Letters Of Credit – Definition, Types & Process

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A Letter of Credit (LC) is a document that guarantees the buyer’s payment to the sellers. It is issued by a bank and ensures timely and full payment to the seller. If the buyer is unable to make such a payment, the bank covers the full or the remaining amount on behalf of the buyer.

A letter of credit is issued against a pledge of securities or cash. Banks typically collect a fee, ie, a percentage of the size/amount of the letter of credit.

Importance of Letters of Credit

Since the nature of international trade includes factors such as distance, different laws in each country and the lack of personal contact during international trade, letters of credit make a reliable payment mechanism. The ‘International Chamber of Commerce Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits’ oversees letters of credit used in international transactions.

Parties to a Letter of Credit

  • Applicant (importer) requests the bank to issue the LC.
  • Issuing bank (importer’s bank which issues the LC [also known as the Opening banker of LC]).
  • Beneficiary (exporter).

Types of a Letter of Credit

The letters of credit can be divided into the following categories:

Sight Credit

Under this LC, documents are payable at the sight/ upon presentation of the correct documentation. For example, a businessman can present a bill of exchange to a lender along with a sight letter of credit and take the necessary funds right away. A sight letter of credit is more immediate than other forms of letters of credit.

Acceptance Credit/ Time Credit

The Bills of Exchange which are drawn and payable after a period, are called usance bills. Under acceptance credit, these usance bills are accepted upon presentation and eventually honoured on their respective due dates.

For example, a company purchases materials from a supplier and receives the goods on the same day. The bill will be delivered with the shipment of goods, but the company may have up to 30 days to pay it. This 30 day period marks the usance for the sale.

Revocable and Irrevocable Credit

A revocable LC is a credit, the terms and conditions of which can be amended/ cancelled by the Issuing Bank. This cancellation can be done without prior notice to the beneficiaries. An irrevocable credit is a credit, the terms and conditions of which can neither be amended nor cancelled. Hence, the opening bank is bound by the commitments given in the LC.

Confirmed Credit

Only irrevocable LC can be confirmed. A confirmed LC is one when a banker other than the Issuing bank, adds its own confirmation to the credit. In case of confirmed LCs, the beneficiary’s bank would submit the documents to the confirming banker.

Back-to-Back credit: In a back to back credit, the exporter (the beneficiary) requests his banker to issue an LC in favour of his supplier to procure raw materials, goods on the basis of the export LC received by him. This type of LC is known as Back-to-Back credit.

Example: An Indian exporter receives an export LC from his overseas client in the Netherlands. The Indian exporter approaches his banker with a request to issue an LC in favour of his local supplier of raw materials. The bank issues an LC backed by the export LC. 

Transferable Credit: While an LC is not a negotiable instrument, the Bills of Exchange drawn under it are negotiable. A Transferable Credit is one in which a beneficiary can transfer his rights to third parties. Such LC should clearly indicate that it is a ‘Transferable’ LC.

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