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Decode Like a Pro: How To Read Your Credit Card Statement

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Jessica Merritt
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Jessica Merritt

Editor & Content Contributor

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A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little ca...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

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Countries Visited: 47U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Your credit card statement offers a monthly snapshot of your account activity, including the amount you owe, transactions you made, applicable interest and fees, and, most importantly, when you need to pay your bill and how much you absolutely have to pay.

Although online credit card accounts can offer most of the information you need to manage your account and may offer helpful tools beyond what you can get from a credit card statement, it’s well worth reviewing your card’s statement. Keeping a watchful eye on credit card statements can help you understand your spending, catch errors, and manage how much you pay in fees and interest.

It pays to understand your credit card statement, so read on to learn how to navigate it like a pro.

How Credit Card Statements Work

Credit card statements summarize your credit card usage in a particular billing cycle. With a credit card statement, you get a snapshot of your credit card account status at the end of your statement period. What exactly is in your statement will vary by credit card issuer, but there are pieces of information you can expect to find in your statement no matter which credit card you have.

Your credit card statement contains important information about your account, including your balance at the end of the statement period, how much you have to pay to avoid a late fee, and when you have to pay it.

Your statement also has helpful information about interest charges, including how much you’ll pay in interest if you only make the minimum payment and don’t make any new charges. And if you have a special financing offer, such as a 0% introductory APR on purchases or balance transfers, you can see how much longer your offer applies.

Why You Should Review Your Monthly Credit Card Statement

As you log in to your credit card account to pay your bill, you might quickly look at your account and then move on. After all, you can easily log in to see your balance, when your payment is due, and recent transactions without opening your statement. If you have multiple credit card accounts, you might not feel like taking the time to download and look over your statement each month.

Still, it’s worth reviewing your credit card statement regularly because it contains important information, including special term information, account alerts, all of your transactions, and a breakdown of interest charges and fees.

Reviewing your monthly credit card statement can help you spot:

  • Fees you could avoid
  • Fraudulent charges
  • How much interest costs you
  • Important due dates
  • Spending patterns

On your statement, for example, you can see how much you’re paying in interest charges, how long you’ll have to make payments if you only make the minimum payment, and how much longer you have on any 0% interest offers.

It’s also helpful to look at every transaction each statement period to identify errors or fraud before it’s too late to fix them.

Saving Credit Card Statements

You may prefer to save your credit card statements, as credit card issuers generally limit how many years of statements you can access online. By downloading your statement each month, you can save it and access it if needed without making a special request to the credit card issuer.

Hot Tip:

You don’t necessarily need to hold on to credit card statements forever. You can usually only dispute charges within 60 days of the transaction, so keeping statements after that generally doesn’t make sense unless you’re using your credit card for tax-deductible expenses. If you need your statements for tax purposes, keep them for 3 to 6 years — the longest an IRS audit usually goes back.

How To Get Your Credit Card Statement

You can get your credit card statement online or by mail.

Credit card issuers typically offer the option to opt-in to electronic statements, also known as paperless billing. When you have paperless billing, you should get a notification, such as an email, to alert you that your monthly statement is ready for review.

You can request a mailed copy if you prefer. If you get mailed copies of your statement, you likely have online statement access, too. Paper statements typically have a payment coupon and an envelope, which you can use to send a check and make your payment by mail.

To check your credit card statement online, log in to your online account. Navigate to your statements, looking for a menu item such as Statements and Activity, Statements, or Documents. If you have multiple accounts with an issuer, select each account for which you want to download a statement.

You should see recent statements available for download. Usually, you’ll see the current year, but you can navigate to past years. Credit card issuers generally keep at least a few years of statements available in your online account, but there are limits. For example, Chase allows you to view up to 7 years of account statements online. Beyond that, you’ll need to contact the bank and may need to pay fees to access old statements.

Hot Tip:

You’re entitled to a timely credit card statement. Credit card issuers are required by law to send you a credit card statement at least 21 days before your payment is due.

