Guide to a Confirmed Letter of Credit

By Sarah Li Cain · June 07, 2022 · 8 minute read

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Guide to a Confirmed Letter of Credit

A confirmed letter of credit is an important document to those who are launching or running a business, particularly those engaging in international trade. These letters are used to help protect both the business and their vendor. They essentially involve a bank guaranteeing payment of a transaction, which can inspire confidence and allow a deal to go through.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at this document and learn:

•   What a confirmed letter of credit is

•   How a confirmed letter of credit works

•   What a letter of credit contains

•   The advantages and disadvantages of a confirmed letter of credit

What Is a Confirmed Letter of Credit?

Here’s what a confirmed letter of credit is: Also known as a confirmed LC, it is an additional guarantee for a payment by a secondary bank. It states that this additional bank will be responsible for a payment being on time and in full even if the buyer doesn’t meet their contractual obligations and the first bank (called the issuer) can’t make payment or in default. You might think of it as a kind of insurance policy or Plan B if the initial bank responsible for payment failed to do its job.

This type of document can be common in international trades, such as in export and import businesses. In many cases, a guarantee may be required to conduct international transactions or when a vendor or seller has reason to doubt the first bank’s creditworthiness.

How Confirmed Letters of Credit Work

Confirmed letters of credit are commonly used as negotiable instruments, which are signed documents that promise to pay a certain sum to a specified person. It’s especially valuable in international business transactions that involve a significant payment amount for goods or services. Since the letter acts as guaranteed payment, it may take the place of a request for advance payment. (This can be helpful if an individual had been, say, considering taking out a loan to enhance their credit.)

To get a letter of credit, the buyer will likely need to submit required documents to the first bank, including proof that certain steps have been completed. Then the bank will send appropriate documents to the seller’s bank. This paperwork shares detailed instructions on the terms and conditions, as well as how payment should be made. Depending on the agreement between the buyer and the seller, payment may be made immediately or at an agreed-upon date.

Once the letter of credit has been issued, the buyer needs the backing of a second bank to get a confirmed letter of credit. Worth noting: A fee is likely to be involved. The exact amount of this fee may depend on how good (or questionable) the first bank’s credit is. This letter usually reflects the first letter of credit and uses the same terms.

A confirmed letter of credit can protect both parties because it decreases the risk of default for the vendor or seller. Additionally, it ensures that payment is only made if all the terms are met. It can be a step to building good credit when doing a deal with a new client. It can also be helpful for a business that is just starting out and making connections, building contacts, and monitoring its credit.

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Parties Involved in a Confirmed Letter of Credit

The following are all the parties typically involved in a confirmed letter of credit:

•   Buyer or applicant: This is the party who is requesting the letter of credit and who will pay the seller.

•   Beneficiary or seller: The party who is selling goods or services and is the one who receives payment.

•   Issuing bank: This is usually a bank where the buyer already has a business bank account. It’s the one that issues the original letter of credit.

•   Confirming bank: This is the second bank that will guarantee the funds to the seller once the terms in the letter of credit are met. In some cases, the confirming bank is from the seller’s home country (this may be called a correspondent bank) or is a bank the seller already works with.

Confirmed Letter of Credit Example

Let’s look at an imaginary example of how a confirmed letter of credit could work. Say that Pauline’s Paper Goods receives an order for 100,000 pallets of customized notebooks from JessCo, a stationery company. Pauline’s Paper Goods has never worked with JessCo before and isn’t sure that this company has the means to pay for the goods. Maybe Pauline’s Paper Goods worries that JessCo doesn’t have what is considered good credit.

In order to prevent non-payment after the notebooks are produced and shipped off to the buyer, Pauline’s Paper Goods outlines an agreement that JessCo needs to pay with a confirmed letter of credit on the date the shipment leaves their warehouse.

If JessCo agrees, it would start applying for a letter of credit at its bank, where it has its checking account, in the United States. If the bank requires it, the company needs to provide proof it has the funds available or it will apply for financing.

As soon as the issuing bank creates the letter of credit, JessCo then applies for a confirmed letter of credit with another bank, possibly the seller’s bank. When Pauline’s Paper Goods receives the completed confirmed letter, it manufactures and ships the customized notebooks. Once Pauline’s Paper Goods provides proof of when and how the goods were shipped, the guaranteed funds are released.

Confirmed vs Unconfirmed Letters of Credit

If you are conducting international business, you will probably hear the terms confirmed and unconfirmed letters of credit. An unconfirmed letter of credit is simply a letter of credit issued by a bank. A confirmed letter of credit, as we’ve described above, is backed by two banks. This can foster trust if, say, there’s reason to worry the payment won’t be made. (Perhaps one company involved has a less than stellar credit rating; this is one situation that shows why bad credit can be a big deal.)

The following are other differences between the two:

•   Guaranteed payment: With a letter of credit, the issuing bank guarantees payment. With a confirmed letter of credit, however, two banks confirm payment.

•   Cost: Unconfirmed letters of credit tend to cost less than confirmed letters of credit.

•   Changes: The buyer is allowed to make changes to an unconfirmed letter of credit. With a confirmed letter of credit, both banks can modify the document.

•   Issuance: The seller only has to approach one bank for an unconfirmed letter of credit, but needs to contact two with a confirmed letter of credit.

Advantages of Confirmed Letters of Credit

Confirmed letters of credit can have several benefits for sellers, particularly those doing business internationally and wanting to ensure smooth transactions. These advantages include:

•   Protection for both the buyer and seller

•   An extra layer of confidence for the seller

•   A lower risk of default thanks to a reputable second bank (perhaps serving as a guarantor if the first bank has a credit rating that varies)

•   Buyers can seem more creditworthy, which may increase the odds that a seller will do business with them

Disadvantages of Confirmed Letters of Credit

While confirmed letters of credit can be very valuable in business, there are a couple of downsides to recognize. Disadvantages of confirmed letters of credit include:

•   It may take longer to get a confirmed letter of credit since an additional bank is involved

•   Bank fees may be higher than with an unconfirmed letter of credit

The Takeaway

A confirmed letter of credit can be a valuable business tool, especially when conducting international business. For those importing or exporting, the letter will guarantee payment for goods a company is supplying if the buyer and the buyer’s bank can’t complete the deal. Getting a confirmed letter of credit may cost more and take longer compared to an unconfirmed letter of credit, but the effort may be worth it. It can secure a transaction and open doors to doing business with new customers in a way that communicates confidence.

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What is an unconfirmed letter of credit?

An unconfirmed letter of credit is a letter of credit that’s only been issued by one bank, known as the issuing bank. In a transaction, the buyer requests an unconfirmed letter of credit to guarantee funds will be paid on time to the seller by the bank.

Is an unconfirmed LC safe?

Yes, it’s safe because there is guarantee or confirmation from one bank that payment will be made. Assuming that the issuing bank has a high credit rating, the seller can feel confident that the funds will be paid once all the conditions in the contract have been met. If the seller wants an additional layer of security, they may request a confirmed letter of credit — which means a second bank will guarantee payment if the first one fails to do so.

What is the risk of an unconfirmed LC?

The risk of an unconfirmed letter of credit is that the issuing bank won’t have the funds to pay the seller. That means even if the seller completes their end of the contract, they risk losing out on funds if the issuing bank doesn’t fulfill their promise.

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