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What is a 'Letter Of Credit'

A letter of credit is a letter from a bank guaranteeing that a buyer's payment to a seller will be received on time and for the correct amount. In the event that the buyer is unable to make payment on the purchase, the bank will be required to cover the full or remaining amount of the purchase. Due to the nature of international dealings, including factors such as distance, differing laws in each country, and difficulty in knowing each party personally, the use of letters of credit has become a very important aspect of international trade.

BREAKING DOWN 'Letter Of Credit'

Because a letter of credit is typically a negotiable instrument, the issuing bank pays the beneficiary or any bank nominated by the beneficiary. If a letter of credit is transferrable, the beneficiary may assign another entity, such as a corporate parent or a third party, the right to draw.

Funding a Letter of Credit

Banks typically require a pledge of securities or cash as collateral for issuing a letter of credit. Banks also collect a fee for service, typically a percentage of the size of the letter of credit. The International Chamber of Commerce Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits oversees letters of credit used in international transactions.

Example of a Letter of Credit

Citibank offers letters of credit for buyers in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East who may have difficulty obtaining international credit on their own. Citibank’s letters of credit help exporters minimize the importer’s country risk and the issuing bank’s commercial credit risk. Letters of credit are typically provided within two business days, guaranteeing payment by the confirming Citibank branch. This benefit is especially valuable when a client is located in a potentially unstable economic environment.

Types of Letters of Credit

A commercial letter of credit is a direct payment method in which the issuing bank makes the payments to the beneficiary. In contrast, a standby letter of credit is a secondary payment method in which the bank pays the beneficiary only when the holder cannot.

A revolving letter of credit lets the customer make any number of draws within a certain limit during a specific time period. A traveler’s letter of credit guarantees the issuing banks will honor drafts made at certain foreign banks.

A confirmed letter of credit involves a bank other than the issuing bank guaranteeing the letter of credit. The second bank is the confirming bank, typically the seller’s bank. The confirming bank ensures payment under the letter of credit if the holder and the issuing bank default. The issuing bank in international transactions typically requests this arrangement.

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