Reading Your Credit Card Statement

Although credit card statements vary, you should expect to see the following information in your monthly account statement:

  • Account alerts such as autopay, interest rate changes, or special term expiration
  • Account summary or overview
  • Credit line and available credit
  • Due date
  • Interest charges, rates, and fees
  • Issuer contact information
  • Minimum payment due and minimum payment warning
  • Special terms, such as 0% APR offers
  • Statement balance
  • Transactions, including charges, payments, refunds, and credits

Some credit card statements also include information about your rewards and credit score.

Let’s break down the sections you’ll find in your credit card statement, from your account summary with payments and balances to transactions, terms, and interest.

Credit Card Account Summary

Credit card statement summary
Image Credit: Wells Fargo

You’ll find a summary of current account information on the first page of your credit card statement. This includes your:

1. Account Overview: This area details your account number and billing cycle dates for the statement.

2. Contact Information: Contact information for how to reach the credit card company will be included.

3. Summary of Account Activity: Your previous and new balance, payments, credits, charges, fees, and interest are summarized. You’ll also see your current credit limit, available credit, statement closing date, and how many days you had in the billing cycle. Your statement may also include information about balance transfers and cash advances you’ve made within the statement period.

The most important part of your credit card summary is your new balance, which is how much you owe. It calculates your previous balance, if any, plus new transactions and applicable interest and fees. You’ll need to make at least the minimum payment by the due date, but it’s best to pay your balance in full to avoid interest charges unless a 0% APR offer applies.

4. Payment Information: Again, you’ll see your new balance. This also includes your minimum payment due and the due date, along with any past due amount.

5. Special Terms: If you have a special term, such as a 0% introductory APR on purchases or balance transfers, you may see an alert when it’s close to expiring.

6. Late Payment Warning: This section explains that a late fee may apply if you don’t make at least your minimum payment by the due date.

7. Minimum Payment Warning: Here, you’ll get a quick calculation of how long it would take you to pay off your statement balance if you only make the minimum payment. This warning should motivate you to make more than the minimum payment so you don’t get stuck paying massive interest charges. A minimum payment is the lowest amount you can pay to avoid late payment fees and penalties, usually 1% to 3% of your balance or a minimum of $25.

8. Credit Counseling: If you’re having trouble paying your credit card bill, information on credit counseling services is offered.

Hot Tip:

Your new balance is not the same as the current balance you see when you log in to your online account. The balance on your statement is what your balance was when your billing cycle closed. Your current balance is your last statement balance plus or minus any new transactions, payments, fees, and credits.

How Much You Currently Owe

Next, you’ll see sections for additional information, transactions, and special terms.

Credit card statement transactions
Image Credit: Wells Fargo

9. Important Information: Your statement will share informational messages, alerts, or account changes in this area. For example, if you’re enrolled in autopay, your statement may remind you of the payment that will be debited from your bank account. This is also where you may be notified of changes to your account, such as an adjustment to your interest rate.

5. Special Terms Expiration: If applicable, you’ll also see an alert for promotional offers, such as a 0% interest offer.

10. Transaction Summary: You’ll find a summary of your credit card purchases for the statement period. It lists your transactions, including the date, description, and amount of each transaction.

You’ll also see your payments and account credits in this section, usually before your transactions. These can include your payments, refunds, and rewards redeemed, such as a statement credit.

Following your transactions, you’ll see fees, including late and annual fees, along with applicable interest charged during the statement period. You can see a calculation of the fees and interest you’ve paid so far this year, which can help you understand how much your credit card costs to maintain. It can also help you find fees that may be an error worth addressing.

Hot Tip:

Beyond your balance information, your transaction summary is the next most important part of your credit card statement that you should review. In your transactions, you can verify that you made purchases, confirm you’ve received expected refunds, and identify problematic charges.

Terms and Interest

After your transaction summary, you’ll see additional information on terms.

Credit card statement terms
Image Credit: Wells Fargo

11. Special Terms Calculation: This section explains special terms, such as a 0% introductory APR on purchases or balance transfers, and how long they apply. This example shows deferred interest terms with no interest as long as the balance is paid in full by the end of the special term period.

