How to get back overage on card accounts

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Dear To Her Credit,
This may be a dumb question. If I paid for a purchase on a credit card and sent in a check to the credit card company to pay for that purchase, how do I get my money back if I don't go through with the purchase? I know it can be credited back onto my card, but that doesn't put the money back in my pocket, does it? -- Joan


Dear Joan,
If you paid for a purchase and then canceled or returned the purchase and got your money back, you now have a credit balance on your card. If it was a significant purchase, it could be a large credit balance.

You have several options for handling this unexpected situation.

The most tempting option would be to spend the money on something else that you need or want. Say you have a $500 credit on your account. You've already parted with the cash, so now would be a good time to buy a new chair or go on a weekend trip, using your credit card. Assuming your overall finances are on the right track, it's OK to treat yourself now and then. Or you may want to use the credit balance on your card to make an extra charitable contribution or get new tires for your car.

Another option is to put ordinary budget expenses on your credit card until the credit amount is used up. You can put almost anything on your credit card now -- consider paying for groceries, gas, tuition and utilities with this card until the balance is used up. The money's still not back in your pocket, but it pays your bills, so it comes out the same.

You could just leave the credit balance on your card for a period of time, and the credit card company will send you a check for the balance. This alternative doesn't put money in your pocket right away, but it's nice to know you eventually get your cash back, even if you do nothing.

If you want cash back sooner, call your credit card company. It's not the first time someone has returned an item or even accidentally overpaid the bill. The credit card company should be happy to send you a check for your current credit balance. Just call the toll-free number on the back of your credit card statement.

Here's what not to do. Don't use cash advances, by check or credit card, to get your money. You could get hit by extra fees and interest for doing so. You shouldn't have to pay to get a credit balance back from your credit card account.

And, of course, be careful not to let the credit balance just slip away -- and then some. You seem too attentive to your finances to let this happen, but many of us have experienced this phenomenon. A credit balance or other easy access to money often mysteriously disappears, just because it's available.

See related: What day is my card balance reported to the credit bureaus? 

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Updated: 01-23-2019