Promissory note

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A 1926 promissory note from the Imperial Bank of India, Rangoon, Burma for 20,000 rupees plus interest Burma 1926 Promissory Note.jpg
A 1926 promissory note from the Imperial Bank of India, Rangoon, Burma for 20,000 rupees plus interest

A promissory note, sometimes referred to as a note payable, is a legal instrument (more particularly, a financing instrument and a debt instrument), in which one party (the maker or issuer) promises in writing to pay a determinate sum of money to the other (the payee), either at a fixed or determinable future time or on demand of the payee, under specific terms and conditions.



The terms of a note usually include the principal amount, the interest rate if any, the parties, the date, the terms of repayment (which could include interest) and the maturity date. Sometimes, provisions are included concerning the payee's rights in the event of a default, which may include foreclosure of the maker's assets. In foreclosures and contract breaches, promissory notes under CPLR 5001 allow creditors to recover prejudgement interest from the date interest is due until liability is established. [1] [2] For loans between individuals, writing and signing a promissory note are often instrumental for tax and record keeping. A promissory note alone is typically unsecured. [3]


The term note payable is commonly used in accounting (as distinguished from accounts payable) or commonly as just a "note", it is internationally defined by the Convention providing a uniform law for bills of exchange and promissory notes, but regional variations exist. A banknote is frequently referred to as a promissory note, as it is made by a bank and payable to bearer on demand. Mortgage notes are another prominent example.

If the promissory note is unconditional and readily saleable, it is called a negotiable instrument. [4]

Demand promissory notes are notes that do not carry a specific maturity date, but are due on demand of the lender. Usually the lender will only give the borrower a few days' notice before the payment is due.

Promissory notes may be used in combination with security agreements. For example, a promissory note may be used in combination with a mortgage, in which case it is called a mortgage note.

Loan contracts

In common speech, other terms, such as "loan", "loan agreement", and "loan contract" may be used interchangeably with "promissory note". The term "loan contract" is often used to describe a contract that is lengthy and detailed. [3]

A promissory note is very similar to a loan. Each is a legally binding contract to unconditionally repay a specified amount within a defined time frame. However, a promissory note is generally less detailed and less rigid than a loan contract. [5] For one thing, loan agreements often require repayment in installments, while promissory notes typically do not. Furthermore, a loan agreement usually includes the terms for recourse in the case of default, such as establishing the right to foreclose, while a promissory note does not.

Difference from IOU

Promissory notes differ from IOUs in that they contain a specific promise to pay along with the steps and timeline for repayment as well as consequences if repayment fails. [6] IOUs only acknowledge that a debt exists. [7] [8]


Negotiable instruments are unconditional and impose few to no duties on the issuer or payee other than payment. In the United States, whether a promissory note is a negotiable instrument can have significant legal impacts, as only negotiable instruments are subject to Article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code and the application of the holder in due course rule. [4] The negotiability of mortgage notes has been debated, particularly due to the obligations and "baggage" associated with mortgages; however, in mortgages notes are often determined to be negotiable instruments. [4]

In the United States, the Non-Negotiable Long Form Promissory Note is not required. [9]

Use as financial instruments

Promissory notes are a common financial instrument in many jurisdictions, employed principally for short time financing of companies. Often, the seller or provider of a service is not paid upfront by the buyer (usually, another company), but within a period of time, the length of which has been agreed upon by both the seller and the buyer. The reasons for this may vary; historically, many companies used to balance their books and execute payments and debts at the end of each week or tax month; any product bought before that time would be paid only then. Depending on the jurisdiction, this deferred payment period can be regulated by law; in countries like France, Italy or Spain, it usually ranges between 30 and 90 days after the purchase. [10]

When a company engages in many of such transactions, for instance by having provided services to many customers all of whom then deferred their payment, it is possible that the company may be owed enough money that its own liquidity position (i.e., the amount of cash it holds) is hampered, and finds itself unable to honour their own debts, despite the fact that by the books, the company remains solvent. In those cases, the company has the option of asking the bank for a short-term loan, or using any other such short-term financial arrangements to avoid insolvency. However, in jurisdictions where promissory notes are commonplace, the company (called the payee or lender) can ask one of its debtors (called the maker, borrower or payor) to accept a promissory note, whereby the maker signs a legally binding agreement to honour the amount established in the promissory note (usually, part or all its debt) within the agreed period of time. [11] The lender can then take the promissory note to a financial institution (usually a bank, albeit this could also be a private person, or another company), that will exchange the promissory note for cash; usually, the promissory note is cashed in for the amount established in the promissory note, less a small discount.

