I was just surprised by a $70 charge posted to my bank account, from a transaction I made over six months ago.

I have no complaint about the charge itself (I owe them that money), but in the future, I'd like to avoid the mistake of forgetting about charges (assuming that every purchase I made has been posted) and then being hit with unexpected drops in my bank account balance months later. In the worst case, these drops could cause unexpected overdraft fees and other issues. So my question:

How long do I have to keep track of a purchase (keep the receipt, for example) before it's fine to forget about it? Is there a point after which they are legally unable to charge me?

A closely related question here, but for the UK instead of the US.


Is there a point after which they legally unable to charge me?


If you gave a check, then the bank may bounce it as stale after 6 months, but doesn't have to. With debit/credit transactions, they post as they're processed, and some merchants may not sync their terminals or deposit their manual slips often. As the world becomes more and more connected this becomes extremely rare, but still happens.

Technically your promise to pay is a contract which never expires, and they can come after you years later to collect.

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  • 3
    It may be worth mentioning the notion of "statute of limitations", which makes it impossible to get a court judgment to collect the debt after a certain time and under certain conditions. – Nate Eldredge Jun 17 '16 at 14:59
  • Thanks for your answer. And thanks for the comment @NateEldredge. – 6005 Jun 17 '16 at 16:04

If you paid by debit/credit card, there is an expiration period to the authorization the seller is given by the merchant processor, although that timeframe is dictated by the credit card company/bank, merchant processor, and sometimes by state law.

That being said, the other posters are correct that technically, once you authorize charge, the seller has the right to expect fulfillment of the agreement, that you would pay them X dollars for Y product.

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  • For credit the authorization period only controls how long the issuer 'promises' to 'reserve' credit; if a merchant has a legitimate reason to charge you later, they just do a new auth. For example if you buy 3 things and one is out of stock and must be back-ordered from Elbonia (and you don't cancel) in two months when the product ships they auth and settle for that item, unless your account is now closed or overlimit. For debit there's no auth at all; they just submit the charge. – dave_thompson_085 Jun 19 '16 at 23:10
  • You're correct, but authorizations are not indefinite. Each card/card processor has its own set of rules on this, but in the same way that card charges can only be disputed within a certain time-frame by a card holder, merchants also only have a particular period of time. My bank, Chase, only lets an authorization "live" for ten working days, after which the merchant must obtain another authorization unless they can demonstrate prior consent by the card holder to allow an authorization/charge outside that window (as in your backorder example). – Daniel Anderson Jun 20 '16 at 1:33

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