Cardholders should know what a balance is to avoid hitting credit limits and to prevent overspending in general. It’s also important to regularly check a credit card’s balance to make sure the last payment has been posted on time without any surprising fees.

What Is a Credit Card Balance?

A credit card balance represents the amount of money the cardholder owes to the credit card issuer. The balance is the sum of all purchases made within the last billing cycle (plus any fees or remaining balance left over after the last payment). Note that there’s a difference between a current balance and a statement balance.

Most credit cards give cardholders at least 20 days to pay off any purchase without accruing interest—called a grace period. Cardholders can technically pay an entire statement balance by the payment due date but still owe money to the issuer if the most recent charges were made after the billing cycle closed.

Cardholders are not obligated to pay off an entire balance every month (they could opt to pay their minimum payment which may be much less than the balance). It’s vital to pay off the full balance by the payment due date in order to avoid interest charges and potential late fees.

As a general rule of thumb, don’t charge anything to a credit card that can’t be paid for in cash. Spending responsibly this way will ensure you can afford to pay the entire balance every month and avoid falling into debt. Carrying a balance on a credit card account from month to month accrues interest and fees every day a payment is not made. This could lead to spiraling debt and a higher credit utilization rate—both of which will lower a credit score over time.

How to Check a Credit Card Balance

1. Log in to the Online Account or Mobile App

Logging in online or onto the card issuer’s mobile app is the quickest and easiest way to check a credit card balance. Nearly every bank or card issuer has an online portal that cardholders can access either on a computer or via phone. Simply create an account with the card issuer’s portal and log in anytime to check the balance, make a payment, ask a question or access support.

Use Face ID and a form of two factor authentication security when enabling access to credit card information online or via an app, when possible. If a computer or phone gets stolen, the thief won’t be able to access critical financial information if it’s protected by more than just a password. Try not to travel with computers and phones in the same bag to avoid losing more than one device at once.

2. Call the Card Issuer

Cardholders can call the number on the back of a credit card to access any information from the card issuer directly. Usually, it’s enough to interact with the annoying automated phone services many card issuers use instead of paying people to answer the phone and help customers. It may ask the caller for personal identifiers like an account number (i.e. credit card number), the last four digits of a social security number or telephone number. Callers can find out what their current balance is, what their remaining credit limit is and more.

Cardholders can also opt to speak with a representative if they’re having a more serious issue, for instance in the event of a lost or stolen credit card.

3. Check Paper Statements

Unless a cardholder opts for paperless billing while they’re creating a new account, most should receive paper statements in the mail from the card issuer. Paper statements are typically sent out near the end of a billing cycle before the next payment is due. This gives cardholders enough time to review the charges, check the balance and make a payment.

Cardholders can choose to pay by mail via check or money order, but it’s generally considered more secure to make a payment online by connecting a checking or savings account to a credit card account.

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Bottom Line

Checking a credit card balance regularly is always a good idea. This simple act can protect cardholders from overspending, stop you from going over your credit limit and help catch fraud quickly if it happens.

Cardholders can check a credit card balance by logging into an online account on a computer or phone, calling the number on the back of their card or by reading paper statements that arrive in the mail or, if paperless billing has been enabled—via email or the same online portal.