A compensating balance is a minimum bank account balance that a borrower agrees to maintain with a lender. The purpose of this balance is to reduce the lending cost for the lender, since the lender can invest the cash located in the compensating bank account and keep some or all of the proceeds. The borrower may also benefit from being granted a somewhat lower interest rate. However, the borrower is also paying interest on a net loan balance that is smaller than the amount of the loan, so the effective interest rate for the entire arrangement is higher.
For example, a corporation has a $5 million line of credit with a bank. The borrowing agreement states that the corporation will maintain a compensating balance in an account at the bank of at least $250,000. When the two sides of the arrangement are netted, the loan is actually $4,750,000.