Letter of Credit vs Line of Credit: Difference and Comparison

A Letter of Credit (LC) is a financial document issued by a bank on behalf of a buyer, guaranteeing payment to the seller upon the presentation of specified documents. It mitigates payment risk in international trade transactions. A Line of Credit (LOC) is a flexible arrangement where a financial institution extends a predetermined amount of funds to a borrower. The borrower can access funds as needed, up to the agreed limit, making it a revolving credit facility for various purposes.

Key Takeaways

  1. A letter of credit is a financial instrument that guarantees payment to a seller on behalf of a buyer, subject to specific conditions and is used in international trade.
  2. A line of credit is a flexible borrowing arrangement between a borrower and a financial institution, where the borrower can access funds up to a predetermined limit as needed.
  3. Letters of credit primarily facilitate trade by reducing transaction risk, while lines of credit provide ongoing access to funds for various purposes, such as managing cash flow or financing projects.

Letter of Credit vs Line of Credit

The difference between a letter of credit and a line of credit is that a Letter of credit is a document issued by the bank to the seller at the buyer’s request. At the same time, a line of credit is a financial instrument that helps the customer to borrow a maximum amount from the bank.

Letter of credit vs Line of credit

A letter of credit is a financial document that a bank or financial institution issues to the sellers at the buyers’ request. Compared to the line of credit, it’s a very different instrument.

A line of credit is an instrument between the financial institution and the borrower; it fixes the maximum amount a person can borrow at any time.


Comparison Table

FeatureLetter of CreditLine of Credit
PurposeGuarantees payment in international trade transactionsProvides borrower with flexible access to funds for various business needs
Parties InvolvedBuyer, Seller, Issuing Bank (Seller’s Bank)Borrower, Lender (Bank or Financial Institution)
Access to FundsOne-time use for a specific transactionRevolving credit line, can be used repeatedly up to the limit
RepaymentBuyer repays issuing bank, which then reimburses sellerBorrower makes regular payments (interest + principal) to lender
FeesFlat fee based on transaction value + bank chargesInterest on used amount, potential account opening fees
SuitabilityHigh-risk international transactions, mitigates risk for sellerManaging cash flow, funding unexpected expenses, supporting business growth
Approval ProcessMore complex, requires extensive documentationTypically easier and faster approval process
AvailabilityOften used for international tradeLocal or online options available

What is Letter of Credit?

Types of Letters of Credit

  1. Commercial Letter of Credit (CLC)
    • Used in general trade transactions.
    • Provides payment to the seller upon compliance with specified terms and conditions.
  2. Standby Letter of Credit (SLC)
    • Functions as a backup payment method.
    • Activated if the buyer fails to fulfill payment obligations.
  3. Revocable vs. Irrevocable Letter of Credit
    • Revocable: Can be amended or canceled without the consent of the parties.
    • Irrevocable: Requires mutual agreement for any changes.
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Parties Involved

1. Issuing Bank

  • Holds the primary responsibility.
  • Issues the LC on behalf of the buyer.
  • Undertakes to pay the seller if all conditions are met.

2. Advising Bank

  • Facilitates communication.
  • Not obligated to make payment.
  • Confirms the authenticity of the LC to the seller.

3. Confirming Bank

  • Optional role.
  • Adds its confirmation to the LC.
  • Increases the security for the seller.

4. Beneficiary

  • Receives the payment.
  • The seller or exporter named in the LC.
  • Must comply with the LC terms to receive payment.

5. Applicant

  • Initiates the LC.
  • The buyer or importer who requests the LC.
  • Obligated to reimburse the issuing bank.

LC Process

1. Application and Issuance

  • Initiation of the LC.
  • Buyer applies to the bank for an LC.
  • Issuing bank issues the LC to the seller.

2. Advising and Confirmation

  • Communication to the parties.
  • Advising bank informs the seller of the LC.
  • Confirming bank may add its confirmation.

3. Presentation of Documents

  • Seller fulfills obligations.
  • Presents required documents to the issuing bank.
  • Documents must comply with LC terms.

4. Examination and Payment

  • Bank verifies documents.
  • If compliant, the bank makes payment.
  • Non-compliance results in rejection.

Advantages and Risks


  1. Risk Mitigation:
    • Provides security for both buyer and seller.
    • Reduces payment-related risks.
  2. Global Trade Facilitation:
    • Encourages international trade.
    • Builds trust between parties.


  1. Documentary Compliance:
    • Strict adherence to terms is essential.
    • Minor discrepancies may lead to rejection.
  2. Fraudulent Practices:
    • Possibility of forged documents.
    • Requires diligence in verification.
letter of credit

What is Line of Credit?

