What is Trade Credit? Here are the Advantages and Disadvantages

What is Trade Credit? Here are the Advantages and Disadvantages


min read

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Without trade credit, cash goes out of your business when you buy stock or materials and comes in again when you sell to your customers. But with a trade credit agreement in place, you get the goods now, but keep your cash until payment is due days or weeks later. So, if you sell before that time, money comes in before it goes out. And, as long as you add value, more comes in than goes out.

But what is trade credit and how does it work? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Is it true that 80-90% of world trade relies on trade credit financing of some kind?

To answer the last of those first: Yes, according to the World Trade Organization. For a guided tour of what trade credit is and why it's important, read on.


What is trade credit in business?

In simple words, trade credit is when one business agrees with another to supply something now and let the other business pay later.

Let's go deeper now.

Trade credit is a two-way business transaction between a supplier and a buyer. Trade credit terms are agreed up front, often simply by one company deciding to do business with another. Usually, the supplier gives the buyer 30, 60 or 90 days to pay.

This means you get the goods up front without handing over any cash. You then use or sell these goods in your business and use the money you get from your customers as payment for the invoice you get from the supplier.

That's trade credit in a nutshell. Now let's look at how it works.

How trade credit works

What is trade credit used for?

Cost control, cash flow management, financial leverage, capital release, financing for growth… Trade credit is the bedrock of business, the greatest facilitator of global and local trade from supermarket shelves to shipyards.

If you're on the receiving end, it's like having a short-term, unsecured, interest-free loan to buy the goods and materials you need. This puts assets in your hands that your business can use to generate income – with no drain on your working capital and a lot less pressure on your cash flow.

Some businesses simply couldn't exist without trade credit. Construction, shop-fitting, retail… Imagine having to pay for everything right away, all that cash tied up until the money comes in from your customers.

But there's another important side to trade credit. Most suppliers incentivise early payment to help their own cash flow. The deal might give you 90 days to pay, but a 2% discount if you pay within 14 days. This helps drive efficiency as you seek ways to create revenue sooner.

Terms may be negotiable. Heavyweight buyers might play one supplier's terms against another's. A start-up business might win round a supplier when bank loans aren't on offer. Buyers with seasonal demand might ask for a temporary increase in credit limit.

In finance, trade credit is a form of deferred payment. In business, it's the foundation of a mutually profitable relationship.

Trade credit advantages and disadvantages

As with any financial agreement, trade credit has both advantages and disadvantages, and these differ for buyers and suppliers. Trade credit can fuel growth, increase turnover, add a competitive edge and boost loyalty between collaborating businesses. But it can, in some cases, also expose suppliers to cash flow problems.

On balance, it's probably fair to say that trade credit works to everyone's advantage – as long as the risks are understood and properly managed. It's no surprise that larger businesses assign a dedicated credit manager to keep things on track and optimise the relationship.

What are the main advantages of trade credit?

  • Eases cash flow for buyers
  • Frees up working capital
  • Discounts for early payments
  • Lower operating costs
  • Easy to set up
  • Negotiating tool
  • Builds relationships
  • Fuels growth
  • Gives a competitive edge
  • Can help finance start-ups

Benefits galore for buyers, and not so shabby for suppliers either. Trade credit helps cement long-term partnerships. It gives both parties reason to pull together.

The advantages of trade credit

What are the main disadvantages of trade credit?

  • Need for Credit Management: Businesses must actively manage their credit accounts, which can be time-consuming and require additional resources.
  • Risk of Late Payment Fees: Late payments can result in costly fees, adding financial strain.
  • Potential Supply Chain Complications: Dependence on trade credit can lead to supply chain issues if credit terms change unexpectedly.
  • May Affect Creditworthiness: Frequent use of trade credit can negatively impact a business's credit score, affecting future borrowing capacity.
  • Suppliers May Refuse Credit to Start-Ups: New businesses may find it difficult to obtain trade credit, limiting their growth opportunities.
  • Expensive if Payment Date is Missed: Missing the payment deadline can result in high interest rates and additional charges, making trade credit a potentially expensive option.

The biggest downside to trade credit is the potential knock-on effect if things don't go to plan. For buyers, the penalty of failing to keep up your side of the deal can add to your costs and sour the relationship. But for suppliers, it could be far worse. If the customer business goes under and debts remain unpaid, suppliers can face an uncertain future.

What is credit insurance?

In some cases debt default can cripple a business. Credit insurance is designed to protect a supplier against excessive late payment or non-payment for goods or services supplied on credit.

Sadly, insolvency – where a business cannot pay its debts – is not uncommon. A credit insurance policy gives a supplier peace of mind that someone else's cash flow problems won’t have serious consequences for their own business.

Credit insurance can also help safeguard businesses from wider risks, such as fluctuations in international trade or government intervention in a business' sector.

Words by
Martin Brackstone

Martin Brackstone is a senior editor and copywriter who has years of experience writing about a broad range of topics, including business finance, pensions, home and motor insurance, premium bank accounts, reward credit cards and personal loans.

Article published on
January 24, 2023
Last reviewed on:
July 17, 2024

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What is Trade Credit? Here are the Advantages and Disadvantages

Trade credit is a form of short-term B2B financing that can free up working capital and finance growth.