Here’s what to do if you have a negative balance on your credit cards

When you first see it, the term “negative balance” can make you think you made a mistake like forgetting to pay your credit card balance. However, a negative balance on your credit card is actually a good thing, because it means the bank owes you money instead of the other way around.

Still, you may be less than thrilled to have your money tied up in a credit card account. So, we’re breaking down the best things to do when you find yourself with a negative credit card balance. We’ll cover the different things you can do, all requiring varying degrees of effort on your part.

Why do I have a negative balance?

You’ll most often have a negative credit card balance after you’ve made a return or received a refund for something.

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Recently, I experienced this when I made a return before paying the balance on my Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®. However, the return didn’t process until after I had paid my bill. The result? A negative balance on my card of just more than $100.

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For something as minor as this, I’ll just use this card to spend around $100 to take care of my negative balance. However, if you have a much larger negative balance, such as after canceling a major trip, you may want to look into other options.

Related: Getting a refund after you cancel your credit card

Keep spending on the card

This is the simplest option. Just keep using the card that has a negative balance and the purchases you make on the card will eventually bring you back zero or a positive balance. With this approach, there is almost never a need to contact the bank or do anything out of the ordinary.

Transfer the balance to another card on your account

If you have a balance on another card within the same account, you can contact the bank and ask to transfer your negative balance to a card on which you owe money. This approach takes a small amount of effort, but it gives you the benefit of putting your future spend on a card that will earn you the most points rather than just trying to use the negative balance on one specific card.

TPG senior credit cards editor Matt Moffitt recently had a negative balance of more than $400 on his Platinum Card® from American Express due to a refund. He also had a positive balance of around $500 on a Delta card. Instead of spending more on his Platinum Card, he used the American Express chat feature to ask an agent to transfer the negative balance and put it toward the Delta balance. The agent manually completed this action, and it took less than 48 hours for the balance to show up on the Delta card.

Ask for cash

If you have a significant negative balance and don’t have a need to transfer it to another card, you may want to ask to receive the negative balance in cash. Often, banks will give you the cash amount through either direct deposit or they’ll mail you a physical check for the amount they owe you.

Again, this requires contacting the bank and possibly waiting for a check in the mail; however, it can be worth it to have the freedom to spend that money on a different card that will earn you more rewards than the card with the negative balance. Or, you may just want the cash flow.

Related: How 5 minutes of chat got me 85,000 points plus $150

Bottom line

A negative credit card balance is a good thing because it means the bank owes you money. When you find yourself with a negative balance, choose the option that works best for you to use that money and maximize your rewards.

The easiest way is to just spend on that particular card. However, you can also ask your bank to apply the balance to another card on your account or send you the cash by direct deposit or a check in the mail.