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If you’ve ever had a relationship with a client turn south, chances are you’ve found yourself in a chargeback dispute . In this post I’ll be going over how you can win chargeback disputes as a freelancer and be paid for the work that you did (as long as you didn’t commit fraud.)
What Are Chargebacks?
A chargeback is when a bank or financial institution reverses a transaction at the request of the account holder. You can read more about chargebacks here.
So let’s say a client hired you to design a logo for them and they are not happy with your service. If you don’t refund their money directly, they can call up their bank and request that the charge be reversed. The bank will usually honor that request under certain conditions (more on that later) and the money will be debited from your account and returned to theirs.
Why Chargebacks Happen
I’ve been doing business on the internet for 7 years. In that time I’ve created logos for thousands of happy clients and have sold digital products to tens of thousands of happy customers. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of my clients and customers are satisfied with what they receive, there’s always going to be some small percentage of people who aren’t.
Anyone who’s ever run a business will tell you that it is virtually impossible to please everyone, and because of that there’s always potential for chargebacks to arise. If you are unable to reach an amicable resolution with an unhappy client, there’s a pretty good chance that they’re going to dispute the charge with their bank and request that it be reversed.
After all these years in business, I’ve only had 4 instances of chargebacks happen to me — 3 times it was because of an unhappy client that insisted on a full refund instead of the 50% refund they agreed to before starting the project, and the other client was actually quite happy with the logo and still uses it on his website to this day; he just thought he was slick and could get his money back.
I disputed them and won each decision.
Why Chargebacks Are Harmful
Chargebacks will hurt you for a variety of reasons…
- Lost money: if the chargeback sticks, it’s lost pay for all the work you did.
- Non-refundable fees: when a chargeback occurs, your bank/institution will usually charge you some kind of irreversible fee for inconveniencing them, even if you dispute the chargeback and win. In my most recent case PayPal charged me a $20 fee that I never got back, even though I won the dispute.
- Damages your relationship with payment processors: most importantly, financial institutions frown upon chargebacks and might close your account if you have too many of them, which would leave you without a means of collecting payment from future clients. You can read more about the different ways to accept payments as a freelancer here.
Needless to say, chargebacks can be menacing to your business even if you’re in the right.
Type Of Chargebacks
If you want to win chargeback disputes as a freelancer, the first step is to identify the kind of chargeback that occurred.
Consumers tend to have a misconception of what chargebacks are and how they work. They think that the bank is their own personal customer service department that they can call up and get a refund from whenever they’re unhappy with something, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Generally speaking, banks will only authorize a chargeback if some kind of fraud occurred. They don’t care that you’re unhappy with something you bought. They will just tell you that it’s a personal dispute to be settled between you and the merchant.
So with that in mind, in order for your client to successfully charge back the money they paid you, they have to convince their bank that they are the victims of fraud, and there’s 3 different types of fraud that a bank will act on.
1. Unauthorized Card Use
This means that your client paid you with a stolen credit card. If this is indeed the case then there’s not much you can do to win this dispute, nor should you because the money you received was stolen. Both you and the card holder are victims in this case and the person who committed fraud was the client.
Clients typically won’t lie to their banks about this in order to get a refund though because it’s very easy to disprove. You could just send over screenshots of email correspondence and phone records to prove that they did indeed authorize this charge. The IP address that they used to make the charge can also be matched and verified.
If they lie about this in order to get their refund it also means they’d have to cancel their card, wait to have a new one mailed to them, then update their payment method for all of the other services they were using that card for, which is just impractical and very inconvenient.
2. Item Not Received
This means that you failed to hold up your end of the agreement (or so they claim.) So let’s says they hired you to design a logo, they paid you, and you never did the work. In that instance you will lose the dispute because you did indeed commit fraud.
If they’re lying about this though then it’s very easy to disprove. All you have to do is provide their bank with all email correspondence and drafts/files you sent them.
3. Item Not As Described
This is the most common reason an unhappy client will use to get their money back because of how ambiguous and difficult it is to disprove. All 4 of my chargeback incidents were classified with this reason, and if an unhappy client of yours is trying to get their money back they’ll probably use it as well.
Let’s say you purchase a phone case from Amazon and the seller gets the order wrong and mails you a DVD instead. If the seller neglects to correct their mistake then the bank will consider that fraud and reverse the charge. Let’s say they did mail you the phone case though and you’re not happy with it because it’s a slightly darker shade of blue than depicted in the product photos. The bank doesn’t consider that fraud because it’s not significantly different than how it was described. They’ll just disregard that as a personal dispute between you and the seller.
I’m sure you can imagine how complicated and nuanced this sort of dispute can get.
Let’s talk about design services now. If a client hires you to design a logo and instead you design a website for them, then yes, you provided a service that’s significantly different than described. It’s on you to correct that mistake, and if you don’t then the bank will consider that fraud and will reverse the charge. However, the bank doesn’t care that your client is unhappy with a logo design they received if a logo design is what they agreed to purchase.