12. Special Terms End Date: This date specifies when your special terms expire and interest charges change.

13. Deferred Interest Charge: If you have a deferred interest term, the Deferred Interest Charge will show you how much interest has accrued for your balance from the original purchase date to the billing cycle shown on the balance.

14. Interest Charge Calculation: This section is key to understanding how much interest you’ve been charged in a statement period — and how much it costs you each month to carry a balance. You’ll see your APRs for regular and special terms, along with how much of your balance is subject to each interest rate. It also shows you your interest charges for the statement period and the balance after applicable interest charges.

15. Annual Percentage Rate: See this column for all the APRs that apply to your credit card.

Rewards

If you have a rewards credit card, your credit card statement should include a rewards summary. It could be as simple as a statement of your rewards balance, including your current balance, previous balance, what you earned, and what you redeemed. Some credit cards may show a breakdown of bonus categories you’ve earned points, miles, or cash-back on or your progress toward a sign-up bonus.

credit card statement rewards summary
Rewards credit card statements typically include information about your earned and redeemed rewards.
Hot Tip:

Credit card issuers may also include information about your credit score in your credit card statement, which is helpful for monitoring your credit health. If you notice a major change, you can check your credit report to see what’s going on.

Year-End Statement

Credit card issuers may send you a year-end statement that gives you an overview of your credit card usage in a calendar year. This statement should include the amount of your transactions, including purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances, along with fees, interest, and payments.

Your year-end statement may include a spending report showing your spending in categories such as travel and dining. This can be helpful for budgeting or tax reporting, particularly if you’re using a card for business expenses.

Final Thoughts

Opening mail or downloading a PDF might seem cumbersome when all you have to do is log in to your online account or mobile app to check in on your credit card’s status. Still, credit card statements include valuable information you should look into now and then.

If you’re paying your balance in full every statement period and watching your transactions, you probably don’t need to check your credit card statement every single month. But if you’re paying interest and fees or have 0% APR offers to keep track of, it’s especially important to read your credit card statement and understand what’s happening with your account.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where do credit card statements show what you bought?

Your credit card statement’s transaction summary includes all the transactions you’ve made during the billing period. You’ll see purchases, payments, credits, interest charges, and fees within this section — including transactions for everything you bought during the statement period.

Why is it important to review your monthly credit card statement?

You should review your monthly credit card statement to get an up-to-date overview of your credit card account. Even though you can find most information in your online account, it’s helpful to check transactions for fraud or errors, see how much you’re paying in interest, get alerted to account changes, and more.

What does minus mean on your credit card statement?

A minus on your credit card statement depends on the context. For example, you’ll see a minus before payments, credits, and refunds made to your account within the statement period. A minus on your statement balance means you have a negative credit card balance. You may also see a negative credit card balance reflected with “cr,” as in credit.

Unlike a negative bank account balance, a negative credit card balance means your credit card company owes you money. For example, you may have overpaid your last bill, received a refund, or gotten a credit that resulted in an overpayment. You can resolve it by requesting a payment from the credit card issuer or using your credit card to spend the overpayment amount.

Why is my credit card statement balance higher than what I've spent?

Your credit card statement balance includes more than just the purchases you’ve made within the statement period. It includes any unpaid balance that carried over from your previous statement period, plus applicable interest and fees. For example, you may have spent $300 within a statement period, but if you started with a $100 balance and had $10 in interest charges, you’ll have a $410 statement balance.

How can I get credit card statements?

You can get your credit card statements by mail or request paperless billing. Credit card issuers typically offer online statements, so you can log in to your online account or mobile app to download your credit card statement. You can usually find a few years of statements in your online account, though the exact number of years varies depending on the issuer.

How long should I keep credit card statements?

For most people, you only need to keep credit card statements for up to 60 days, which is usually how long you have to dispute erroneous or fraudulent charges. However, if you use your credit card for tax-deductible expenses, such as business expenses, you should retain credit card statements for 3 to 6 years, which is how far back an IRS audit may go.

Jessica Merritt's image

About Jessica Merritt

A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little cash as possible.

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