How Letters of Credit Work: Definition and Examples

what is a letter of credit

This would place banks in a dilemma in deciding which terms to follow if required to look behind the credit agreement. As the term simply indicates a document (letter) pertaining to credit or loans, a Letter of Credit is issued when the seller promises the exchange of goods and services on the condition that the buyer provides acceptable credit documentation. This blog explores Letter of Credit in further detail, from its meaning, types to different elements. A standby letter of credit is a second line of defence for exporters, in cases where an importer has an open (revolving) line of credit, has received advance payment in some form, or otherwise has ongoing contractual obligations to the exporter. A standby letter is usually issued in addition to the regular letter of credit. Under a standby letter, the issuing bank agrees to pay the exporter in case the importer fails to perform as called for by the contract.

  • There is also a cost to exporters in terms of the time required to check documents and ensure they are error free and internally consistent.
  • Under a confirmed letter of credit, the advisory bank agrees to pay the exporter for the goods, even if the issuing bank ultimately fails to honour its obligations.
  • To manage and reduce the risk the manufacturing organization or in other words, the seller will bind the consumer in an agreement with a letter of credit.
  • Through its issuance, the vendor is assured that the issuing bank takes the full guarantee to compensate the exporter for the multinational trade executed between both groups.

The letter of credit process is straightforward in concept, but several key terms are involved in the letter of credit process. Banks typically require a pledge of securities or cash as collateral for issuing a letter of credit. Based on this LC and the instructions of the intermediary, an LC is opened in favour of the seller of the goods. Opening charges, including the commitment expenditures, are charged upfront, and the issuance fees are levied for the approved tenancy of the LC. This is a receipt issued by a carrier of goods transported to the named destination. This is the bank authorized to negotiate the LC or effect payment under the LC.

Through this letter, the respective bank will guarantee that they will honour the draft made at any reputed foreign bank. The issuing bank then presents the bill of lading to its customer, the importer, as proof that the goods have been sent. A buyer may be honest and have good intentions, but business troubles or political unrest can delay payment or put a buyer out of business. Having an idea of the advantages and limitations of a letter of credit will set you up to determine whether one type of letter of credit would be the best option for your situation. Businesses on both sides of the transaction should consider the several benefits and a few potential drawbacks of a letter of credit before going through the process of obtaining one. It’s important to note that sometimes some of these banks will take on multiple roles in the same transaction.

Documents That May Be Requested For Presentation

A prospective tenant, call them Party A (the Applicant), is looking to sign a 5-year lease with Party B (the landlord and beneficiary) for a 100,000-square-foot warehouse facility. Out of all the types of LOCs, the customer has multiple numbers of draws within a determined limit and in a fixed time period for a Revolving Letter of Credit. It’s important to know the letter of credit definition, how a letter of credit works and when you might encounter one during the normal course of business.

  • Revolving letters of credit, by contrast, can be used for multiple payments within a specific time frame.
  • This means that the bank need only be concerned with whether the document fulfils the requirements stipulated in the letter of credit.
  • Delivering a personal approach to banking, we strive to identify financial solutions to fit your individual needs.
  • Although a letter of credit is most commonly used for international transactions, some domestic applications are practical as well.

To be negotiable, an LC shall incorporate a guarantee of payment upon request or at a specific point in time. An LC is a written document issued by the importer’s bank (the opening bank) on the importer’s behalf. Assume the terms of the transaction are that payment shall be made upon shipment of physical goods. The seller will present its bank (the Advising Bank) with a bill of lading once the shipment has been confirmed. Let’s assume there are two parties involved in a transaction – a buyer and a seller. The seller wants some guarantee of payment from the buyer before agreeing to contract terms.

