Credit need not necessarily be based on formal monetary systems. The credit concept can be applied in barter economies based on the direct exchange of goods and services, and some would go so far as to suggest that the true nature of money is best described as a representation of the credit-debt relationships that exist in society (Ingham 2004 p.12-19).
Credit is denominated by a unit of account. Unlike money (by a strict definition), credit itself cannot act as a unit of account. However, many forms of credit can readily act as a medium of exchange. As such, various forms of credit are frequently referred to as money and are included in estimates of the money supply.
Credit is also traded in the market. The purest form is the credit default swap market, which is essentially a traded market in credit insurance. A credit default swap represents the price at which two parties exchange this risk – the protection "seller" takes the risk of default of the credit in return for a payment, commonly denoted in basis points (one basis point is 1/100 of a percent) of the notional amount to be referenced, while the protection "buyer" pays this premium and in the case of default of the underlying (a loan, bond or other receivable), delivers this receivable to the protection seller and receives from the seller the par amount (that is, is made whole).
Consumer debt can be defined as ‘money, goods or services provided to an individual in lieu of payment.’ Common forms of consumer credit include credit cards, store cards, motor (auto) finance, personal loans (installment loans), retail loans (retail installment loans) and mortgages. This is a broad definition of consumer credit and corresponds with the Bank of England's definition of "Lending to individuals". Given the size and nature of the mortgage market, many observers classify mortgage lending as a separate category of personal borrowing, and consequently residential mortgages are excluded from some definitions of consumer credit - such as the one adopted by the Federal Reserve in the US.
The cost of credit is the additional amount, over and above the amount borrowed, that the borrower has to pay. It includes interest, arrangement fees and any other charges. Some costs are mandatory, required by the lender as an integral part of the credit agreement. Other costs, such as those for credit insurance, may be optional. The borrower chooses whether or not they are included as part of the agreement.
Interest and other charges are presented in a variety of different ways, but under many legislative regimes lenders are required to quote all mandatory charges in the form of an annual percentage rate (APR). The goal of the APR calculation is to promote ‘truth in lending’, to give potential borrowers a clear measure of the true cost of borrowing and to allow a comparison to be made between competing products. The APR is derived from the pattern of advances and repayments made during the agreement. Optional charges are not included in the APR calculation. So if there is a tick box on an application form asking if the consumer would like to take out payment insurance, then insurance costs will not be included in the APR calculation (Finlay 2009).
Debt is that which is owed; usually referencing assets owed, but the term can also cover moral obligations and other interactions not requiring money. In the case of assets, debt is a means of using future purchasing power in the present before a summation has been earned. Some companies and corporations use debt as a part of their overall corporate finance strategy.
A debt is created when a creditor agrees to lend a sum of assets to a debtor. In modern society, debt is usually granted with expected repayment; in many cases, plus interest. Historically, debt was responsible for the creation of indentured servants.
Types of debt
A company uses various kinds of debt to finance its operations. The various types of debt can generally be categorized into: 1) secured and unsecured debt, 2) private and public debt, 3) syndicated and bilateral debt, and 4) other types of debt that display one or more of the characteristics noted above.
A debt obligation is considered secured if creditors have recourse to the assets of the company on a proprietary basis or otherwise ahead of general claims against the company. Unsecured debt comprises financial obligations, where creditors do not have recourse to the assets of the borrower to satisfy their claims.
Private debt comprises bank-loan type obligations, whether senior or mezzanine. Public debt is a general definition covering all financial instruments that are freely tradeable on a public exchange or over the counter, with few if any restrictions.
Loan syndication is a risk management tool that allows the lead banks underwriting the debt to reduce their risk and free up lending capacity.
A basic loan is the simplest form of debt. It consists of an agreement to lend a principal sum for a fixed period of time, to be repaid by a certain date. In commercial loans interest, calculated as a percentage of the principal sum per year, will also have to be paid by that date.
In some loans, the amount actually loaned to the debtor is less than the principal sum to be repaid; the additional principal has the same economic effect as a higher interest rate (see point (mortgage)).
A syndicated loan is a loan that is granted to companies that wish to borrow more money than any single lender is prepared to risk in a single loan, usually many millions of dollars. In such a case, a syndicate of banks can each agree to put forward a portion of the principal sum.
A bond is a debt security issued by certain institutions such as companies and governments. A bond entitles the holder to repayment of the principal sum, plus interest. Bonds are issued to investors in a marketplace when an institution wishes to borrow money. Bonds have a fixed lifetime, usually a number of years; with long-term bonds, lasting over 30 years, being less common. At the end of the bond's life the money should be repaid in full. Interest may be added to the end payment, or can be paid in regular installments (known as coupons) during the life of the bond. Bonds may be traded in the bond markets, and are widely used as relatively safe investments in comparison to equity.
Effects of debt
Debt allows people and organizations to do things that they would otherwise not be able, or allowed, to do. Commonly, people in industrialised nations use it to purchase houses, cars and many other things too expensive to buy with cash on hand. Companies also use debt in many ways to leverage the investment made in their assets, "leveraging" the return on their equity. This leverage, the proportion of debt to equity, is considered important in determining the riskiness of an investment; the more debt per equity, the riskier. For both companies and individuals, this increased risk can lead to poor results, as the cost of servicing the debt can grow beyond the ability to pay due to either external events (income loss) or internal difficulties (poor management of resources).
Excesses in debt accumulation have been blamed for exacerbating economic problems. For example, prior to the beginning of the Great Depression debt/GDP ratio was very high. Economic agents were heavily indebted. This excess of debt, equivalent to excessive expectations on future returns, accompanied asset bubbles on the stock markets. When expectations corrected, deflation and a credit crunch followed. Deflation effectively made debt more expensive and, as Fisher explained, this reinforced deflation again, because, in order to reduce their debt level, economic agents reduced their consumption and investment. The reduction in demand reduced business activity and caused further unemployment. In a more direct sense, more bankruptcies also occurred due both to increased debt cost caused by deflation and the reduced demand.
It is possible for some organizations to enter into alternative types of borrowing and repayment arrangements which will not result in bankruptcy. For example, companies can sometimes convert debt that they owe into equity in themselves. In this case, the creditor hopes to regain something equivalent to the debt and interest in the form of dividends and capital gains of the borrower. The "repayments" are therefore proportional to what the borrower earns and so can not in themselves cause bankruptcy. Once debt is converted in this way, it is no longer known as debt.