Key Features

1. Dynamic Credit Limit

The line of credit comes with a predetermined credit limit, which represents the maximum amount a borrower can access. This limit is set based on the borrower’s creditworthiness, financial stability, and other relevant factors. Importantly, the borrower is not obligated to utilize the entire credit limit.

2. Revolving Nature

One distinctive feature of a line of credit is its revolving nature. As the borrower repays the borrowed amount, the available credit is replenished, allowing for multiple borrowings and repayments throughout the life of the credit line. This flexibility distinguishes it from traditional loans with fixed terms.

3. Interest Structure

Interest is only charged on the amount actually borrowed, not the entire credit limit. The interest rate may be variable or fixed, depending on the terms of the agreement. Interest accrues as soon as funds are withdrawn and is typically calculated on a monthly basis.

4. Collateral Requirements

Lines of credit may be secured or unsecured. Secured lines of credit require collateral, such as real estate or business assets, reducing the risk for the lender. Unsecured lines of credit, on the other hand, do not require collateral but often come with higher interest rates due to the increased risk for the lender.

Types of Lines of Credit

1. Personal Line of Credit

Individuals can obtain personal lines of credit to address short-term financial needs, emergencies, or unexpected expenses. This type of line of credit provides a flexible borrowing option for personal use.

2. Business Line of Credit

Businesses often utilize lines of credit to manage cash flow fluctuations, cover operational expenses, or seize investment opportunities. It serves as a valuable financial tool for maintaining liquidity.

3. Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)

Homeowners can tap into the equity in their homes through a HELOC. This line of credit is secured by the home’s value and is commonly used for home improvements, debt consolidation, or other major expenses.

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Advantages and Disadvantages

1. Advantages

  • Flexibility: Borrowers can use funds as needed within the credit limit.
  • Cost-Effective: Interest is only incurred on the borrowed amount.
  • Revolving Structure: Continuous access to funds as repayments are made.

2. Disadvantages

  • Interest Costs: Borrowers may face high-interest rates, especially with unsecured lines.
  • Risk of Overuse: Easy access to funds may lead to overspending or financial mismanagement.
  • Potential Collateral Loss: Secured lines pose the risk of losing collateral if repayments are not met.
line of credit

Main Differences Between Letter of Credit and Line of Credit

  • Nature of Agreement:
    • Letter of Credit (L/C): Involves a contractual agreement between a buyer, a seller, and a bank. The bank guarantees payment to the seller on behalf of the buyer, ensuring the seller receives payment once conditions are met.
    • Line of Credit (LOC): Establishes a credit limit for a borrower, allowing them to borrow funds as needed, up to the specified limit. It is a standing arrangement between a borrower and a financial institution.
  • Purpose:
    • Letter of Credit (L/C): Primarily used in international trade to mitigate the risk for both the buyer and the seller. Ensures the seller gets paid upon meeting specified conditions.
    • Line of Credit (LOC): Provides flexibility for the borrower to access funds when required, serving as a financial safety net for various purposes such as working capital needs, inventory financing, or unexpected expenses.
  • Risk Distribution:
    • Letter of Credit (L/C): Shifts the risk from the buyer to the issuing bank. The bank guarantees payment, assuming the risk associated with the buyer’s ability to pay.
    • Line of Credit (LOC): The risk lies with the borrower. The borrower is responsible for repaying the borrowed amount within the agreed terms and conditions.
  • Usage and Applicability:
    • Letter of Credit (L/C): Commonly used in international trade transactions where trust between the buyer and the seller may be limited due to geographical distance or unfamiliarity.
    • Line of Credit (LOC): Applied in various domestic and international scenarios, offering financial flexibility for ongoing business operations or specific projects.
  • Documentation:
    • Letter of Credit (L/C): Involves detailed documentation specifying the terms and conditions that must be met for the payment to be released.
    • Line of Credit (LOC): Documentation typically includes the initial agreement outlining the terms of the credit line, with less complexity compared to L/C documentation.
  • Payment Mechanism:
    • Letter of Credit (L/C): Payment is triggered by the presentation of compliant documents, confirming that the seller has fulfilled the terms outlined in the L/C.
    • Line of Credit (LOC): The borrower can access funds as needed within the credit limit, with repayments typically following a predetermined schedule or as mutually agreed.
  • Geographical Scope:
    • Letter of Credit (L/C): Primarily associated with international trade, where the parties involved may be located in different countries.
    • Line of Credit (LOC): Can be utilized for both domestic and international purposes, offering financial flexibility in various business contexts.
Difference Between X and Y 2023 04 06T100845.134
  1. https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4155&context=lcp
  2. https://www.jstor.org/stable/838450
  3. https://repository.law.umich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2776&context=mlr

Last Updated : 08 March, 2024

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