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In corporate finance, a debenture is a medium- to long-term debt instrument used by large companies to borrow money, at a fixed rate of interest. The legal term "debenture" originally referred to a document that either creates a debt or acknowledges it, but in some countries the term is now used interchangeably with bond , loan stock or note. A debenture is thus like a certificate of loan or a loan bond evidencing the fact that the company is liable to pay a specified amount with interest. Although the money raised by the debentures becomes a part of the company's capital structure, it does not become share capital. [1] Senior debentures get paid before subordinate debentures, and there are varying rates of risk and payoff for these categories.


Debentures are freely transferable by the debenture holder. Debenture holders have no rights to vote in the company's general meetings of shareholders, but they may have separate meetings or votes e.g. on changes to the rights attached to the debentures. The interest paid to them is a charge against profit in the company's financial statements.

The term "debenture" is more descriptive than definitive. An exact and all-encompassing definition for a debenture has proved elusive. The English commercial judge, Lord Lindley, notably remarked in one case: "Now, what the correct meaning of ‘debenture’ is I do not know. I do not find anywhere any precise definition of it. We know that there are various kinds of instruments commonly called debentures." [2]


Debentures gave rise to the idea of the rich "clipping their coupons", which means that a bondholder will present their "coupon" to the bank and receive a payment each quarter (or in whatever period is specified in the agreement).

There are also other features that minimize risk, such as a "sinking fund", which means that the debtor must pay some of the value of the bond after a specified period of time. This decreases risk for the creditors, as a hedge against inflation, bankruptcy, or other risk factors. A sinking fund makes the bond less risky, and therefore gives it a smaller "coupon" (or interest payment). There are also options for "convertibility", which means a creditor may turn their bonds into equity in the company if it does well. Companies also reserve the right to call their bonds, which mean they can call it sooner than the maturity date. Often there is a clause in the contract that allows this; for example, if a bond issuer wishes to rebuy a 30-year bond at the 25th year, they must pay a premium. If a bond is called, it means that less interest is paid out.

Failure to pay a bond effectively means bankruptcy. Bondholders who have not received their interest can throw an offending company into bankruptcy, or seize its assets if that is stipulated in the contract.

Security in different jurisdictions

In the United States, debenture refers specifically to an unsecured corporate bond, [3] i.e. a bond that does not have a certain line of income or piece of property or equipment to guarantee repayment of principal upon the bond's maturity. Where security is provided for loan stocks or bonds in the US, they are termed 'mortgage bonds'.

However, in the United Kingdom a debenture is usually secured. [4]

In Canada, a debenture refers to a secured loan instrument where security is generally over the debtor's credit, but security is not pledged to specific assets. Like other secured debts, the debenture gives the debtor priority status over unsecured creditors in a bankruptcy; [5] however debt instruments where security is pledged to specific assets (such as a bond) receive a higher priority status in a bankruptcy than do debentures[ citation needed ].

In Asia, if repayment is secured by a charge over land, the loan document is called a mortgage; where repayment is secured by a charge against other assets of the company, the document is called a debenture; and where no security is involved, the document is called a note or 'unsecured deposit note'. [6]


There are two types of debentures:

  1. Convertible debentures, which are convertible bonds or bonds that can be converted into equity shares of the issuing company after a predetermined period of time. "Convertibility" is a feature that corporations may add to the bonds they issue to make them more attractive to buyers. In other words, it is a special feature that a corporate bond may carry. As a result of the advantage a buyer gets from the ability to convert, convertible bonds typically have lower interest rates than non-convertible corporate bonds.
  2. Non-convertible debentures, [7] which are simply regular debentures, cannot be converted into equity shares of the liable company. They are debentures without the convertibility feature attached to them. As a result, they usually carry higher interest rates than their convertible counterparts.

See also

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Security (finance) tradable financial asset

A security is a tradable financial asset. The term commonly refers to any form of financial instrument, but its legal definition varies by jurisdiction. In some countries and languages the term "security" is commonly used in day-to-day parlance to mean any form of financial instrument, even though the underlying legal and regulatory regime may not have such a broad definition. In some jurisdictions the term specifically excludes financial instruments other than equities and fixed income instruments. In some jurisdictions it includes some instruments that are close to equities and fixed income, e.g., equity warrants.

Bond (finance) instrument of indebtedness

In finance, a bond is an instrument of indebtedness of the bond issuer to the holders. The most common types of bonds include municipal bonds and corporate bonds.

