Processing snafus can complicate credit, debit card purchases

Credit card being swiped through a card reader

In mid-June, Grocery, an upscale deli in Philadelphia, processed all of the debit and credit card transactions made in the store since March.

Yes, that's right. MARCH.

The owners had recently switched to a new processing system, and the system's salesperson "left out a step," as the owners told Philly Eater, a dining and entertainment blog.

So, after a customer asked why she hadn't been charged for something -- and the shop owners realized there was a big hole where money in their account should have been -- they took that step.

Three months’ worth of charges went through all at once.

The deli offered to pay overdraft fees for anyone whose account was overdrawn because of a mistimed transaction.

That's great -- and the right way to handle the situation.

But this isn't the only scenario in which a payment can take weeks or even longer to process.

If an item you bought online is back-ordered, many companies will wait until your order ships before you're charged.

And sometimes a merchant just slips up.

We asked Visa about their policies.

It "generally requires U.S. merchants to deposit transaction receipts within five calendar days of the transaction date," spokesman Ted Carr replied in an email. "The sooner a merchant deposits transaction receipts to its acquirer, the sooner the merchant will get paid."

Here's what you can do so you don't get dinged.

Keep track of your charges. Grocery's mistake illustrates one of the problems of becoming more of a cashless society. A swipe of a card is not handing over cash or writing a check, and it's easy to lose track of all those little purchases.

This is especially important if you're making those purchases with a debit card, because if you don't keep track of what you're spending, you could overdraw the same account you use to pay your bills.

Make sure you get receipts for everything, put them somewhere on your desk and log them at the same time every single day. We don't care how you do it -- online, on paper, on the back of a shoebox. You must keep track of what you're spending.

Then, when the purchase clears, mark it. If a payment hasn't been processed, it will stand out.

Tell the merchant. If you notice a purchase that you weren’t charged for, call the store or vendor and ask. They really have no reason to delay taking your money, so they probably didn't realize it was missing.

Use a credit card, not a debit card, whenever you can. If you pay off your credit card balances every month, you’ll pay no interest or fees and enjoy more protection in case something goes wrong. You'll also lower the risk of overdrawing your checking account.

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