The Ultimate Guide to Debit Card Chargebacks

Americans love debit cards for their simplicity: no debt, no monthly bills, and the ability to pay directly from their checking accounts anywhere payment cards are accepted (including online). Debit cards still come standard with almost every new checking account, and in 2022, debit surpassed credit as consumers' most preferred payment card, with 56.2% of consumers preferring debit.

By accepting debit card payments, you open your business up to a broad class of consumers who prefer convenience and simplicity in their financial transactions. But like credit cards, debit card payments do carry risks for businesses, the most significant of which is the chargeback.

In this article, we’ll explain what debit card chargebacks are and how they work, we’ll offer some tips on avoiding debit card chargebacks, and we’ll discuss how to respond to them when they happen.

What Is a Debit Card Chargeback?

A debit card chargeback is simply the opposite of a payment. Instead of funds flowing from a customer’s bank account to yours, you — the business — are debited the cost of a disputed amount (plus an additional fee).

A chargeback is typically triggered when a cardholder notices an unexpected or — in their opinion — unwarranted debit on their account. The cardholder will notify the debit card issuer, and if the issuer considers the complaint valid, they will reverse the charge.

How Much Do Debit Card Chargebacks Cost?

Every ecommerce business will have to deal with chargebacks from time to time, but excessive chargebacks can be damaging to your revenue stream. If a chargeback occurs after you’ve shipped a product, you’ll lose the value of the product and the cost of shipping.

Chargeback fees can exceed $100 per transaction. Banks determine their chargeback fees according to how many chargebacks a business has incurred over a month. So, the more chargebacks you have, the higher your fees will be. In extreme cases, card issuers may revoke your ability to accept their debit cards altogether.

(We recommend aiming for a chargeback rate of 1% or lower.)

What Are the Differences Between Debit Card Chargebacks and Credit Card Chargebacks?

The primary difference between debit card chargebacks and credit card chargebacks may be one of motivation. The funds for a debit card purchase come directly out of a cardholder’s bank account. Whereas with a credit card purchase, the money comes from a line of credit a cardholder has with a bank. If a chargeback is granted, the purchaser is simply no longer obligated to repay the amount.

So, because buyers spend their own money on debit card purchases, they’re often more inclined to resolve disputed situations quickly and recoup their losses. This means they’ll be more likely to contact businesses directly — which is advantageous for you, because it doesn’t increase your chargeback fees.

Banks, too, have less incentive to process debit card chargebacks. After all, it’s not their money that’s at risk.

Consumers also tend to prefer credit cards for high-dollar-value purchases. Credit cards offer more fraud protection and lower caps on liability than debit cards. According to rates set by the government, cardholders are liable for $50 of unauthorized charges if they report it within two days. After two days, the liability climbs rapidly to $500. After 60 days, cardholders are responsible for the full amount of unauthorized payments.

Because of the differences between credit and debit cards, and how cardholders use them, most online businesses will see fewer debit card chargebacks than credit card chargebacks.

What Causes Debit Card Chargebacks?

Chargebacks can be irritating and expensive, but they’re not all bad. The chargeback system protects consumers from people who would steal and misuse their debit cards or debit card information. Chargebacks help give people the confidence to buy from businesses like you.

Ironically, while the chargeback system was built to prevent fraud, it can be exploited to commit fraud (sometimes inadvertently, as we’ll explain below). And that’s when debit card chargebacks really become a problem for businesses. If you’re going to pay a chargeback, you want to be sure it’s for legitimate reasons.

Before we get into fraud, however, it’s useful to understand the scenarios debit card issuers consider legitimate reasons for chargebacks.

Every major debit card issuer has its own system of codes to classify chargebacks. The codes vary, but some of the most common reasons for debit card chargebacks include:

  • Merchandise not received. A customer pays for an order but claims the products never arrived.
  • Item not as described. The order arrives, but it doesn’t match the description and pictures on the business’s website.
  • Incorrect billing. The amount withdrawn from the cardholder’s account doesn’t match the invoiced amount. This may be due to the business billing the wrong amount or a technical error between the bank and the business (double billing, for example).
  • Fraudulent transaction. The customer is a victim of fraud. Someone is using their debit card information to make purchases without authorization.
  • Refund not issued. A customer returns an item expecting a refund or exchange but receives neither.
  • Transaction not recognized. A customer does not recognize a transaction on their bank statement. (Note: This doesn’t necessarily mean the transaction is fraudulent. The company name on the statement may differ from the company name on the website, for example. Unrecognized — but legitimate — transactions are a common cause of “friendly fraud.”)

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What Are the Two Types of Debit Card Chargeback Fraud?

By 2026, it’s estimated that global chargeback transaction volumes will reach 337 million, a 42% increase from 2023 levels. Not all misuse is on purpose, though. Nevertheless, it’s still considered fraud, and it’s still costly to businesses.

