in the red ~ A slang phrase referring to a company that is burdened by operating expenses and is unable to generate revenue.
- The company has been in the red for the last 2 years.
- He has been working in the red for the last few months.
phrase ~ If a person or company is in the red or if their bank account is in the red, they have spent more money than they have in their account and therefore they owe money to the bank.
This commonly used idiom is based on the historically traditional book-keeping practice of using red ink for outstanding balances in ledgers. From what I gather, the practice was rather informal or optional (depending on company or individual preferences), although often used by old-fashioned book-keepers who entered all information into their ledgers by hand. Many of them kept pens of different colored inks, each of which had a specific symbolic meaning. Red ink could mean almost anything, depending on how it was implemented, but relevant to this particular popular idiom, it meant money owed.
in the red in debt, overdrawn, or losing money.
Red ink was traditionally used to indicate debit items and balances in accounts. Compare with in the black