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At certain times of the year, you may find yourself facing particularly large credit card bills. At those times especially, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises you to review your billing statements with care.

Credit card billing errors do occur, but they are simple to resolve if you know how to use the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA). Under this law, you must send the creditor a written notice about the problem to avoid paying for any charges you dispute. Many consumers forfeit their rights under this Act because they rely on calling the company to correct a billing problem. You may call if you wish, but phoning does not trigger the legal safeguards provided under the FCBA.

To take full advantage of your rights under the law, this is what you need to do.

1. Write to the bank, the financial institution, or retailer who issued the card. Your letter must be received within 60 days after the issuer mailed you the first bill containing the error. In your letter include: your name and account number; the date, type, and dollar amount of the charge you are disputing; and why you think there was a mistake.

2. Be sure to send the letter to the special address for billing inquiries, as designated by the card issuer. You frequently can find the proper address on your bill under a heading such as "send inquiries to."

3. Do not put your letter in the same envelope as your payment. To be sure the card issuer receives your letter, you may wish to send it by certified mail.

If you follow the previous requirements, this is what the creditor is required to do.

1. Acknowledge your letter in writing within 30 days after it is received, unless the problem has been resolved within that time.

2. Conduct a reasonable investigation and, within no more than 90 days, either explain why the bill is correct or correct the error.

3. Include documents showing that the charge was correct, if the creditor states the bill is correct and you asked for "proof" in your letter.

Under the FCBA, the card issuer cannot close your account just because you disputed a bill under the law.

If you continue to have problems with the card issuer, you might wish to seek legal advice or contact your local consumer protection agency. For more information about this law, contact the FTC for a free brochure. Write: "Fair Credit Billing," Public Reference, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580.
Excerpted from material prepared by the Federal Trade Commission 11/92

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