Debt deferred payment, or series of payments, that is owed in the future

Debt is when something, usually money, is owed by one party, the borrower or debtor, to a second party, the lender or creditor. Debt is a deferred payment, or series of payments, that is owed in the future, which is what differentiates it from an immediate purchase. The debt may be owed by sovereign state or country, local government, company, or an individual. Commercial debt is generally subject to contractual terms regarding the amount and timing of repayments of principal and interest. Loans, bonds, notes, and mortgages are all types of debt. The term can also be used metaphorically to cover moral obligations and other interactions not based on economic value. For example, in Western cultures, a person who has been helped by a second person is sometimes said to owe a "debt of gratitude" to the second person.

Loan transfer of money that must be repaid

In finance, a loan is the lending of money by one or more individuals, organizations, or other entities to other individuals, organizations etc. The recipient incurs a debt, and is usually liable to pay interest on that debt until it is repaid, and also to repay the principal amount borrowed.

Title 11 of the United States Code sets forth the statutes governing the various types of relief for bankruptcy in the United States. Chapter 13 of the United States Bankruptcy Code provides an individual the opportunity to propose a plan of reorganization to reorganize their financial affairs while under the bankruptcy court's protection. The purpose of chapter 13 is to enable an individual with a regular source of income to propose a chapter 13 plan that provides for their various classes of creditors. Under chapter 13, the Bankruptcy Court has the power to approve a chapter 13 plan without the approval of creditors as long as it meets the statutory requirements under chapter 13. Chapter 13 plans are usually three to five years in length and may not exceed five years. Chapter 13 is in contrast to the purpose of Chapter 7, which does not provide for a plan of reorganization,but provides for the discharge of certain debt and the liquidation of non-exempt property. A Chapter 13 plan may be looked at as a form of debt consolidation, but a Chapter 13 allows a person to achieve much more than simply consolidating his or her unsecured debt such as credit cards and personal loans. A chapter 13 plan may provide for the four general categories of debt: priority claims, secured claims, priority unsecured claims, and general unsecured claims. Chapter 13 plans are often used to cure arrearages on a mortgage, avoid "underwater" junior mortgages or other liens, pay back taxes over time, or partially repay general unsecured debt. In recent years, some bankruptcy courts have allowed Chapter 13 to be used as a platform to expedite a mortgage modification application.

Convertible bond

In finance, a convertible bond or convertible note or convertible debt is a type of bond that the holder can convert into a specified number of shares of common stock in the issuing company or cash of equal value. It is a hybrid security with debt- and equity-like features. It originated in the mid-19th century, and was used by early speculators such as Jacob Little and Daniel Drew to counter market cornering.

Fixed income

Fixed income refers to any type of investment under which the borrower or issuer is obliged to make payments of a fixed amount on a fixed schedule. For example, the borrower may have to pay interest at a fixed rate once a year, and to repay the principal amount on maturity. Fixed-income securities can be contrasted with equity securities – often referred to as stocks and shares – that create no obligation to pay dividends or any other form of income.

A creditor is a party that has a claim on the services of a second party. It is a person or institution to whom money is owed. The first party, in general, has provided some property or service to the second party under the assumption that the second party will return an equivalent property and service. The second party is frequently called a debtor or borrower. The first party is called the creditor, which is the lender of property, service, or money.

Unsecured debt

In finance, unsecured debt refers to any type of debt or general obligation that is not protected by a guarantor, or collateralized by a lien on specific assets of the borrower in the case of a bankruptcy or liquidation or failure to meet the terms for repayment. That differs from secured debt such as a mortgage, which is backed by a piece of real estate, or gold in case of Gold Loan or other securities like Fixed Deposits, Shares or insurance papers.

A floating charge is a security interest over a fund of changing assets of a company or other legal person. Unlike a fixed charge, which is created over ascertained and definite property, a floating charge is created over property of an ambulatory and shifting nature. Examples of such property are receivables and stocks. The floating charge The floating charge 'floats' or 'hovers' until the point at which it is converted into a fixed charge. Once it becomes a "fixed charge" the charge attaches to the specific assets of the business. This conversion of the floating charge into a fixed charge can trigger common law jurisdictions]] it is an implied term in security documents creating floating charges that a cessation of the company's right to deal with the assets in the ordinary course of business leads to automatic crystallisation. Additionally, security documents will usually include express terms that a default by the person granting the security will trigger crystallisation.

