Home Ground Transportation (Bus, Lyft, Subway, Taxi, Train, Uber, etc.) Here’s How To Never End Up With A Balance On Your New York MetroCard

Here’s How To Never End Up With A Balance On Your New York MetroCard

by joeheg

We visit New York regularly and when we do, we eventually end up taking the subway  to get around town when it’s more convenient than getting an Uber or taxi, or walking. Because it’s not on my packing list, I’ll occasionally forget to bring our old MetroCards with us and after a while, I end up with a collection of cards that looks like this.

MTA Metrocard

The MTA doesn’t it make it easy to end up with an empty MetroCard. First of all, the subway doesn’t accept contactless payments like other cities such as Chicago do, so you’re forced to buy a card. The fare machines are set to offer you a set amount when purchasing a card, like $10. However, the subway fare is $2.75 per ride. It doesn’t take a genius to find out those amounts aren’t evenly divisible so if you don’t know better, you’re going to have a leftover balance on your card.

Just to make the math harder, the MTA adds a bonus when you reload your card for more than $5.50.

Put $5.50 or more on your card and receive a 5 percent bonus. For example, a $20 purchase gives you $21.00 on your card. Refill your card to use the balance.

Next, there’s no easy way to find out the balance on a MetroCard unless you’re in New York at a vending machine. Finally, MetroCards have an expiration date stamped on the back but the value of the card doesn’t expire, just the card. I’d imagine that many people see the card is expired and just throw it away. That’s what the MTA wants you do to anyway. The truth is, you can transfer the balance from a recently expired card (within one year of expiration) to a new card at any booth or vending machine.

But what would be even better than not losing the balance on your MetroCard? Not having a leftover balance in the first place. I found an iPhone app that solves this problem.

Metroptimizer – Your Metrocard Helper

This quick download figures out how much you need to load onto your MetroCard so that you’ll end up with a zero balance. For example, say that you have a card with $1.34 left on it.


Just tap “Calculate Fare” and you’ll get the exact amount to load onto your card. $9.20. With the $11.00 on your card, you’ll get four rides and a zero balance.


If you want to load a higher amount, just tap the arrow on the bottom of the screen. The next evenly divisible amount would be adding $30.15 for a $33 ending balance, Enough for 12 rides.


I used the app for our entire trip and ended up draining the balance from all four of the MetroCards I brought with me. The one stupid mistake I made was throwing away the empty cards as I used them up. Since I don’t have any cards left, I’ll have to pay $1 on our next trip to buy a new one (Note from Sharon: You didn’t tell me that. What a ding dong!).


There’s no comparable app available on Android devices but I did find out the MTA now provides a calculator on their website so you could always just pull that up on your phone.

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 12.35.27 PM

As you can see, their website came up with the same result as the app. The only quirk is that you need to enter some refill amount before the website will provide the correct amount to load onto your card.

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 12.36.33 PM

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

1 comment

luislasst October 19, 2021 - 12:33 pm

This was a great article, once upon a time, some years ago. But since the MTA has not given bonuses for any size amount added to a MetroCard for several years, it no longer applies. At the current fare of $2.25 per ride, regardless of distance, all you have to do is add whole multiples of that amount to your card, and you will never have an “odd” amount (less than a full fare) on the card. Also, since, again, there are no bonuses anymore, there is no reason you can’t just add $2.25 to the card each time you need to take a subway or bus.


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