Chargeback fraud

Standard chargeback fraud occurs when someone knowingly makes a false claim regarding a debit card transaction. For example, someone might claim an item was damaged on arrival when it arrived in good condition. If the chargeback is approved, the person would get their money back and get to keep the product.

This type of fraud is discouragingly common. Friendly fraud moved past card testing and identity theft to become the second-most common fraud attack type in 2023, according to Merchant Risk Council survey data. In addition, 26% of consumers admit to filing a chargeback to secure refunds or avoid strict return policies

Friendly fraud

Despite its cheerful moniker, friendly fraud can harm ecommerce businesses. It’s called friendly fraud because it’s committed without the intent to deceive. Think of friendly fraud as “fraud by mistake.”

You may have had the experience of looking at your bank statement and puzzling over a mysterious transaction. Eventually, you probably either figured out what the unknown charge was for or you let it go.

Occasionally, customers dispute unfamiliar debits on their bank accounts. The dispute may result in a chargeback — even if the charge was legitimate. This is friendly fraud.

Friendly fraud can happen when:

  • A customer makes a purchase but then forgets about it.
  • Another family member authorizes a purchase without informing the cardholder.
  • A customer forgets about a recurring payment, such as a subscription to software or a magazine.
  • A customer misunderstands your return policy.

Tips for minimizing friendly fraud

You can cut down on friendly fraud — and, thus, reduce your chargeback fees — by being flexible and available and communicating your policies clearly with your customers.

  • Provide 24/7 communication options by phone, email, and chat. Be sure to keep your customers updated regularly on the status of their orders.
  • Make sure your company name on debit card statements is the same as the company name your customers know.
  • Feature your return and exchange information prominently on your website. Don’t hide it.
  • If you offer subscriptions, explain your cancelation procedures clearly. Remind customers of recurring orders.
  • Require signatures for high-value deliveries.

How Does the Debit Card Chargeback Process Work?

Let’s follow the money through the typical debit card chargeback process:

The claim: A cardholder asks their bank (the issuing bank) for a chargeback and explains why.

The investigation begins: The issuing bank assigns a code to the chargeback request and launches an inquiry to determine if the claim is valid. The bank may temporarily credit the cardholder’s account.

The evidence is gathered: The issuing bank lets the business’s bank know about the chargeback request. At this point, if the business believes the request is invalid, they can submit documentation refuting the request.

The determination: Taking the evidence into account, the issuing bank makes a decision. If the bank determines there’s a valid reason for the chargeback, it will credit the cardholder and remove funds from the business’s account, including fees. If not, the business will not be charged, and the cardholder will lose any temporary credit.

How long does it take?

As a business, it’s crucial you understand the chargeback timeline. You have a limited window to dispute chargeback requests, so you need to be prepared. The size of the window varies depending on the payment network. Your customers also have restrictions on how long they can wait to file chargeback requests.

The table below outlines the chargeback time limits for each of the four major payment networks.


Payment network Cardholders have … days to file for a chargeback Businesses have … days to provide refuting evidence
Visa 120 (75 days for requests coded as “Card Recover Bulletin or Exception File,” “Declined Authorization” or “No Authorization.”) 20
Mastercard 120 (45 days for requests related to a warning bulletin file or account number not on file.) 45
American Express 120 20
Discover 120 30

You may have noticed that there’s a significant lag between when a customer makes a purchase and when the transaction clears the chargeback window. Chargeback lag is a genuine concern that makes it difficult for businesses to record their revenue accurately.


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How Can Businesses Dispute Debit Card Chargebacks?

Businesses have the right to dispute chargebacks. But taking on chargeback claims consumes time and resources that might be better spent elsewhere. You’ll have your work cut out for you. Unfortunately, the industry average win rate is low; only 30% of disputes are decided in favor of the business.

But that doesn’t mean you should let every chargeback go through without a contest. Businesses can prevail — when they’re prepared. And sometimes, the effort is worth the reward. Just over 77% of businesses that made fighting chargebacks a top priority were able to beat the average win rate.

It may be worth disputing a debit card chargeback if:

  • The chargeback amount is high enough to justify the cost of disputing it.
  • You possess persuasive evidence the chargeback request is invalid.
  • You already refunded the disputed amount.
  • You suspect the customer will file another fraudulent claim. Almost half of the people who make false chargeback claims make another within three months.

How to maximize your chances for a successful chargeback dispute

The keys to a winning chargeback challenge are preparation and education. The more you know about the chargeback process and your rights, and the more meticulous you are about keeping and organizing your records, the better your chances will be of convincing a card issuer to deny a chargeback.

Here are some tips for defeating a chargeback:

      1. Know the rules

Every card issuer has different procedures for processing chargebacks. Familiarize yourself with each. By learning the reason codes for each company, you can identify trends and make plans for preventing future fraudulent activity.