Security interest legal right granted by a debtor to a creditor over the debtors property

A security interest is a legal right granted by a debtor to a creditor over the debtor's property which enables the creditor to have recourse to the property if the debtor defaults in making payment or otherwise performing the secured obligations. One of the most common examples of a security interest is a mortgage: When a person, by the action of an expressed conveyance, pledges by a promise to pay a certain sum of money, with certain conditions, on a said date or dates for a said period, that action on the page with wet ink applied on the part of the one wishing the exchange creates the original funds and negotiable Instrument. That action of pledging conveys a promise binding upon the mortgagee which creates a face value upon the Instrument of the amount of currency being asked for in exchange. It is therein in good faith offered to the Bank in exchange for local currency from the Bank to buy a house. The particular country's Bank Acts usually requires the Banks to deliver such fund bearing negotiable instruments to the Countries Main Bank such as is the case in Canada. This creates a security interest in the land the house sits on for the Bank and they file a caveat at land titles on the house as evidence of that security interest. If the mortgagor fails to pay thereby defaulting in their pledge to repay the exchange, the bank then applies to the court to foreclose on the property to ultimately sell it for profit.

In England and Wales, an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA) is a formal alternative for individuals wishing to avoid bankruptcy.

A secured loan is a loan in which the borrower pledges some asset as collateral for the loan, which then becomes a secured debt owed to the creditor who gives the loan. The debt is thus secured against the collateral, and if the borrower defaults, the creditor takes possession of the asset used as collateral and may sell it to regain some or all of the amount originally loaned to the borrower. An example is the foreclosure of a home. From the creditor's perspective, that is a category of debt in which a lender has been granted a portion of the bundle of rights to specified property. If the sale of the collateral does not raise enough money to pay off the debt, the creditor can often obtain a deficiency judgment against the borrower for the remaining amount.

The vast majority of all second lien loans are senior secured obligations of the borrower. Second lien loans differ from both unsecured debt and subordinated debt.

An unfair preference is a legal term arising in bankruptcy law where a person or company transfers assets or pays a debt to a creditor shortly before going into bankruptcy, that payment or transfer can be set aside on the application of the liquidator or trustee in bankruptcy as an unfair preference or simply a preference.

In finance, senior debt, frequently issued in the form of senior notes or referred to as senior loans, is debt that takes priority over other unsecured or otherwise more "junior" debt owed by the issuer. Senior debt has greater seniority in the issuer's capital structure than subordinated debt. In the event the issuer goes bankrupt, senior debt theoretically must be repaid before other creditors receive any payment.

Subordination in banking and finance refers to the order of priorities in claims for ownership or interest in various assets.

In finance, subordinated debt is debt which ranks after other debts if a company falls into liquidation or bankruptcy.

United Kingdom insolvency law

United Kingdom insolvency law regulates companies in the United Kingdom which are unable to repay their debts. While UK bankruptcy law concerns the rules for natural persons, the term insolvency is generally used for companies formed under the Companies Act 2006. "Insolvency" means being unable to pay debts. Since the Cork Report of 1982, the modern policy of UK insolvency law has been to attempt to rescue a company that is in difficulty, to minimise losses and fairly distribute the burdens between the community, employees, creditors and other stakeholders that result from enterprise failure. If a company cannot be saved it is "liquidated", so that the assets are sold off to repay creditors according to their priority. The main sources of law include the Insolvency Act 1986, the Insolvency Rules 1986 ), the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, the Employment Rights Act 1996 Part XII, the Insolvency Regulation (EC) 1346/2000 and case law. Numerous other Acts, statutory instruments and cases relating to labour, banking, property and conflicts of laws also shape the subject.

Securitization is the financial practice of pooling various types of contractual debt such as residential mortgages, commercial mortgages, auto loans or credit card debt obligations and selling their related cash flows to third party investors as securities, which may be described as bonds, pass-through securities, or collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). Investors are repaid from the principal and interest cash flows collected from the underlying debt and redistributed through the capital structure of the new financing. Securities backed by mortgage receivables are called mortgage-backed securities (MBS), while those backed by other types of receivables are asset-backed securities (ABS).


  1. British India Steam Navigation Co v IRC (1881) 7 QBD 165 at 172
  2. Glossary: D on the [Financial Industry Regulatory Authority] (FINRA) website, United States
  3. Ross, Sean. "Debenture vs. Bond: What's the Difference?". Investopedia . Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  4. Restructuring and insolvency in Canada: overview, Thomson Reuters Practical Law. Retrieved 22 June 2017.
  5. Chandra Gopalan (2007); Company Law in Singapore 3rd Edition; McGraw-Hill Education (Asia)
  6. "Debenture". Investopedia. Retrieved 21 February 2017.