Published on December 31st, 2015 | by Chuck36
Online Credit Card Purchases – Transaction Date and Post Date
[Originally posted on 3/25/14; reposted and updated 12/31/15]
We’re all familiar with quarterly categories on credit cards. Often, things like gas, groceries Amazon and other popular categories earn 5x rewards on the Chase Freedom card, the Discover IT card, the Citi Dividend card, and the US Bank Cash+ card.
In December 2014, I was wondering what would happen if I made an online purchase on December 31 to try to take advantage of a quarterly category. Logically, I assumed that it would not be able trigger the 5x bonus since the charge would not post for a day or two, which would be past the eligible time-frame. I was a little thrown off because I saw lots of blogs (including ours) mention that it’s now the last time to take advantage of the 5x Amazon with Chase Freedom and the 5x online purchases with Discover.
I chatted with a Discover rep, and she confirmed that online purchases made on the last day of December would likely not count for 5x rewards.
In an effort to see actual results, I tested it out and bought two physical $10 Amazon gift cards on December 31, one with my Freedom card and another with my Discover card. Both would have earned 5x on the purchase as per the quarterly category, but neither charge posted on December 31. The Chase charge posted on 1/2, the Discover charge posted on 1/1 and neither earned 5x rewards. I followed up with Chase and Discover, and both replied that since the charge posted in January it isn’t eligible for the bonus rewards.
Same thing happened with a $10 gift card ordered from Kmart on 12/31. The charge posted to my Discover statement as 1/3 and no bonus rewards were earned. (More data points below.)
This same question comes up more often for me in regard to Amex Offers. These offers come with time limitations, and many of them can be used online. Can you shoot off an order on the last day? The terms on all Amex Offers clearly warn not to do this (emphasis mine):
Statement credit will appear on your billing statement within 90 days after xx/xx/xx, provided that American Express receives information from the merchant about your qualifying purchase. Note that American Express may not receive information about your qualifying purchase from merchant until all items from your qualifying purchase have been provided/shipped by merchant.
Always try to give an extra few days for the item to ship so that there won’t be a loss of the Amex Offer credit.
Credit Card Signup Bonuses
Similarly, when signing up for a new credit card, we often need to spend a certain amount of money within a certain timeframe. These purchases also need to post to the account before the end-date and can be problematic when made on the final few days before of the deadline.
Here’s a quote from the terms of a random AmEx card signup bonus:
…purchases may fall outside of the 3 month period in some cases, such as a delay in merchants submitting transactions to us or if the purchase date differs from the date you made the transaction. (For example, if you buy goods online, the purchase date may be the date the goods are shipped).
Again, we need to always be careful to meet all minimum spending a few days in advance to be sure that there’s no issue with the charge posting in time, particularly in the case of online orders.
For in-store purchases, the purchase date should always be the date that counts. Though the charge won’t post completely to the account for a couple of days, it should calculate based on the transaction date both for Amex Offers and for quarterly categories. Chase actually mentions “transaction date” and “post date” but rewards would be calculated using the transaction date. [This has been confirmed by Chase.]
Citi and Barclay also mention the two dates, in a less conspicuous way, the transaction date being the main one. Amex doesn’t mention the post date at all in your online transaction history, just the transaction date. In any case, all issuers consider the ‘real’ date to be the transaction date for in-store purchases.
There have been recorded flukes when this did not happen, but typically it will always go with the transaction date, and you should be able to get manual credit for the odd case that turns out differently.
Online purchases are more tricky since the retailer may not process the charge completely (or at all) on the transaction date. They may wait for the shipping date or something else.
Sometimes, we see a $1 authorization at the time of purchase, sometimes we see a pending charge for the full amount, and sometimes we see nothing.
Logically, if you see the full amount as pending in your online login, that means that the retailer already ‘swiped’ your card and the transaction would seemingly be the same as the card swiped in-store.
However, this does not appear to be accurate.
To give one example: when ordering from Staple.com, you’ll usually see a $1 authorization and – within minutes – the full charge amount show up on your credit card. Yet the post date on your credit card statement will show as a day or two later.
Apparently, online orders have three steps (besides the $1 authorization):
- the original hold on the credit card
- the retailer officially puts the charge through
- it posts as a completed charge
Presumably, it’s step #2 that counts as the transaction date, not step #3 and not step #1. It’s possible that this varies by the retailer, but this is my best guess for how it works in general.
On a practical note, this means that you always need to give a few extra days for charges to process when doing online orders, both with regards to quarterly categories and for Amex Offers as well.
I did some experimenting with the transaction-date/post-date by tracking my purchases at various online retailers. Here’s a sampling of what I found. (Note that many of my examples were with gift cards, simply because that’s the bulk of items that I order online. I assume we’d see similar results with ordinary goods.)
- Amazon.com Do an instant gift card reload on 12/31/15 at 19:21 PST. Shows on Chase statement as 1/1/16 purchase date and 1/3/16 post date. Reported by a friend.
- Staples.com Order e-gift card on 1/20. Receive gift card on 1/21. Shows on Amex statement as 1/21.
- Staples.com Order e-gift card on 1/25. Receive gift card on 1/27. Shows on Amex statement as 1/27.
- Walmart.com Order physical gift card on 11/29. Ships 11/30. Shows on Amex as 11/29.
- Walmart.com Order physical gift card on 11/29. Ships 11/30. Shows on Amex as 11/30 (x2).
- Bestbuy.com Order physical gift card on 11/25. Ships on 11/26. Shows on Amex as 11/26.
- Kmart.com Order car charger on 11/20. Ships on 11/22. Shows on Discover as 11/20.
- Kmart.com Order physical gift card on 12/31. Ships ? Shows on Discover as 1/3.
- Amazon.com Order Whole Foods physical gift card on 12/16. Ships on 12/17. Shows on Discover as 12/16.
- Amazon.com Order physical Amazon gift card on 12/31. Ships ? Shows on Discover as 1/1.
- Amazon.com Order physical Amazon gift card on 12/31. Ships ? Shows on Chase as 1/2.
- eBay.com Order Sears physical gift card from GiftCardMall on 12/12. Ships on 12/16. Shows on Discover as 12/12.
- Target.com Order physical gift card on 11/29. Ships 12/8. Shows on Discover as 12/10.
- Zappos.com Order physical gift card on 12/8. Ships on 12/10. Shows on Amex as 12/8.
- Jcrew.com Order physical gift card on 11/21. Ships 11/24. Shows on Amex as 11/25.
- Allenedmonds.com Order physical gift card on 12/24. Ships on 12/27. Shows on Amex as 12/27.
As you can see, many online retailers process the charge on the purchase date and many process the charge on the ship date. With target.com and jcrew.com we even saw them process it after the ship date. Odd indeed. (I’ll just add that the target.com data point is slightly weak since this was part of the discounted gift cards they offered on Cyber Monday, and everyone’s orders were delayed beyond what was supposed to have been. It’s possible this is an anomaly.)
With Walmart, Amazon and Kmart I actually had conflicting experiences, possibly dependent on what time of day the purchase was made or maybe on other factors. In the case of Amazon and Kmart, the conflict is from my December 31 purchases; possibly over New Years these things process slower.
In any case, I think it’s enough to show that it’s unreliable to assume any given retailer will process the transaction in any particular manner and we always need to err on the side of caution and give an extra few days. If it’s the last moment, we’d have to decide if it’s worth taking the chance, depending on the circumstance.