Spiritual Service Professionals: How to Win Every Refund Dispute

Deck Pictured: Oswald Wirth Tarot (USGS, 1997).
Deck Pictured: Oswald Wirth Tarot (USGS, 1997).

This won’t be an interesting post.

It’s targeted only at spiritual service professionals.

So unless you are a professional tarot reader, astrologer, life coach, divination mentor, or are engaged professionally in a similar form of spiritual business, this post will not be of much interest.

I’m posting it kind of as a PSA so that it is available to any spiritual entrepreneur who manages to find this page.

If you teach business tips and strategies to spiritual entrepreneurs, then I ask of you to incorporate the contents of this post into your educational materials. Screw credit or no credit or infringement wtf ever– just get your people informed, will you? Who the hell cares who came up with the idea first. Just get the information out there to fellow spiritual service professionals.

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When you offer spiritual services online, such as tarot readings, astrology readings, are teaching or mentoring in a form of divination, or engaged in a form of spirituality-based coaching, you may at some point encounter the disgruntled client.

Payment was made online, perhaps through PayPal, and now that disgruntled client has lodged a claim with PayPal demanding a refund.

If you find yourself in that situation, I hope you’ll have at your fingertips all of the following information, so please save and download to your business files.

You Offer Services, Not Goods

There is a legal difference between a “good” and a “service.” Default refund policies, implied warranties, etc. are different depending on whether you are selling a good or service.

You are selling a service.

Even if you bundle that service with certain goods, at the end of the day, altogether as a total package, it’s a service. At least that will be your position and what you will argue and assert with every breath.

Are you selling a bone and feather charm for home protection? That is a service and here’s why: payment is for the service of custom-creating a charm and performing certain rituals on that charm on your client’s behalf. The service component, which is the heart of what the client is paying for, is the ritual you perform, not the bone-feather charm. The bone-feather charm is an incidental byproduct of your service, which is the spell-casting.

Get it?

Are you selling a tarot correspondence course that includes one-on-one tutoring and mentoring, but also a book, a tarot deck, and a few other knick-knacks? That’s a service and here’s why: payment is for the service of teaching and mentoring the client on tarot. The materials are incidental to the heart of what the client is paying for, which is the teaching and mentoring from an expert tarot professional like yourself.

Are you offering business mentoring or life coaching to spiritual entrepreneurs? That’s a service, dude.

Tarot readings? Astrology readings? Oracle card readings? Runes divination? Services. Enough. I know you get the point by now.

Since you are selling a service, the service fee is non-refundable once the service has been rendered. In other words, once the tarot, astrology, divinatory, life coaching session, metaphysics mentorship, or whatever has been received by the client and that service paid for, it is non-refundable.

If it was made painfully clear that the terms of agreement between you and the client was for a service, not a good, then even if that client files a claim or dispute with a third party, like PayPal or files a credit card chargeback, that third party is more likely to side with you if there is no disputing that the fee was for a service, not a good, and services have been completed.

Custom Goods

Even if the nature of what you’re selling is a good, not a service, if you really think about it, I would bet it’s a custom good. There is also a legal difference between a “good” and a “custom good,” so even if you’re selling a divination course package or a protection charm, you will assert and argue that you’re selling a custom good (also referred to as custom-made or customized good).

A custom-made good is one made per order. It’s okay if you have pre-fab (pre-fabricated) materials that you then assemble together for the order, but you’ve still assembled it, tailored it, packaged it, and/or tweaked it personally on behalf of a particular customer. The very act of having to add that personal (customized) touch to it puts the sale in part into services territory, so the law also grants leeway for custom goods and they can be contractually non-refundable.

So if you don’t think what you’re selling really falls under “service” because there’s actual, literal product involved, then consider it a custom-made good, and therefore as a custom-made good, is non-refundable. All invoices, terms and conditions, etc. needs to reflect that representation, however. It needs to be made abundantly clear that it is a custom-made good, which has been made to order. If you’re legitimately a custom order but you never made it clear to all parties involved, then you’re still SOL. So it has to be clear and unambiguous.

Issues with Late Delivery?

What if you did a boo-boo and delivered the service later than anticipated and now the client wants either a refund or a major discount? Well, this is going to depend on whether the delivery date is considered a “material” term.

Generally speaking, delivery date and timing is a material term to the contract, or the agreement, if somewhere in the terms of service is stated, “Time is of the essence.” So for your benefit, don’t ever state that in your terms of service.

“Time is of the essence” is also legal speak. It’s not just plain English. It bears with it certain legal implications. Specifically, that delivery date is now made a “material term.” Thus, if you don’t deliver on the date specified, then that failure can be construed as a “material breach” of the sales-purchase contract.

If you’re the one making and selling stuff, “time is of the essence” is an unfavorable contract term.

If you’re the one ordering and receiving stuff, “time is of the essence” is an awesome contract term to insist on.

Since this post presumes that you are a seller or service provider, in your terms of service, add the following verbiage: “The parties acknowledge that time is not of the essence here and the client is not requesting a time sensitive or urgent request.”

