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credit, granting of goods, services, or money in return for a promise of future payment. Most credit is accompanied by an interest charge, which usually makes the future payment greater than an immediate payment would have been. The credit system is founded upon the lender's confidence in the borrower or in his collateral and general possessions. Credit may be classified according to the industry using it, its quality or liquidity, or the length of time for which it is extended. Basically there are two kinds, business and consumer. The chief function of business credit is the transference of capital from those who own it to those who can use it, in the expectation that the profit from its use will exceed the interest payable on the loan. Thus business credit increases the productive power of capital. Consumer credit permits the purchase of retail commodities without the use of cash or with the use of relatively little cash. It is estimated that some 90% of all wholesalers' and manufacturers' sales, and more than 30% of all retail sales are made on a credit basis. In the larger banks, credit-analysis departments determine the amount of credit that may safely be given to loan applicants. Data as to credit risk are supplied by agencies organized for that purpose. The chief agency in the United States is Dun and Bradstreet, formed by a merger (1933) of R. G. Dun & Company (1841) and the Bradstreet Company (1849). If more credit is granted than the community can liquidate, there is inflation; if too little is granted, there is deflation. A lack of business confidence may cause credit to dissolve, thereby contributing to economic crises, panics, and depressions. In bookkeeping, the credit side is the side of the account on which payments are entered; hence, the term credit is sometimes applied to the payments themselves. See credit card; debt; debt, public; installment buying and selling.

See F. T. Juster, Household Capital Formation and Financing, 1897-1962 (1966); W. E. Dunkman, Money, Credit, and Banking (1970); F. Ando, An Analysis of Access to Bank Credit (1988).

credit, letter of, commercial instrument through which a bank or other financial institution instructs a correspondent institution to advance a specified sum of money to the bearer. The document is called a circular letter of credit when it is not addressed to any particular correspondent. In effect, a letter of credit is a draft, save that the amount is merely stated as a maximum not to be exceeded. Letters of credit, mainly used by travelers, greatly simplify nonlocal business transactions. Those who issue such letters are usually so well known that any bank will honor the letter upon proper identification. Travelers' checks are a modified form of a letter of credit. They are issued in coupons, upon whose face a value is usually expressed in terms of the currency of a particular country. In the United States they are issued by express companies and banks. Circular letters of credit require that each payment, as it is made, be endorsed by the firm making payment so that other banks may know how much of the total credit has been used.

Credit cooperative formed by a group of people with some common bond who, in effect, save their money together and make low-cost loans to each other. The loans are usually short-term consumer loans, mainly for automobiles, household needs, medical debts, and emergencies. Credit unions generally operate under government charter and supervision. They are particularly important in less developed countries, where they may be the only source of credit for their members. The first cooperative societies providing credit were founded in Germany and Italy in the mid-19th century; the first North American credit unions were founded by Alphonse Desjardins in Lévis, Quebec (1900), and Manchester, N.H. (1909). The Credit Union National Association (CUNA), a federation of U.S. credit unions, was established in 1934 and became a worldwide association in 1958.

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Small card that authorizes the person named on it to charge goods or services to his or her account. It differs from a debit card, with which money is automatically deducted from the bank account of the cardholder to pay for the goods or services. Credit-card use originated in the U.S. in the 1920s; early credit cards were issued by various firms (e.g., oil companies and hotel chains) for use at their outlets only. The first universal credit card, accepted by a variety of establishments, was issued by Diners' Club in 1950. Charge cards such as American Express require cardholders to pay for all purchases at the end of the billing period (usually monthly). Bank cards such as MasterCard and Visa allow customers to pay only a portion of their bill; interest accrues on the unpaid balance. Credit-card companies get revenue from annual fees and interest paid by cardholders and from fees paid by participating merchants.

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Organization that provides information to merchants or other businesses concerning the creditworthiness of their customers. Credit bureaus may be private enterprises or may be operated on a cooperative basis by the merchants in one locality. Users of the service pay a fee and receive information from various sources, including businesses that have granted the customer credit in the past, public records, newspapers, the customer's employment record, and direct investigation.

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Transaction between two parties in which one (the creditor or lender) supplies money, goods, services, or securities in return for a promised future payment by the other (the debtor or borrower). Such transactions normally include the payment of interest to the lender. Credit may be extended by public or private institutions to finance business activities, agricultural operations, consumer expenditures, or government projects. Large sums of credit are usually extended through specialized financial institutions such as commercial banks or through government lending programs.

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Short- and intermediate-term loans used to finance the purchase of commodities or services for personal consumption. The loans may be supplied by lenders in the form of cash loans or by sellers in the form of sales credit. Installment loans, such as automobile loans and credit-card purchases, are paid back in two or more payments; noninstallment loans, such as the service credit extended by utility companies, are paid back in a lump sum. Consumer loans usually carry a higher rate of interest than business loans. Seealso credit.

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Short-term credit instrument consisting of a written order that requires a buyer to pay a specified sum to the seller at a given date, signed by the buyer as a promise to honor the obligation. Acceptances are often used in export/import transactions: an exporter may require a buyer to sign and return an acceptance, which the exporter can then sell to the bank at a discount, thereby obtaining payment promptly. The buyer then has until the bill's maturity date to dispose of the goods and pay the promised sum (now owed to the bank). Seealso bill of exchange; promissory note.

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