won’t have to pay until it investigates your complaint,” he said.

According to Brasler, businesses not only lose the money from a contested sale when they lose charge back disputes, “but they also have to pay fees that can run more than $100. So, it’s only fair to give businesses a shot at making you happy.”

He said retailers could still come after you for that money.

“It might, for example, sue you. This rarely happens but it’s important that you document the problem so you can show them that you have a strong case,” Brasler said.

Sometimes credit card companies do side with sellers, even when sellers clearly were in the wrong; sellers more often win disputes when customers have signed contracts during the purchase process that include clauses such as “buyer beware” or “all sales final.”

To challenge a charge, ask the bank or company that issued your credit card for its chargeback procedures. You can do it on its website by going to your list of purchases, select the transaction, and use a link to report a problem.

Some banks still require customers to submit requests in writing and mail in documentation, which is most common with debit cards.

Sandra Jones

Sandra Jones is an Anchor/Reporter for WTOP. She’s been in the news industry for more than two decades.

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