Once the promissory note reaches its maturity date, its current holder (the bank) can execute it over the emitter of the note (the debtor), who would have to pay the bank the amount promised in the note. If the maker fails to pay, however, the bank retains the right to go to the company that cashed the promissory note in, and demand payment. In the case of unsecured promissory notes, the lender accepts the promissory note based solely on the maker's ability to repay; if the maker fails to pay, the lender must honour the debt to the bank. In the case of a secured promissory note, the lender accepts the promissory note based on the maker's ability to repay, but the note is secured by a thing of value; if the maker fails to pay and the bank reclaims payment, the lender has the right to execute the security. [12]

Use as private money

Thus, promissory notes can work as a form of private money. In the past, particularly during the 19th century, their widespread and unregulated use was a source of great risk for banks and private financiers, who would often face the insolvency of both debtors, or simply be scammed by both.


SUD-S106a-Siege of Khartoum-500 Piastres (1884).jpg
500 piastre promissory note issued and hand-signed by Gen. Gordon during the Siege of Khartoum (1884) payable six months from the date of issue. [14]

Code of Hammurabi Law 100 stipulated repayment of a loan by a debtor to a creditor on a schedule with a maturity date specified in written contractual terms. [15] [16] [17] Law 122 stipulated that a depositor of gold, silver, or other chattel/movable property for safekeeping must present all articles and a signed contract of bailment to a notary before depositing the articles with a banker, and Law 123 stipulated that a banker was discharged of any liability from a contract of bailment if the notary denied the existence of the contract. Law 124 stipulated that a depositor with a notarized contract of bailment was entitled to redeem the entire value of their deposit, and Law 125 stipulated that a banker was liable for replacement of deposits stolen while in their possession. [18] [19] [17]

In China during the Han Dynasty promissory notes appeared in 118 BC and were made of leather. [20] The Romans may have used promissory notes in 57 AD as a durable lightweight substance as evidence of a promise in that time has been found in London among the Bloomberg tablets. [21]

Historically, promissory notes have acted as a form of privately issued currency. Flying cash or feiqian was a promissory note used during the Tang dynasty (618 – 907). Flying cash was regularly used by Chinese tea merchants, and could be exchanged for hard currency at provincial capitals. [22] The Chinese concept of promissory notes was introduced by Marco Polo to Europe. [23]

According to tradition, in 1325 a promissory note was signed in Milan. However, according to a travelogue of a visit to Prague in 960 by Ibrahim ibn Yaqub, small pieces of cloth were used as a means of trade, with these cloths having a set exchange rate versus silver. [24] Around 1150 the Knights Templar issued promissory notes to pilgrims, pilgrims deposited their valuables with a local Templar preceptory before embarking, received a document indicating the value of their deposit, then used that document upon arrival in the Holy Land to retrieve their funds in an amount of treasure of equal value. [25] [26]

Around 1348 in Gorlitz, Germany, the Jewish creditor Adasse owned a promissory note for 71 marks. [27] There is also evidence of promissory notes being issued in 1384 between Genoa and Barcelona, although the letters themselves are lost. The same happens for the ones issued in Valencia in 1371 by Bernat de Codinachs for Manuel d'Entença, a merchant from Huesca (then part of the Crown of Aragon), amounting a total of 100 florins. [28] In all these cases, the promissory notes were used as a rudimentary system of paper money, for the amounts issued could not be easily transported in metal coins between the cities involved. Ginaldo Giovanni Battista Strozzi issued an early form of promissory note in Medina del Campo (Spain), against the city of Besançon in 1553. [29] However, there exists notice of promissory notes being in used in Mediterranean commerce well before that date.

In 2005, the Korean Ministry of Justice and a consortium of financial institutions announced the service of an electronic promissory note (eNote) service, after years of development, allowing entities to make promissory notes (notes payable) in business transactions digitally instead of on paper, for the first time in the world. [30] [31] [32] [33]

In the United States, eNotes were made possible as a result of the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act in 2000 and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). [34] :2 An eNote must meet all the requirements to be a written promissory note. [34] :3

International law

In 1930, under the League of Nations, a Convention providing a uniform law for bills of exchange and promissory notes was drafted and ratified by eighteen nations. [35] [36] Article 75 of the treaty stated that a promissory note shall contain:


England and Wales

§ 83. BILLS OF EXCHANGE ACT 1882. Part IV. [37]


Promissory note defined

(1) A promissory note is an unconditional promise in writing made by one person to another signed by the maker, engaging to pay, on demand or at a fixed or determinable future time, a sum certain in money, to, or to the order of, a specified person or to bearer.