      2. Document everything

Your word alone isn’t enough to overturn a chargeback. Card issuers expect documented evidence. Be prepared to turn over anything that can bolster your case:

    • Email exchanges with customers
    • Shipping and delivery confirmations
    • Customer usernames and IP addresses
    • Your return policy and your terms of service
    • Customer signatures that authorize payment
    • Evidence your customer received or used your items
    • Documentation from previous transactions that went undisputed

      3. Respect the deadlines

As we noted above, debit card issuers set rigid time limits for disputing chargeback requests. Learn how much time you have, because you can be sure the fraudsters already know.

       4. Know your rights

The 1974 law that established the current chargeback process does offer businesses some protection. For instance, chargebacks cannot exceed the original transaction amount (plus fees, of course). Another rule stipulates that customers may not request chargebacks for returned items. You are also allowed to demand a product return when a customer requests a chargeback.

Find all your rights concerning debit and credit card chargebacks here.

        5. Get help

When it comes to reining in your chargeback rate, you don’t have to go it alone. An experienced expert can help you not only dispute debit card chargebacks properly, but also prevent them from happening in the first place.


Related Reading: 7 Tips to Prevent Recurring Billing Chargebacks

How Can Businesses Prevent Debit Card Chargebacks?

Whether triggered by customer dissatisfaction, outright fraud, or friendly fraud, debit card chargebacks are a hassle to resolve and can get costly when they accumulate. You can save your business money and yourself valuable time and effort by taking steps to reduce chargebacks.

Here are five strategies for discouraging chargebacks at your ecommerce company:

1. Be generous with refunds

Customers don’t really care about chargebacks. When customers are unhappy with a product or service, they just want their money back, and they’ll choose the quickest, easiest route to get it. Remember, with debit cards, customers have real money in the game, not lines of credit.

So, if a customer asks for a refund, and you suspect they’ll resort to a chargeback otherwise, consider granting the request. In the long run, refunding may save more money than disputing a chargeback. (Plus, it may help preserve your online reputation.)

2. Be serious about customer service

Some of the most successful brands in ecommerce got that way by always being willing to go the extra mile for customers — even if it means forgoing short-term revenue. If your business is known for timely, friendly customer service, customers will prefer to deal with you when they have an issue, rather than going through impersonal chargeback proceedings.

Make sure your customers know how to get in touch with your customer service team, then keep the lines of communication open 24/7. Different customers prefer different communication channels, so be reachable by email, phone, text, or chat.

Train your customer service staff to be kind and patient with customers and empower them to address and resolve customer questions and concerns.

3. Make your return, refund and exchange policies crystal clear

Customers don’t have a high tolerance for confusion. If a customer can’t figure out how to return or exchange an item, they may see a chargeback as a “self-service refund.”

Make sure your return policies are available from all product and checkout pages. And include links to the policies in all your customer correspondence.

4. Keep customers informed about subscriptions and authorization amounts

If customers have recurring charges, remind them each time they have payments approaching.

The same goes for authorization holds (like for a hotel room). The more you share with your customers, the less confusion there will be. Tell your customers the total amount of any authorization hold and how long you will retain the funds.

5. Invest in reliable fraud protection

Even the kindest, gentlest, most permissive customer service strategy won’t eliminate debit card chargebacks altogether. But robust fraud protection tools can help you get chargebacks under control. Solutions such as CVV verification, AVS, 3D Secure and two-factor authentication add a layer of security that will protect your business and let your customers know their payment information is in good hands.

At ClearSale, we use a hybrid approach that leverages the benefits of approving almost all valid transactions and declining clearly fraudulent transactions with precise accuracy. In fact, our AI-enabled technology uses an auto-approval algorithm that clears 97% of orders. Only about 3% of orders (at a maximum) are flagged for secondary review by our team of fraud analysts, who compile what they learn from those reviews and feed that intelligence into our approval algorithm to teach it to be even more accurate over time.

This allows us to deliver immediate decisions to our clients. In other words, we leverage secondary reviews for better accuracy and faster decisions — which actually improves the customer experience. And our clients see lower chargebacks, lower false declines and higher approval rates.

Secondary reviews help protect the rest of your customers who rely on you for safety and security when they’re shopping on your site. By following these tips, you can conduct secondary reviews in a relatively frictionless way that actually benefits your customers and your company.

ClearSale chargeback prevention and management

Even with a highly effective fraud prevention solution, your business may experience some chargebacks. For those instances, you should consider a comprehensive chargeback protection and management solution.

By choosing a customized chargeback management approach, ecommerce businesses can also breathe a little easier knowing they’re protected against the increase in fraud attempts and poised for long-term financial success. 

Businesses need to be able to protect their revenue against costly chargebacks while preventing costly false declines — and they don’t have a moment to lose. At ClearSale, we have the proven experience to let you confidently accept more transactions without the risk of business-damaging chargebacks. Contact us today to learn how easy it is to get started.


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