Points to consider when using letters of credit

To avoid payment delays and extra fees, documents required by the Letter of Credit should be prepared by trained professionals. In a letter of credit, the issuing bank affirms that a purchaser (in this case, a client or a customer) will pay for goods or services on time and for the exact amount due. If the purchaser doesn’t pay on time and in full, the issuing bank underlying the letter of credit guarantees to cover the remainder of the overdue balance up to and including the full amount of the purchase. This is done to make the banks’ duty of effecting payment against documents easy, efficient and quick. Financial institutions do not act as ‘middlemen’ but rather, as paying agents on behalf of the buyer. Courts have emphasized that buyers always have a remedy for an action upon the contract of sale and that it would be a calamity for the business world if a bank had to investigate every breach of contract.

what is a letter of credit

The exporter then gives the bill of lading to the advisory bank, in exchange for payment for the goods he has shipped. Also, communication is difficult across thousands of miles, different time zones, and different languages. A letter of credit spells out the details so that everybody is on the same page. Instead of assuming that things will work a certain way, everybody agrees on the process up front. Letters of credit make it possible to reduce risk while continuing to do business.

Letter of Credit: What It Is, Examples, and How One Is Used

With this, the buyer is able to enjoy the benefits of selling abroad without any risk. The seller will receiver a payment after a certain period of time mentioned in the letter of credit. The issuing bank may review the documents early but the payment is made only after the agreed upon time.

They are either financial in nature or documentary (sometimes called a Standby LC). Under a revolving letter of credit, the issuing bank establishes a line of credit to the importer, and restores the credit to its original amount once the importer has drawn it down. Usually these arrangements limit the number of times the importer may draw down its line over a predetermined period. The exporter then consigns the goods to a carrier, in exchange for a bill of lading.


Revolving letters of credit, by contrast, can be used for multiple payments within a specific time frame. Typically, these are used for businesses that have an ongoing relationship, with the time limit of the arrangement usually spanning one year. Usually, an LC is utilized in multinational trade to indicate that the payment will be completed to the vendor on time and in full, as insured by a bank or financial institution. After dispatching an LC, the bank will charge a fee, generally a portion of the LC, in addition to mandating collateral from the consumer.

what is a letter of credit

If one is, it means that something likely went wrong with the transaction or with the contract terms. Standby LCs are designed to “stand by” in the event that some transaction terms are not met. A Letter of Credit (LC) can be thought of as a guarantee that is backstopped by the Financial Institution that issues it. One party is required to guarantee something to another party; typically, it’s payment, but not always – it could also be guaranteeing that some project will be completed. Now that you understand the concept of LC, let’s go through some of the essential documents required for it. However, a uniform format of the LOC can not be determined as it varies from bank to bank.

Red Clause

Therefore, these types of LC require greater documentation, and you are expected to submit the title documents to the bank as proof of the warehouse status. This letter of credit is closer to the bank guarantee and gives the Seller and Buyer a more flexible collaboration opportunity. The bank will honour the letter of credit when the buyer fails to fulfil payment liabilities to the seller. This article aims to assist you in gaining in-depth knowledge and a detailed guide on what an LC is, how it works, why it is significant, documentation and fees, and types of LC.

Types of Letters of Credit

An LC is advantageous for both parties as it ensures and assures the vendor that he will acquire his funds upon completion of the terms of the trade arrangement. Also, the consumer can illustrate his creditworthiness and bargain for more prolonged payment terms by retaining a bank after the trade dealing. Party B might ask Party A for a Standby Letter of Credit in the amount of 12, 18, or perhaps even 24 months’ rent to protect its financial interest in the property. Should party A default on its rent payments, Party B would go to its own bank (the Advising Bank) and declare that the contract terms were breached. The Advising bank would notify the Issuing Bank, which would immediately remit payment on behalf of the Applicant (its client).

It is issued by a reputable neutral third party and indicates that the goods have been adequately examined and are according to what had been ordered. It is an itemized account issued by the beneficiary and addressed to the applicant. The specifications of the commercial invoice must be in accordance with the letter of credit. The beneficiary will only acquire the payment upon maturity of the LC from the issuing bank when he delivers all the drafts & the essential documents. In this case, the consumer applies for the LC, while the vendor is the claimant.

Buyer’s management approaches the Loan Officer at their Commercial Bank to get an LC. In this type, the bank pays the seller and then the bank receives the payment from the buyer. The importer – typically at the request of the exporter – buys a letter of credit from its bank, called the issuing bank. The fee that the importer pays for this letter depends on its creditworthiness, but can range from 1%-8% of the value of the goods. Letters of credit are bank guarantees to pay a seller (usually an exporter) for goods or services that the seller has shipped to a buyer (usually an importer).