Can a hotel take 30 days to refund my deposit?

May 13, 2015 13:41 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I reserved a hotel room in Georgia and paid a one-night deposit of $200 using my credit card.  A week prior to my scheduled check-in date, I cancelled my reservation.  According to the hotel’s cancellation policy, I am entitled to a refund of my deposit less a $50 fee. The hotel said it would take 30 days to process the refund.  There is nothing in the hotel’s cancellation policy about it taking that long to issue a refund.  Meanwhile, I will incur interest on this charge.  Are they allowed to take that long to process my refund, and am I entitled to be reimbursed for the interest accrued? 

Consumer Ed says: 

The short answers to your questions are yes, and no.  Under these circumstances, Georgia law generally doesn't require companies to provide refunds, nor does it require a time frame for the business to process the refunds.   However, if the business has a refund policy, then it must honor those terms.  If the hotel has a refund policy that promises refunds will be processed within a certain time frame, and if you abided by the terms of that policy, then the hotel is obligated to issue you a refund according to those terms.  You mentioned that the hotel’s cancellation policy did not specify a time frame for the refund to be processed.  If this is so, the hotel was not acting outside its stated cancellation policies.

One reason that businesses often take time to issue refunds is that they sometimes process the refunds in batches to avoid paying several transaction fees.  For example, if the business uses a merchant account to process its transactions, it may have to pay a transaction fee every time it transfers funds out of its merchant account; accordingly, it may choose to process all the refunds once in a particular period to save on the transaction fee.  Often, credit card companies charge merchants per transaction fees for charge-backs, so the hotel may have used the same reasoning to avoid paying multiple individual charge-back fees.  Along these lines, the hotel also wouldn’t be required to reimburse you for any interest accrued for the charge on your credit card while you were waiting for your refund (unless its stated cancellation policy provided otherwise).

If you booked the hotel through a third-party website, you should also consult the website’s cancellation and refund policy.  For example, Orbitz.com provides that your refund should post to your credit card within 7 days after cancellation.  Additionally, some credit card companies may offer trip cancellation insurance to compensate you for the losses.  In circumstances where the business keeps a deposit, consumers who pay with a credit card can also dispute the charge for the deposit with the credit card company—but the decision as to whether a refund would be granted would then be up to the credit card company.  The bottom line, however, is that in Georgia, there’s no formal legal right to a refund of a hotel deposit, absent a written policy granting you that right.

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Will my debit card be rejected if there are insufficient funds in my account?

April 30, 2015 20:20 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

Are banks obliged to reject attempts to use a debit card when there are insufficient funds in the account?

Consumer Ed says: 

When you use your debit card to make a purchase or other electronic payment for an amount greater than the balance in your checking account (thus creating an overdraft), the bank can choose to make the payment, or not.  In 2010, the Federal Reserve issued new rules regarding fees banks charge for overdrafting debit card and ATM transactions.  Under the old rules, banks were permitted to automatically enroll their customers in their standard overdraft practices.  These overdraft practices typically involved charging customers a fee to provide the additional funds.  However, under the new rules, the bank must obtain the customer’s permission to apply its overdraft practices to the account before charging a fee, which the customer typically provides by agreeing to a notice sent by the bank. 

If you don’t opt in to overdraft procedures and you attempt to make a purchase or withdrawal which would overdraft your account, the transaction will typically be declined, but you won’t be charged an overdraft fee.  However, if you’ve opted in to overdraft protection, your account can be overdrafted, and the bank can then charge you the fees set under the terms in your opt-in agreement.  Be aware that these fees can mount up quickly, so make sure you know what you’re agreeing to.

When setting up new accounts, pay careful attention to the documents you sign.  If you prefer your card to be declined and your account not to be overdrafted, don’t sign the opt-in form that will enroll you in the bank’s overdraft protection plan.  If you’d like the overdraft protection, then sign the form.  If you’ve previously enrolled in the overdraft program but no longer wish to be, you can contact your bank and opt-out of their overdraft policy.

Again, these rules apply to debit card and everyday transactions; they don’t cover checks and automatic bill payments.  Banks can still automatically enroll their customers in standard overdraft procedures for payments made using those methods.

In sum, to avoid overdraft charges, remember:

  1. Do not sign an agreement with the bank authorizing overdraft charges.
  2. Keep track of the money in your account by keeping your check register up to date.
  3. Make sure to record your electronic transactions as well.
  4. Make sure to take into account automatic bill payments.
  5. Review your account statements each month.
  6. If you do overdraft your account, deposit money into the account to cover the overdraft and any fees in order to avoid any additional charges.
  7. You can link your account to a savings account. You may be charged a transfer fee when overdrafting your checking.
  8. You can link your account to a credit card you have with the bank.  You may be charged a cash advance fee when overdrafting your checking.

 
If you have a complaint about the fees charged by your bank, you can try to resolve the problem directly with your bank.  If you make no headway on your own, you may want to file a complaint with a federal or state agency that enforces consumer banking law.  If your complaint involves a Georgia state-chartered bank or credit union, you can file a complaint with the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance (http://dbf.georgia.gov); otherwise, you can contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to file your complaint (http://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint).

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Are stores allowed to sell expired food products?

January 26, 2015 14:25 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

In Georgia are there laws that prohibit service stations and convenience stores from selling out-of-date food products?

Consumer Ed says: 

For the answer to this question, we consulted the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

The Georgia Food Act gives the Georgia Department of Agriculture the authority to put in place rules and regulations that businesses must follow regarding the sale of certain food products with expiration dates. According to the rules, “Expiration Date” means the same thing as “Pull Date”, “Best-By Date”, “Best Before Date”, “Use-By Date”, and “Sell-By Date” and they all refer to the last date on which certain products can be sold at retail or wholesale. In Georgia, it is considered unlawful to sell the following perishable food items past the expiration date stated on the label:

 

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Pre-packed sandwiches and other ready-to-eat products
  • Infant formula
  • Fresh shellfish (including oysters, clams and mussels)
  • Any potentially hazardous foods (meaning foods with time and/or temperature controls for the safety of the product) that are labeled “Keep Refrigerated”


For food products outside the list above – especially dry, shelf-stable products like potato chips or rice –the rules do not preclude the sale of products that are past the expiration date indicated on the label. Rather, the date is considered a “guideline” for freshness and quality.  If a food product has reached its expiration date, it will most likely be an issue of food quality, not food safety, and does not necessarily need to be disposed of immediately.  If the product has been stored properly and appears to be visually wholesome and fit for consumption, it can still be consumed after the expiration date with little to no threat of food safety concerns.

Keep in mind that a principle of American food law is that foods sold in the U.S. must be wholesome and fit for consumption.  An expiration date does not free a company who produces food or health products from such a responsibility.  A product that is dangerous to consumers would be subject to potential action by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove it from sale regardless of any date printed on a label.

To better protect yourself, always confirm the expiration dates on foods and beverages before you buy them. Nearly all food products on retail shelves include an expiration date on the product packaging these days.  If the item you're holding has an expiration or "best if used by" date that's already passed, pick another item. If you see expired items on a store shelf, there are several things you can do, such as:

  • Tell the store manager and follow it up with a letter. Send a copy to corporate headquarters as well.
  • Contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture Consumer Complaint line at 404-656-3621.
  • Contact your local Better Business Bureau (bbb.org)
  • Contact the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection (consumer.ga.gov)
  • File a complaint with the Attorney General (law.ga.gov)
  • File a complaint with the Food and Drug Administration (fda.gov).

 

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