Q1) If my Visa credit card has a zero balance and then I charge something on the Visa, do I now have a "positive balance" or a "negative balance"?

Q2) Same question for a utility account like a power bill. What is my balance called when I owe money?



The term for money owed to you by a company would be a credit balance. Consider, when an item is credited to your account, it's in your favor.

Whereas, money you owe to a company may be referred to simply as a balance, or balance owing, or less frequently a debit balance. A related term balance due would be the payment you owe in the current period, i.e. not representative of the entire amount owed.

I don't think the terms "positive balance" or "negative balance" are considered idiomatic in business. Rather, accounting terms like debit and credit have taken hold instead – and are often a source of confusion.

But I suggest that if you have a negative balance on a credit card, it's a credit balance in your favor. Unless they mix it up.

  • 1
    But it's the opposite if you have a negative balance in your checking account :)
    – bstpierre
    Mar 10 '11 at 3:10
  • 1
    @bstpierre Yes indeedy, that's a good example to highlight that context matters. Mar 10 '11 at 3:44

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