By adding that line, you swing the decision closer to your favor and make your argument that the delivery date was not material a bit more credible. If you are convincing that delivery date was an immaterial term, then the fact you delivered it later than expected does not entitle the client to a refund or event discount. Thus, you should be able to win on your argument.

That being said, it’s probably good practice to give a discount to a client if you delivered the reading late. It goes to this thing called honor. You want to be an honorable reader and part of being an honorable reader is consenting to eating the cost if you make a boo-boo.

Conspicuously Posted Terms of Service

If you’re not sure how to word it, just effing copy and paste the below into your own terms of service. Of course, edit and modify it to fit your menu of services offered, have it reflect your business name, etc. etc. But if you’re wondering whether I might have any qualms with people lifting the verbiage word for word, I don’t.

Sample Terms of Service (DOCX)

At the bottom, date the draft. So, for example, if the Terms of Services was first posted on February 10, 2005, then later updated June 3, 2005, then updated again December 1, 2006, and yet again March 12, 2007, here’s what the bottom of the Terms of Service page should look like:

First Posted: 02/10/2005
Updated: 06/03/2005
Updated: 12/01/2006
Updated: 03/12/2007

Email Record of Agreed Upon Terms

As an additional layer of protection, send a copy of your terms and services again to your client in the response letter that acknowledges the reading request. You can have a standard PDF ready to go that you include in the email as an attachment, or you can copy and paste it as text in-line of the email, after your signature footer. Either way or however you choose to do it, make sure there is a clear, unambiguous reference to your terms and services when you acknowledge and accept the service request.

Later in this post you’ll find a sample case to study. It features our hypothetical tarot professional, Jane Arcana. You’ll get to see Ms. Arcana’s terms and services and also how she resolves a PayPal charge dispute against a former client, Polly Poopie.

When drafting your response email, even consider the following line in that response: “If you proceed with the reading service, then your agreement to all terms as set forth herein is presumed and binding.” Again, check out how Jane Arcana handles this in the hypothetical.

How to Draft an Affidavit

If you use merchant services via PayPal and a chargeback or refund claim is filed against you, then PayPal will ask you to defend yourself. I’ve heard many complaints from spiritual service professionals on how PayPal seems to be biased against them, and overwhelmingly favors the client, always accepting the refund. I believe I’ve figured out how to turn the table on that and make sure you, the spiritual service professional, always win.

You may have noted reference to an affidavit. An affidavit is also called a declaration (in California), so I may use the two terms interchangeably. Just bear with me.

This is a form template of what your affidavit should look like with boilerplate fill-in-the-blank statements you’ll want to fill in accordingly to prove your case.

Template Form for Affidavit (DOC)

And just in case it gets confusing as to how to work with that template, let’s use a hypothetical. Jane Arcana is our hypothetical professional tarot reader. She has rendered tarot reading services to Polly Poopie. After payment has been tendered and Polly has received the reading, she decides she wants a refund. She files a claim through PayPal, the service site she used to pay Jane Arcana. Now Jane needs to file her affidavit with PayPal.

Here’s her hypothetical Affidavit:

The Hypothetical Affidavit of Jane Arcana (PDF)

Comparing the Template form with the Hypothetical Affidavit, do notice a few tweaks “Jane” made, notably in Paragraph 7 of the Affidavit. Likewise, make tweaks as you feel would be needed to reflect your case-specific fact pattern. Some of the stuff in the template are requisite, however, to prove certain foundational points in your favor, so just be intuitive with how you tweak.

Really review that PDF of the hypothetical affidavit, especially the exhibits. Note Jane’s business approach to responding to Polly and how she inserted her terms and services into her response e-mail to Polly.

And that, my spiritual service proprietors, is how you win every refund and chargeback claim, every time. (Obviously, that’s puffery.)

Credit Card Chargebacks (iPayment)

Merchants will be more familiar with this. Sometimes, a client or customer who has paid by credit card might file a chargeback claim with their credit card company, at which time a third party  business like iPayment steps in. iPayment will then send you a Chargeback Notice and a short form asking whether you want to contest the dispute.

Always contest the dispute.

You’ll draft an affidavit or declaration just like the one instructed earlier, with the accompanying exhibits that document the customer requesting the order, the representation and description of goods or services for that order, you fulfilling and delivering on that order, payment, and any correspondences or further documentation of the seller-buyer interaction that led to the dispute. Photographs of the goods to show it was not flawed or defective in any way also help.

You’ll then write a letter on your business letterhead. In the subject line, be sure to identify name of merchant (you), name of card holder (the disgruntled client or customer), card number, charged amount, and transaction date. This helps iPayment process your claim more efficiently.

In your letter, make reference to the enclosed affidavit and exhibits. Plea your case in a concise summary in the letter and conclude with: “For the foregoing reasons and as further detailed in the enclosed affidavit, we respectfully ask that you take no action and allow the sales transaction to pass.”

