Difference Between Letter of Credit and Line of Credit

Explore the difference between letter of credit and line of credit. Understand how these financial instruments differ in terms of purpose, usage, repayment, and impact on businesses.
Personal loan
3 min

In the intricate world of finance, various instruments like personal loans, secured loans, credit cards, facilitate transactions and foster economic activities. Two commonly used tools, often confused due to their similar names, are the Letter of Credit (LC) and the Line of Credit (LOC). Understanding the differences between these financial mechanisms is crucial for businesses and individuals navigating the complex landscape of international trade and credit arrangements.

What is a Letter of Credit?

A Letter of Credit (LC) is a financial document used in international trade. It serves as a guarantee from a buyer's bank to a seller, ensuring payment upon presentation of specified documents and compliance with agreed-upon terms. LCs provide security for both parties in cross-border transactions.

What are the types of Letter of Credit?

Various types of Letters of Credit cater to different financial needs:

Revolving Letter of Credit:

Allows for multiple shipments within a specified period, with the credit being reinstated after each use.

Commercial Letter of Credit:

Commonly used in trade, it assures the seller of payment upon meeting the terms of the transaction.

Traveler’s Letter of Credit:

Facilitates access to funds for travelers, providing a secure financial instrument during trips.

Confirmed Letter of Credit:

Involves a second bank guaranteeing the LC, providing an additional layer of security for the seller.

How does a letter of credit work?

A Letter of Credit (LC) is a financial instrument used in international trade. It works as a guarantee from a bank to a seller that a buyer will fulfill their payment obligations. When parties agree to use an LC, the buyer's bank issues the LC to the seller, promising to pay a specified amount upon presentation of compliant documents proving that goods/services were delivered as per agreed terms. This mitigates risks for both parties, ensuring payment for the seller and delivery for the buyer.

What is Line of Credit?

A Line of Credit (LOC) is a flexible form of revolving credit that grants borrowers access to a predetermined amount of funds. Borrowers can withdraw funds as needed, up to the approved credit limit, and interest is charged only on the amount withdrawn. LOCs are commonly used for business and personal financial needs.

Types of Lines of Credit (LOCs)

There are various types of Lines of Credit (LOCs) tailored to different needs. Revolving LOCs allow borrowers to access funds up to a predetermined credit limit, repay, and reuse as needed, common for personal and business financing. Secured LOCs require collateral, reducing risk for lenders, often used for larger amounts or riskier borrowers. Unsecured LOCs don't require collateral but may have stricter eligibility criteria. Home equity LOCs leverage home equity as collateral, offering lower interest rates for homeowners.

Differences between a Letter of Credit vs Line of Credit

Read on to know the basic differences between a Letter of Credit and a Line of Credit:

1. Purpose

Letter of Credit:

  • Primarily used in international trade to secure transactions between buyers and sellers.
  • Ensures payment upon presentation of specified documents and compliance with agreed-upon terms.

Line of Credit:

  • Used for various financial needs, offering flexibility in accessing funds within an approved credit limit.
  • Commonly employed for managing cash flow, covering operational expenses, or seizing business opportunities.

2. Structure

Letter of Credit:

  • Involves three parties: buyer, seller, and the issuing bank.
  • Follows a structured process with predetermined conditions for a specific trade transaction.

Line of Credit:

  • Establishes a credit limit for the borrower, allowing withdrawal of funds as needed within that limit.
  • Provides ongoing financial flexibility for the borrower.

3. Flexibility

Letter of Credit:

  • Typically has a fixed and specific purpose, focusing on facilitating a particular trade deal.

Line of Credit:

  • Offers a revolving form of credit, enabling users to withdraw funds as much or as little as required.

4. Repayment

Letter of Credit:

  • Does not involve repayments, as it is not a form of credit but a guarantee for payment.

Line of Credit:

  • Requires periodic repayments, with interest charged on the outstanding balance, as it is a credit arrangement for ongoing financial needs.

Choosing between a Letter of Credit (LC) and a Line of Credit (LOC) depends on your financial needs. If involved in international trade, an LC secures transactions. For ongoing flexibility in accessing funds, a LOC is suitable, catering to various financial requirements such as managing cash flow or seizing business opportunities.


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Frequently asked questions

Does a line of credit require collateral?

Repay a line of credit by making regular payments on the outstanding balance, typically including interest accrued on the borrowed amount.

Who pays in LC? Is LC payment safe?

In a Letter of Credit (LC), the importer usually pays. LC payment is generally safe if all terms are met and documents are authentic.

Who issues a letter of credit?

A Letter of Credit (LC) is typically issued by a bank or financial institution on behalf of a buyer/importer to guarantee payment to a seller/exporter.