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I’m not sure how long this pattern has been going on but I just noticed certain charges on my credit card statement do not match the order date for my online purchases, particularly with Amazon.com. When I look at some order history I can highlight an example of this with one transaction that had two items

Order Placed: 12/16/2022
Item 1 Shipped on 12/16/2022
Item 2 shipped on 12/19/2022
Credit card Transactions
Visa 1234 12/19/2022 $25.87
Visa 1234 12/16/2022 $7.51

What’s going on here exactly I expected one credit card transaction of $33.38, what does shipping have to do with breaking up an order, it just seems to clutter up the order history against the credit card statements. The only reason I even noticed this particular order is because the credit card transactions were on separate statements falling just on the border of the statement end date.

Is there some regulation that mandates charge transactions can only be made at the time of shipping? Is there a way to ask vendors to just charge in full upfront to avoid these sort of messy loose ends that just proliferate the line items on a credit card statement?

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  • 16
    I don't think Amazon are going to change their billing system for you. And yes, they do charge when the item ships.
    – littleadv
    Sep 21, 2023 at 5:14
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    Quick Amazon tip, if you go to Account -> Payments -> Your Payments -> Transactions it will list each charge made to your account. This is more helpful when reconciling transactions than going through orders (which can have more than one transaction within them, as you found).
    – Nosjack
    Sep 21, 2023 at 20:18

4 Answers 4

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Yes, Amazon is obligated to charge your card in this way because Visa's merchant rules require all merchants to charge a customer's card only when an order actually ships.

1.5.7.1 Transaction Deposit Conditions

A Merchant, Payment Facilitator, Marketplace, or Digital Wallet Operator must not submit a Deposit for a Transaction until one of the following occurs:

[…]

  • The merchandise or services are shipped or provided. This does not apply if the Cardholder has paid an Advance Payment.
7.6.1.2 Transaction Date Limits

For a Transaction involving goods that are shipped (except for an Advance Payment), the Transaction Date must be on or after the date on which the goods are shipped.

Additionally, "Advance Payments" are specifically defined:

Table 5-19: Transaction-Specific Requirements

Only the following Merchant categories may process an Advance Payment representing the entire purchase amount before the goods or services are delivered:

  • T&E [Travel & Entertainment]
  • Custom goods or services
  • Face-to-Face Environment, where not all items purchased in the Transaction are immediately available but will be shipped or provided at a later date
  • Recreational services or activities related to tourism and travel

The terms and conditions must specify the date of shipping of the goods or services to the Cardholder.

I assume MasterCard, Amex, and Discover have similar rules in place.

You cannot ask vendors to charge your card upfront because doing so would be a violation of the merchant's agreement with the card networks.

(Well, you can ask, but Amazon certainly won't do it. A small operation might do it, even if they shouldn't.)

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    thanks for diving deep, that's pretty convincing stuff right there, and in my case it was an Amazon Visa card so Visa is definitely implicated here. Wonderful getting this demystified.
    – jxramos
    Sep 21, 2023 at 19:54
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    I had to look up that "T&E" stands for "Travel & Expense". I think this answer would be improved with a bracketed note to that effect? Sep 21, 2023 at 23:35
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    My experience is that there's a certain amount of fudging around the definition of "actually shipped". Based on the timing of notification emails I get, the card gets billed once the package is placed in the "outgoing" pile, even if the shipper won't pick it up until the next business day (for example, I get a "card billed" notification from my bank late Friday evening, and a tracking number the next Monday).
    – Mark
    Sep 22, 2023 at 2:42
  • @Mark I think it's actually a little earlier than that--I think the charge goes through when it's ready to go in the outgoing pile. At that point they see if the charge goes through and don't ship if it doesn't. (Happened to me once, the website had out-of-date information on available rewards and used funds that didn't exist. Got a pay-if-you-want-it-to-ship e-mail out of that.) Sep 24, 2023 at 2:26
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    And of course “bill when shipped”. is what we want. That rule was forced by The Gubbmint 30 odd years ago because of seller abuse.
    – RonJohn
    Sep 24, 2023 at 18:56
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Clearly Amazon billed your credit card on the date that each of the two items you ordered was shipped. This seems very reasonable.

Charging when shipped simplifies things in many ways. For example it simplifies making a refund if one of the items is unexpectedly unavailable or fails to arrive. There are also advantages if the time between the two shippings is long. If you charge when the first item is shipped, customers will be upset that they are charged for something they haven't received yet. If you charge when the second is shipped Amazon has to wait a long time for their money.

You can ensure that there is only one charge by asking that all the items are shipped at the same time.

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    Even "ship all together" may not be enough to get a single bill, if some items shipped from Amazon's warehouses and some from other companies. But it should help.
    – keshlam
    Sep 21, 2023 at 12:40
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    oh yes now that you mention it we have had orders placed in the past and the item just sits there in the order history with no action waiting for something to get back in stock. I guess it disincentivizes the practice of taking a bunch of orders waiting to get inventory and paying with some of the order money and then shipping down the road.
    – jxramos
    Sep 21, 2023 at 15:25
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The online seller has two possible sources of rules regarding when they bill:

  • the government
  • the credit card network

In the United States the Federal Trade Commission seems to be concerned with did you shipp the item in a reasonable amount of time:

Your Rights When You Shop by Mail, Online, or by Phone

The federal Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule applies to most things you order by mail, online, or by phone. It says:

  • Sellers have to ship your order within the time they (or their ads) say. That goes whether they say “2-Day Shipping” or “In Stock & Ships Today.” If they don’t give a time, they must ship within 30 days of when you placed your order.
  • If there’s a delay shipping your order, the seller has to tell you and give you the choice of either agreeing to the delay or canceling your order for a full refund.
  • If the seller doesn’t ship your order, it has to give you a full refund — not just a gift card or store credit.

The other source is the rules put in place by the credit card network. They put in place policies regarding when a retailer can bill for an item. Billing long before an item ships makes consumers angry, which impacts both the retailer and the credit card company.

Because the two packages might have come from locations hundreds of miles or thousands of miles apart, charging you only when that box ships makes it easier for them to handle issues related to delays and returns.

1

Amazon's process (classically) is actually a little more complicated than others have explained here. They (apparently):

  1. Sit on your order for a time. When this step ends, they know where they are shipping from, and that the item is in stock. This step is also where your order can be subdivided.
  2. Bill you.
  3. Collect and package your items.
  4. Ship your package.

Steps 2 though 4 typically happen in a very short period, probably less than an hour (though these days Amazon also prefers to be the shipper).

The only way you will see this is if the billing step fails.

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