Psst… Entrepreneur.com posted a great article listing several ways entrepreneurs like you can accept credit card payments. Check it out here.

Contract Law 101

You should know this already, but I’ll repeat the basic principles anyway, just in case. Essentially, a legally binding and enforceable sales and purchase contract is formed between you and a client when there has been (1) an offer, (2) an acceptance, (3) mutual assent, and (4) consideration (i.e., the bargained-for exchange).

If you post your goods and services prominently with all fees for these goods and services, then that is considered an offer. When a client responds to that and says they want to order your good or service for the fee posted, then that is considered an acceptance. There has been mutual assent and the consideration is that you tender the good or service as described and the client will pay you the fee as described. A legally binding, enforceable sales contract has been executed.

If, however, you post your goods and services but there are no fees attached and a prospective client has to contact you privately for the fee, then such contact does not constitute offer and acceptance. Instead, when you reply with the description of goods or services and the fee it will cost, that is considered the offer. Only if the prospective client responds with “I agree, yes, please proceed” or some derivative of that statement would that be considered acceptance of the offer. Only upon that “I agree” from the client will you have a legally binding, enforceable sales contract.

Did you catch the difference? Good.

Why this matters in the context of our post topic: because you need to know what to use to support your argument that there was an “offer” and that there was an “acceptance.” The “mutual assent” that you document will prove to that third party arbiter that the client has agreed to non-refundable services. The “consideration” you document is what the client agreed to pay, that the client paid, and that you have delivered the service or custom-made goods as described. What is the “offer” and what is the “acceptance” will depend on your business policy, as noted above.

To win the chargeback dispute in your favor, you need to prove (1) what the offer is, (2) what the acceptance is, (3) the mutual assent that took place, and (4) that all terms for consideration have been fully performed. Then you argue that since a legally binding and enforceable contract for non-refundable services (or custom-made goods) has been tendered, by law the client is bound to the agreement and this third party arbiter (the credit card company or PayPal) has no right to interfere with the contract. If the client has a contract dispute with you, then the proper channel is court, not the credit card company or PayPal.

Get it?

Don’t Take it Personally

As long as you approach every single reading request with good faith, sincere heart, and your utmost diligence, never take a refund request personally. People can be shitheads. It’s not you. It’s them. You put in your best efforts and you can sleep well at night.

Do Not Wish Ill Upon Them

If I may… in the case of disgruntled clients, and I suppose this counsel is pertinent given the nature of some forms of spiritual entrepreneurship and the practitioners behind those businesses, if you’re willing to accept any advice from me at all, please listen to this one: do not wish ill upon disgruntled clients. And *nudging you* you know exactly what I mean by “wishing ill.” Please just don’t do it.

I have set out for you all the paperwork and higher-ground approach to disputing these claims and I’m confident that if you follow these instructions, you’ll prevail. So stay above the fray and do this the legit way.

12 thoughts on “Spiritual Service Professionals: How to Win Every Refund Dispute

  1. Thank you Benebell! I’m a psychic reader on the phone lines but plan to start my own reading service next year so this information and these awesome resources will indeed come in handy.

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  2. Thanks for this, Benebell. I have a different approach to refunds and I think it is paying off. Having a no quibble 30 day refund guarantee if the client is unhappy with my services for ANY reason puts the minds of prospective clients at ease. Guess how many refunds I have had to issue to disgruntled clients so far this financial year? Zero. Last year, I think it was two or three in total. And you are right, of course, NEVER take it personally. You have to weigh it out and I appreciate that someone else will choose to want to protect themselves against claims but tbh, that would take way more time and energy for me than to just issue the refund on the rare occasion that it is requested.

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  3. Great, informative post, Benebell. I have often felt disheartened with PayPal when they offer no protection to sellers of digital goods, and often will rule in the favour of the customer (even with extensive evidence that they have accessed and used the digital good). We even had a case when someone bought our digital product, reproduced it elsewhere and sold it illegally, then filed a chargeback and won. Very frustrating. I’ll try the letterhead document with supporting evidence next time (hopefully it’s no time soon) and see where it lands.

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  4. Excellent post, Benebell. I can always count on you to cover the essential and not-so-often talked about aspects of running a spiritual business. That being, the actualy business side! Can’t tell you how helpful your posts have been and thank you for compiling all this information. And, sidenote: my 13 year-old self loved that you used the name “Polly Poopie.”

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  5. Thanks for another great, useful post, Benebell. Every spiritual entrepreneur needs this info! You have a way of making all this legal stuff easy-to-understand. So necessary in our industry!

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  6. My guess is where it would be. In New York State you can be arrested for “fortune telling.” (They have a wide scope of what that entails.) One MUST put “for entertainment services only” as a disclaimer. I know it is legal and acceptable in other places, but just as a warning, check your own locale.

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  7. After years of teaching small groups, I am at the start of researching about how to teach an astrology course via the internet instead.
    And ‘just-by-chance’ I found your article. Thank you so much for your advice. Re charging for services? I came to understand that money, in essence, is energy which is being swapped for my energy.

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