What Does In The Red Mean?

In the Red Meaning

Definition: In debt; to owe money.

Origin of In the Red

In the past, red ink was used to show a financial loss in books keeping track of a business’s financial records. If you lost money for a given year, your company would be in the red.

This expression is contrasted with the phrase in the black, which means you made money over the course of a year; your company saw a profit.

If you lose money, you are in the red. If you make money, you are in the black.

Both of these expressions originated in the first half of the 1900s.

Examples of In the Red

to be in the redIn the following example, the idiom is used in a conversation between two sisters, who are talking about the online business they want to start.

Kerry: Where are you with that business plan?

Christine: I’m sorry. I haven’t had time to get much done with it.

Kerry: Come on, please try to hurry. You know I would help you if I knew how. We agreed that you would be in charge of the business stuff, and I would be in charge of choosing the merchandise.

Christine: Oh, trust me. I’ll be ready on time. You said you wanted it by Sunday, and you’ll have it by Sunday.

Kerry: You’d better. Because if I do this on my own, we’ll be operating in the red in no time. The business won’t make it!

Christine: Relax, it will be okay.

What does being in the red mean?This idiom can also be used for personal finances, as it is in the dialogue below.

Arlena: Hey! What’s new with you?

Nyima: Not much! I was just going to meet up with some friends for dinner. Would you like to join?

Arlena: Well, I would. Unfortunately, I’m not able to.

Nyima: Come on. You’ve been on a diet forever. Forget about it for one night!

Arlena: No, it’s not that. My gas bills were really high this month, and if I go out too much, I’ll be in the red, which I don’t want to happen. I’ll come next month. I promise.

More Examples

This newspaper excerpt discusses the gains and losses of a hedge fund.

  • The European hedge fund’s $13 billion flagship fund gained 3 percent last year after spending much of the year in the red. –New York Post

This excerpt uses the idiom to refer to a government agency that is deeply in debt.

  • In an accompanying report, Moody’s cites a litany of causes for the district’s financial problems, including years of spending more than it takes in, “overly optimistic budget assumptions” and rapidly rising pension costs. By the end of the current school year, CPS said its operating fund balance will be $88 million in the red, the report states. Chicago Tribune


In the red is a financial expression that is used to describe a company that has suffered a monetary loss or is in debt.