The difference between a debtor and a creditor

A creditor is an entity or person that lends money or extends credit to another party. A debtor is an entity or person that owes money to another party. Thus, there is a creditor and a debtor in every lending arrangement. The relationship between a debtor and a creditor is crucial to the extension of credit between parties and the related transfer of assets and settlement of liabilities. The actions of the creditor are somewhat different when it is lending money, versus when it is extending credit. The differences are:

  • Lending money. The creditor frequently demands collateral and/or a personal guarantee, as well as loan covenants, from the debtor. This is because the amount of loaned funds can be quite large, so the creditor is at considerable risk of loss over a potentially lengthy period of time. An entity that lends money is likely to be in business solely for this purpose.
  • Extending credit. The creditor is extending a relatively small amount of credit to a debtor for a short period of time, and so is more concerned with the size of the credit line granted and payment terms than the need for collateral or personal guarantees. Covenants are unheard of when granting trade credit. An entity that extends credit is in the business of selling goods or services, and only engages in the extension of credit as an ancillary function. It may be necessary to extend credit simply to be competitive in the marketplace.

This can be in the form of loans payable or trade accounts payable.

Nearly every business is both a creditor and a debtor, since businesses extend credit to their customers, and pay their suppliers on delayed payment terms. The only situation in which a business or person is not a creditor or debtor is when all transactions are paid in cash.

For example, if Alpha Company lends money to Charlie Company, Alpha takes on the role of the creditor, and Charlie is the debtor. Similarly, if Charlie Company sells goods to Alpha Company on credit, Charlie is the creditor and Alpha is the debtor.