(2) An instrument in the form of a note payable to maker’s order is not a note within the meaning of this section unless and until it is indorsed by the maker.

(3) A note is not invalid by reason only that it contains also a pledge of collateral security with authority to sell or dispose thereof.

(4) A note which is, or on the face of it purports to be, both made and payable within the British Islands is an inland note. Any other note is a foreign note.

United States

A promissory note issued by the Second Bank of the United States, December 15, 1840, for the amount of $1,000 Promissory note - 2nd Bank of US $1000.jpg
A promissory note issued by the Second Bank of the United States, December 15, 1840, for the amount of $1,000

In the United States, a promissory note that meets certain conditions is a negotiable instrument regulated by article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code. Negotiable promissory notes called mortgage notes are used extensively in combination with mortgages in the financing of real estate transactions. One prominent example is the Fannie Mae model standard form contract Multistate Fixed-Rate Note 3200, which is publicly available. [38] Promissory notes, or commercial papers, are also issued to provide capital to businesses. However, Promissory Notes act as a source of Finance to the company's creditors.

The various State law enactments of the Uniform Commercial Code define what is and what is not a promissory note, in section 3-104(d):



(d) A promise or order other than a check is not an instrument if, at the time it is issued or first comes into possession of a holder, it contains a conspicuous statement, however expressed, to the effect that the promise or order is not negotiable or is not an instrument governed by this Article.

Thus, a writing containing such a disclaimer removes such a writing from the definition of negotiable instrument, instead simply memorializing a contract.

See also

Related Research Articles

Debenture Debt instrument

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 acknowledge 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 company's liability 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. Senior debentures get paid before subordinate debentures, and there are varying rates of risk and payoff for these categories.

Banknote Form of physical currency made of paper, cotton or polymer

A banknote—also called a bill, paper money, or simply a note—is a type of negotiable promissory note, made by a bank or other licensed authority, payable to the bearer on demand. Banknotes were originally issued by commercial banks, which were legally required to redeem the notes for legal tender when presented to the chief cashier of the originating bank. These commercial banknotes only traded at face value in the market served by the issuing bank. Commercial banknotes have primarily been replaced by national banknotes issued by central banks or monetary authorities.

Loan Lending of money

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 as well as to repay the principal amount borrowed.

A mortgage is a legal instrument which is used to create a security interest in real property held by a lender as a security for a debt, usually a loan of money. A mortgage in itself is not a debt, it is the lender's security for a debt. It is a transfer of an interest in land from the owner to the mortgage lender, on the condition that this interest will be returned to the owner when the terms of the mortgage have been satisfied or performed. In other words, the mortgage is a security for the loan that the lender makes to the borrower.

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 repay the principal amount on maturity. Fixed-income securities — more commonly known as bonds — 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. Bonds carry a level of legal protections for investors that equity securities do not — in the event of a bankruptcy, bond holders would be repaid after liquidation of assets, whereas shareholders with stock often receive nothing in the event of bankruptcy.

Financial transaction Form of agreement carried out between a buyer and seller

A financial transaction is an agreement, or communication, between a buyer and seller to exchange goods, services, or assets for payment. Any transaction involves a change in the status of the finances of two or more businesses or individuals. A financial transaction always involves one or more financial asset, most commonly money or another valuable item such as gold or silver.

A debtor or debitor is a legal entity that owes a debt to another entity. The entity may be an individual, a firm, a government, a company or other legal person. The counterparty is called a creditor. When the counterpart of this debt arrangement is a bank, the debtor is more often referred to as a borrower.

Commercial paper Financial product

Commercial paper, in the global financial market, is an unsecured promissory note with a fixed maturity of rarely more than 270 days. In layperson terms, it is like an "IOU" but can be bought and sold because its buyers and sellers have some degree of confidence that it can be successfully redeemed later for cash, based on their assessment of the creditworthiness of the issuing company.

