My refund hasn’t posted to my credit card yet. What should I do?

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By Christopher Elliott

If you’ve ever waited for your refund to post to your credit card — and waited, and waited — then you probably know how Helen Milgrom feels.

She returned a dress she bought online through Saks Fifth Avenue. Almost two months went by, but Saks never refunded her $659.

We get a ton of emails like Milgrom’s. A customer either returns a product or requests a refund for a ticket and then never get it.

Milgrom’s problem was even worse.

“Saks isn’t responding to my inquiries,” she says. “I would like my refund.”

Let’s answer the following questions:

  • How long should it take to get a refund?
  • What causes a delay when you’re owed a refund?
  • How do you make a refund move faster?

Before we get there, though, let’s see what happened to Milgrom’s dress:

“There’s been no refund posted to my MasterCard”

The problem started with Milgrom ordering a dress through Saks.com. We’ve had refund problems with Saks in the past, so that’s how she found out about our highly effective advocacy team.

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In early February, Milgrom returned the dress to Saks via FedEx.

“I have proof of return delivery and a confirmation email from Saks stating that my refund was processed,” she says.

Milgrom waited for the money to be posted to her credit card, but 48 days later, there was no trace of the $659. 

“There’s been no refund posted to my MasterCard,” she complained. (Related: What happened to this Saks Fifth Avenue return and refund?)

Worse, the company simply stopped responding to her emails. It was as if they’d taken her money and stopped talking to her. 

How could that be?

How long should it take to get a refund?

When a company returns your money to your credit card, it can take time. Sometimes, lots of time.

How long does it take to get a credit card refund?

In the U.S., credit card companies must process refunds within 7 to 10 business days. But that doesn’t mean you’ll have the money — only that the merchant will initiate the transaction. 

How about debit cards?

Debit card refunds are typically faster, taking anywhere from two to five days.

When will I have my money?

There’s no agreement on how long the actual refund process will take, nor is there a federal law that requires a refund to be in your account by a certain time. For example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says it should take up to seven days, and the Federal Trade Commission says it shouldn’t take more than a month. Average time, according to a recent survey: about two weeks.

But wait … there’s more.

Once the merchant has initiated a refund, it must be approved by the bank. That usually happens within 7 to 10 business days. But it varies depending on the institution.

That’s why I always advise readers waiting for a refund to wait at least two credit card billing cycles before panicking.

A credit card billing cycle can last anywhere from 28 to 31 days, depending on the card issuer. In other words, you may need to wait more than two months to get your money back.

Let us pause for a minute to note the absurdity of this situation. Your credit card sucked the money from your account in seconds, but it’s taking TWO MONTHS to return it. 

I can’t believe we put up with this.

What causes a delay when you’re owed a refund?

Sometimes, refunds hit a snag and don’t post to your credit card on time. This happens more often than you would think, and for a variety of reasons.

  • Bank processing errors. Your bank may make an error when it tries to process your refund, which means the money will be in limbo — neither with your merchant nor in your account.
  • Mistaken cancellation. The merchant may mistakenly cancel the refund. Or it might do so intentionally, which happens when there’s a credit card dispute.
  • Expired credit card. If your card expires or you cancel it during the refund window, guess what? No refund for you! 

And the problem with all of these errors is that there’s no one to catch them. They just happen, and the only person who would notice them would be you, the customer, because you’re not getting your money.

Like I said, I can’t believe we continue to use this clunky payment system. Refunds should be fast and error-free. This is absurd.

But there’s a fix.

How do you make a refund move faster?

Waiting for a credit card refund can really test your patience, especially when you really need the money. But you can move the process along.

Contact the merchant

That’s the first step. A merchant can check on the status of your refund. If it hasn’t been initiated, then the first step is to get the process started.

Talk to your credit card company

There’s no harm in reaching out to your credit card company’s customer service department to inquire about the status of your refund. You’ll need to provide a few details, such as the date of the original transaction and the refund request, the amount to be refunded, and any verification information your merchant may have sent you.

Escalate your refund request

If you’re not getting the response you need from the customer service representative, contact an executive in writing. They may have more authority to expedite the refund process. Here’s how to reach someone in charge.

Don’t forget your rights

If the merchant refuses to give you a refund, you can file a credit card dispute or cite the Fair Credit Billing Act, which requires that credit card companies investigate billing errors and resolve them within a specific timeframe.

Bottom line: You don’t have to wait forever for your refund. 

What happened to the refund for her dress?

So what went wrong here? Well, it turns out Milgrom successfully returned her dress to Saks. The company then initiated a refund back to her credit card.

I checked with Saks, and it turns out we didn’t have the full story. Milgrom had bought the same dress twice and returned it twice, and that must have screwed up the refund. (According to Saks, it had only refunded her once.)

“There were multiple factors,” a Saks representative told me.

But once Milgrom had a chance to send all the supporting paperwork to Saks, the company figured out that it still needed to process the second return, and it did so.

There’s a takeaway for the rest of us: No one is going to ensure your next refund comes in on time — or at all. You need to track it and, if necessary, push it along. 

You would be surprised by how often refunds drag on or go missing. And those errors benefit the merchant and credit card company because they get to keep the money you assumed you were going to get.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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