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What to Do When a Purchase Goes Wrong

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Spending money is easy, especially these days. Just give a credit or debit card number, set up an automatic bill payment or, if you must be old fashioned, write a check. But what if you have second thoughts?

If you aren't happy with the product or service you bought, how do you stop payment?

The procedure, as well as your rights, varies depending on the type of account you used for the payment, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. says in its winter newsletter. In fact, you may consider this when deciding how to pay, as your stop-payment options are better with a credit card payment than with one made with a debit card or check.

Generally, the first step is to seek satisfaction from the merchant with a refund, return or repair, the FDIC says. If that doesn't work, you can escalate.

To withhold or reverse a credit card payment, contact the card company.

"The Fair Credit Billing Act includes legal protections for problems with the quality of goods or services purchased with a credit card," the FDIC says. Under that law, if the purchase totals $50 or more, the merchant is in your home state or within 100 miles of your home, and you made a good-faith effort to correct the problem with the merchant, you may withhold payment for defective goods or services while your credit card company investigates the matter," the FDIC says.

"You may also withhold payment for defective goods or services under other circumstances, such as if the merchant is also your card issuer, regardless of the cost or geographic location."

If you have already paid the card bill, try to resolve the dispute with the merchant, and if that doesn't work, file a complaint with the card company. The card issuer may refund your money if it agrees with your complaint.

Remember, though, that you are still obligated to pay all other charges on your card bill. Check with the card company for other features it may offer, including extended warranties.

Federal law does not provide the same remedies for purchases made with debit cards, the FDIC says. If you discover the problem quickly enough, contact the bank to ask if the withdrawal can be stopped. But the odds are the withdrawal will be made too fast.

So in most cases the only real option is to negotiate with the merchant. Though there is no federal provision for reversing debt card charges, the Electronic Fund Transfer Act does provide safeguards against unauthorized transactions and billing errors.

Your options with a purchase by check are better, because it takes a few days for the payment to be passed to the merchant. During that window, you can tell the bank to stop payment; afterward, you'll have to deal with the merchant. Stopping payment may incur a charge, typically $20 to $35.

Automatic recurring payments from a checking account can be stopped by contacting the vendor to change your payment option, then notifying the bank. If the payment is on a credit card, contact the vendor and deal with the card company only if the automatic payments continue. You have 60 days to dispute the payment with the card company.

Note that your right to stop a payment may be limited by any contract you've signed with the vendor, such as a two-year cellphone deal. The FDIC says that any oral request to stop an automatic payment be followed with a written one.

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