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What is a 'Bill of Exchange'

A bill of exchange is a written order used primarily in international trade that binds one party to pay a fixed sum of money to another party on demand or at a predetermined date.

BREAKING DOWN 'Bill of Exchange'

Bills of exchange are similar to checks and promissory notes. They can be drawn by individuals or banks and are generally transferable by endorsements. The difference between a promissory note and a bill of exchange is that the latter is transferable and can bind one party to pay a third party that was not involved in its creation.

There are up to three parties involved in a bill of exchange transaction. The drawee is the party that pays the sum specified by the bill of exchange. The payee is the one who receives that sum. The drawer is the party that obliges the drawee to pay the payee. The drawer and the payee are the same entity, unless the drawer transfers the bill of exchange to a third-party payee. 

Bills of exchange generally do not pay interest, making them in essence post-dated checks. They may accrue interest if not paid by a certain date, however, in which case the rate must be specified on the instrument. They can, conversely, be transferred at a discount before the date specified for payment.

If these bills are issued by a bank, they can be referred to as bank drafts. If they are issued by individuals, they can be referred to as trade drafts. If the funds are to be paid immediately or on demand, the bill of exchange is known as a sight bill; if they are to be paid at a set date in the future, it is known as a term bill.

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