This is why it’s so important to clearly define what it is a client is hiring you for on your invoices. If it’s a logo design, itemize it as “logo design service”; not something vague and open to interpretation like “design service”. The same goes for those of you who may be clients: make sure your freelancer is specific about what it is you’re hiring them for. It’s for your protection as well.
How To Win Chargeback Disputes As A Freelancer
As previously mentioned, chargebacks are primarily offered as a means of fighting against fraud, so as long as you didn’t commit fraud, there’s no reason you shouldn’t win chargeback disputes as a freelancer.
Am I Right Or Am I Wrong?
The first step is to be honest with yourself and make an objective assessment of whether you’re in the right or the wrong.
I know it’s difficult to do this when you’re consumed with frustration over not being paid for your work (I’ve been there, believe me,) but your reputation and track record as a freelancer is more important in the long run than whatever money you’ve lost over this. Nobody wants to hire someone who’s known for being stubborn, unreasonable, and dishonest.
Ask yourself the following questions, and answer them honestly…
- Did I make it clear to my client exactly what it is he or she was hiring me for?
- Did I provide them with what they hired me for?
- Did I meet all promised deadlines?
- Did I make an effort to reach an amicable resolution with the client once they voiced their dissatisfaction with my service?
If you answered no to any of those questions, regardless of the reason, you may be in the wrong and it may be in your best interest to concede.
If your client failed to voice their dissatisfaction with you and their chargeback dispute caught you by surprise then they are automatically in the wrong. Most banks require the cardholder to make an attempt to get a refund directly from the merchant before disputing the charge, and by failing to do so they have invalidated their claim.
If you’re confident that you’ve held up your end of the agreement and did not commit fraud, then it’s time to dispute the chargeback.
Winning The Dispute
If you want to win chargeback disputes as a freelancer then they’ll need to be handled correctly. Consider the following steps…
Step 1: Reply Promptly
You only have a certain amount of time to dispute a chargeback, so don’t wait any longer than you have to. Dispute it as soon as possible.
Step 2: Make Your Case
Create a bulleted list with a timeline of events. Simply state the facts and leave your opinions and emotions out of it. Here’s an example…
August 1st, 2019: Client hired me to design a logo and agreed to all of the terms in the attached service agreement.
August 3rd, 2019: First drafts are sent to the client. Screenshots of the dated email and copies of the draft are attached.
August 4th, 2019: Client is not happy with the designs and requests a refund. I offer a 50% refund as per our agreement (attached), but he insists on a full refund, which he is not entitled to as per our agreement.
August 5th, 2019: Client ceases communication and disputes the charge with his financial institution.
This is the same format that I won all 4 of my chargeback disputes with. You don’t need to speak in legalese and you shouldn’t have to hire an attorney to do this for you. It’s kind of like civil court. Just state the facts and let the bank verify them and make their decision.
Step 3: Send All Relevant Documents
Make sure to substantiate all of your claims with evidence, including…
- A copy of the service agreement
- Screenshots of all relevant emails with the time and date clearly visible
- Copies of all drafts, revisions, and any other deliverables sent
If you can’t back up your claims with proof then it’s your word versus their’s, which will make the dispute that much more difficult to win.
Once you’ve sent in your dispute you’ll have to be patient and await the bank’s decision. In my experience, it usually takes 2-3 months for them to reach a conclusion. If you’re using PayPal then you’ll be notified by email.
Preventing Chargebacks In The Future
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so the true way to win chargeback disputes as a freelancer is to avoid them at all costs. Here’s some tips that have helped me keep disputes at a minimum…
Be Specific About Deliverables
As mentioned earlier, make sure to outline exactly what it is the client is hiring you for on your invoice. If you use something vague like “design service”, that could be interpreted to mean literally anything. The client could say that they hired you for interior design and successfully claim that the item is “not as described”.
Make Your Refund Policy Clear
Make sure to include your refund policy on the service agreement that you attach to your invoice. The bank will probably decide in your client’s favor if don’t have a clear refund policy.
My refund policy clearly states that if a client is not happy with their designs then they are entitled to a 50% refund. However, due to the investment of my time that is required, full refunds are not possible.
Every one of my clients agree to this policy before we start, therefore unless they can prove they’re victims of fraud, they’re going to lose the chargeback dispute.
Be Willing To Compromise
Finally, and most important of all, is your own willingness to compromise and make concessions when necessary.
Out of the tens of thousands of transactions I’ve posted throughout my 7 years of doing business, there’s a good reason why only 4 of them have ever attempted to charge back — because I always do my best to find an amicable resolution with the occasional unhappy client, even if it means offering some wiggle room on my own terms and conditions. I’d much rather concede a little more than initially agreed to if it means avoiding an ugly situation, which chargeback scenarios are. That number could easily be much higher than 4 if I were stubborn and dug my feet in every time someone had a grievance with my products or services.
If you have an unhappy client on your hands then it’s very important that you communicate with them and try your best to reach a resolution before things escalate to a chargeback. Don’t ignore them and don’t leave them hanging for days at a time. Address their concerns immediately, and do so in a civilized, empathetic manner. I’ve found that most clients are reasonable people who’d rather not escalate things either.
Logos By Nick LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Read affiliate disclosure here.
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