Negotiable Instrument

Do you know, that when people around you go to buy their dream car, they use what is known as a negotiable instrument? Imagine yourself going to buy a car. You do not have that much cash, at home. Even if you have, you will not take a car’s value of cash with you. You will simply pay the car dealer in check. You used a negotiable instrument for this transaction.

Negotiable instruments are documents that promise a specific amount of money to the payee. The document includes the payee’s name as well as the amount to be discharged to him. The date of the payment can be set while signing the document, or when the payee demands. Among others, the key feature of negotiable instruments is that they are transferrable in nature. This means that the payee or the assignee of a negotiable instrument can transfer it in favor of a third party. The third party then obtains the full legal right of the negotiable instrument. Often, payees do this by ‘endorsing’ the negotiable instrument.

Negotiable Instrument: The Uniform Commercial Code

Different countries have different laws codifying the use of negotiable instruments. For example, the UK has the Bills of Exchange Act, 1882, in India there is a Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881. In US, we have the Uniform Commercial Code to govern the issue and transfer of these transferable instruments. According to this law, a negotiable instrument to be legal must observe the following requirements:

  • The agreement or guarantee to make the payment must be unconditional which means that no supplementary or extra condition can be set for the payee to fulfil.
  • The amount of the payment must be specific, and this amount can include interest
  • The name of the payee must be specified
  • The promise to pay either on-demand on a specific date
  • The promisor must not be required to perform any other act other than paying the amount specified

Types of Negotiable Instrument

Promissory Note

A promissory note is a promise of payment in a document form, of course. When you put your signature on this note, you are legally obliged to make payment to the payee. A promissory note is not just a random note on a paper promising a specific amount. It contains a specific date, a specific amount, date of issue, a specific rate of interest, and any other fee. In short, it contains all the terms of the agreement between the two parties. The credibility of the person issuing a promissory note is of great consequence. If the payee doubts the credibility of the person issuing the promissory note, he will not accept it.

Certificate of Deposit

A certificate of deposit is a type of deposit in a bank in which the depositor agrees to hold a fix amount of money with the bank and for a fix period.

When we open a savings account with a bank, we deposit our surplus income or savings in that account. In exchange, the bank pays us a rate of interest on the amount we deposit. The bank then lends our money to those in need in the form of home loan, education loan, etc. Banks charge a higher rate of interest on these loans than the rate of interest they offer us on our savings account deposits. Out of the difference in these two rates of interests, banks make their profits.

But the problem with this model is that banks can not predict when their depositors will come to withdraw money from their savings account. As a result, banks cannot loan or advance every single penny they receive from deposits. But to keep the deposit money idle will not earn the banks anything. To reduce this uncertainty, banks offer certificates of deposit. These negotiable instruments are for a fixed period, typically for 6 months and 12 months. In return for this promise by the depositor to keep the deposit for a fixed period, they earn a higher rate of interest of certificate of deposits.

negotiable instrument


Checks are the most common types of negotiable instruments. They function as a written document, in the specific format of the bank, which directs the bank to pay a certain sum of money to the holder. People use a check as a way of making cashless payments, typically when the payment involves a large sum of money. The person issuing the check must have deposits made with the bank out of which to pay the holder. There is no specific date mention of date on a check which means the banker must make the payment upon the holder’s demand. With online baking, however, the usage of checks is declining since they are primarily a cashless way of doing transactions. The person holding the check does not get immediate payment as it takes some time for the bank to process the payment.

Money Order

A money order is a similar form of a negotiable instrument as a check. As in the case of checks, a money order directs the bank to make payment of a specific sum of money to the holder. The major difference is that to issue a money order, the person making the payment does not need to have a bank account. You pay for the money order in cash and send it to the payee. The payee then exchanges it for cash from his end.

Unlike checks, money orders have a limit on the maximum value, usually- $1000. Those who want to make greater payment through money orders have to purchase multiple of them.

Traditionally, money orders come into use when the payor and the payee live apart in different places. International money orders are also common as you don’t have to cash them in the nation of origin.

Bills of Exchange

Bills of exchange are a means to fulfil the contract of payment pertaining to the sale of goods and services on credit. A bill of exchange has three parties. The drawer (who owns the money, can be someone who purchases goods on credit), the drawee (the person whom the drawer directs to make the payment, can be a bank), and the payee (the person who will receive the money, typically seller). The date of payment in the case of a bill of exchange is most of the times specified. Sellers use bills of exchange to make their credit sales legally binding upon the buyer.

Traveler’s Checks

Traveller’s Checks are another form of negotiable instrument specific for the need of people going to some foreign country. People use them as an alternative to foreign currency. Only financial institutions can issue this negotiable instrument. Traveller’s checks have a serial number and they are for the fixed and prepaid amount. They necessitate two signatures for the transaction to happen: one at the time of purchasing the check and the other at the time of cashing it. The two signatures must match.

They provide a great source of safety to people going on abroad for vacation or for business, as they do not have to carry large amount of foreign currency with them.

Sanjay Bulaki Borad

Sanjay Bulaki Borad

Sanjay Borad is the founder & CEO of eFinanceManagement. He is passionate about keeping and making things simple and easy. Running this blog since 2009 and trying to explain "Financial Management Concepts in Layman's Terms".



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