Negotiable instrument Contract document exchangeable for money

A negotiable instrument is a document guaranteeing the payment of a specific amount of money, either on demand, or at a set time, whose payer is usually named on the document. More specifically, it is a document contemplated by or consisting of a contract, which promises the payment of money without condition, which may be paid either on demand or at a future date. The term has different meanings depending on the use of the term as it is used in the application of different laws, and depending in which country and context it is used.

Cheque Method of payment

A cheque, or check, is a document that orders a bank to pay a specific amount of money from a person's account to the person in whose name the cheque has been issued. The person writing the cheque, known as the drawer, has a transaction banking account where the money is held. The drawer writes the various details including the monetary amount, date, and a payee on the cheque, and signs it, ordering their bank, known as the drawee, to pay that person or company the amount of money stated.

In banking, a post-dated cheque is a cheque written by the drawer (payer) for a date in the future.

In the United States, a mortgage note is a promissory note secured by a specified mortgage loan.

Mortgage loan Loan secured using real estate

A mortgage loan or simply mortgage is a loan used either by purchasers of real property to raise funds to buy real estate, or by existing property owners to raise funds for any purpose while putting a lien on the property being mortgaged. The loan is "secured" on the borrower's property through a process known as mortgage origination. This means that a legal mechanism is put into place which allows the lender to take possession and sell the secured property to pay off the loan in the event the borrower defaults on the loan or otherwise fails to abide by its terms. The word mortgage is derived from a Law French term used in Britain in the Middle Ages meaning "death pledge" and refers to the pledge ending (dying) when either the obligation is fulfilled or the property is taken through foreclosure. A mortgage can also be described as "a borrower giving consideration in the form of a collateral for a benefit (loan)".

Demand draft

A demand draft is a negotiable instrument similar to a bill of exchange. A bank issues a demand draft to a client (drawer), directing another bank (drawee) or one of its own branches to pay a certain sum to the specified party (payee).

Blank endorsement of a financial instrument, such as a cheque, is only a signature, not indicating the payee. The effect of this is that it is payable only to the bearer – legally, it transforms an order instrument into a bearer instrument. It is one of the types of endorsement of a negotiable instrument.

Mortgage acceleration is the practice of paying off a mortgage loan faster than required by terms of the mortgage agreement. As interest on mortgages is compounded, early payments diminish the period needed to pay off the mortgage, and avoid a quotient of compounded interest.

<i>Cowden v. Commissioner</i>

Cowden v. Commissioner, 289 F.2d 20, outlined the factors used to determine whether something received is a cash equivalent, in other words, whether something received is taxable when it was received or when it was assigned. The court observed two main doctrines in determining when something is taxable. The court relied on the doctrines of constructive receipt and cash equivalence while reiterating that substance rather than form should control income tax laws.

Crossing of cheques Method of restricting redemption of cheques

A crossed cheque is a cheque that has been marked specifying an instruction on the way it is to be redeemed. A common instruction is for the cheque to be deposited directly to an account with a bank and not to be immediately cashed by the holder over the bank counter. The format and wording varies between countries, but generally, two parallel lines may be placed either vertically across the cheque or on the top left hand corner of the cheque. By using crossed cheques, cheque writers can effectively protect the instrument from being stolen or cashed by unauthorized persons.

Loss mitigation is used to describe a third party helping a homeowner, a division within a bank that mitigates the loss of the bank, or a firm that handles the process of negotiation between a homeowner and the homeowner's lender. Loss mitigation works to negotiate mortgage terms for the homeowner that will prevent foreclosure. These new terms are typically obtained through loan modification, short sale negotiation, short refinance negotiation, deed in lieu of foreclosure, cash-for-keys negotiation, a partial claim loan, repayment plan, forbearance, or other loan work-out. All of the options serve the same purpose, to stabilize the risk of loss the lender (investor) is in danger of realizing.

WeRe Bank is a movement created by previous strawman persona Alan Peter Smith, now known as "Peter of England," following his public declaration and notification to The Crown and HRE based on his concept of "Universal Energy Transfer" and closely linked with his "Re Movement - political party." The Movement is described as, "providing an alternative to the present banking system" that Peter of England describes as, "fraudulent, corrupt and inherently criminal." England claims to have support "both on planet and off planet" for his project. Ref: The G2O2P3 Treaty Agreement The concept has gained publicity mainly via websites promoting alternative lifestyles, conspiracy theories and fringe theories.


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