A debit memorandum is a notice issued to customers from a bank or a business, informing them of an adjustment being made to their account balance. In all cases, a debit memo means that money will be taken out of an account to cover a fee or an underpayment.
Debit memos occur both in personal banking — like for a bounced check or insufficient funds fees — but are also common in business-to-business (B2B) transactions. They are often to correct an erroneous invoice or respond to changing market prices.
Below, you’ll learn:
• What is a debit memorandum
• Examples of debit memos in the real world
• The different types of debit memorandums
• The differences between debit and credit memos.
What Is a Debit Memo?
A debit memo is a notice from a financial institution or a business to a customer that there is a forthcoming adjustment (a debit) to their account. You may also hear it referred to as a debit memo or debit note.
A debit memo might show up on your bank statement for an atypical fee, like for ordering checks or for overdrafting. Normal checking account debits, like from a swiped debit card or a cashed check, are not classified as debit memos and will not appear on a bank statement as such.
In B2B transactions, a company may issue a debit memo after invoicing if there was something incorrect on the original invoice. Typically, this happens if the customer was undercharged.
How Does a Debit Memorandum Work?
In banking, if you have incurred a fee, such as an overdraft fee, the bank will add a debit memorandum to your monthly bank statement. If you use a digital banking app, you can often see this debit note in real time — no need to wait for a paper statement in the mail.
Just make sure you’ve turned on important account alerts to track deposits, withdrawals, and other important account changes.
Banks cannot just assess fees at random. Federal law requires banks to disclose any fees they might charge for a bank account; before opening a bank account online or in person, ask to see a detailed fee structure. If you don’t think a debit memo on your bank statement is correct, contact customer service to address the issue.
In business, debit memos work a little differently. The company acting as the seller might issue a debit memo after sending an incorrect invoice. Doing so notifies the buying company that their accounts payable will increase to rectify the unpaid amount.
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Real-Life Examples of a Debit Memorandum
Let’s take a look at two real-life examples of bank memos, one for regular consumer checking accounts and one for a B2B transaction.
If you write a check to a friend but don’t have enough money in your checking account to cover it, the check will bounce when your friend goes to deposit or cash it. Every time you bounce a check, your bank will likely charge you a fee. Rather than sending you an invoice, they will directly debit the amount from your bank account.
Even if you have no money in your account, you can go into a negative balance. This debit will show up on your bank statement as a debit memo.
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In this example, your company has done construction work for a local business. However, when sending the invoice to the business, you accidentally left off the labor cost and additional materials required for one portion of the project, equivalent to $5,000.
To resolve this problem, you can issue a debit memo to the local business. This signals that you will be recording an increase in your accounts receivable of $5,000. In turn, the local business will then need to increase the amount in its accounts payable by $5,000 to cover the additional fee. To avoid delays or disputes, the debit note should include adequate information to explain the adjustment in the final cost.
Types of Debit Memos?
Three situations commonly call for debit memos: bank transactions, incremental billing, and internal offset. Here, learn about all three types of debit memos to understand their key differences.
As an individual consumer, you will most likely encounter a debit memo as a bank transaction. If you incur a fee through your bank, like for printing checks or an overdraft, the bank will debit your account directly to cover that fee. This will show up on your bank statement as a transaction, labeled as a debit memo or debit note.
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If you are involved in billing for B2B transactions, you may encounter debit memos. A seller might issue a debit memo to a buyer for several reasons:
• If there were errors on the original invoice.
• If the buyer paid upfront, but project costs were higher than expected.
• If the cost of materials or labor increased during the course of the project.
• If the scope of the work changed and resulted in higher costs.
If a customer’s account has a credit balance of insubstantial value, a company can issue a debit memo to clear out the balance. If the balance is large enough to be considered material (i.e., a significant amount of money), the company would typically refund the customer rather than issue a debit memo.
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Debit vs. Credit Memorandum: What’s the Difference?
Credit memos are essentially the opposite of debit memos. In banking, credit memos alert customers of an increase in their account balance. In business, a seller might issue a credit balance to alert the buyer that the original invoice was too high, thus reducing the amount the buyer owes.
Notification to Customers
When a bank issues a debit memo, it typically notifies the customer of the debit on the bank statement. Similarly, a credit memo will show up on a customer’s bank statement.
As a customer, you may receive paper statements, or you might have opted for electronic statements. If you use a mobile app or online banking, you can typically check your transactions at any time.
As a seller issuing a debit memo, you are notifying the buyer that you are increasing the final invoice amount. A credit memo does the opposite: It notifies the buyer that you are reducing the final invoice amount.
Recording the Reduction
In the event of a debit memo, the seller will record an increase in the accounts receivable amount; the buyer must record the larger debit in their accounts payable ledger. For a credit memo, the seller records a decrease in the accounts receivable amount while the buyer records a smaller debit from accounts payable.
Debit: Remit Payment vs. Credit: Future Purchases
To clarify a bit more, debits are amounts owed that must be remitted to settle and account. Credits are money that an individual or business is owed, perhaps reflecting an overpayment, which may be applied to future purchases.
Here’s a summary:
|Notification of a reduction in bank balance||Notification of an increase in bank balance|
|Increases the amount of an invoice||Decreases the amount of an invoice|
|Buyer must remit payment||Buyer can receive a refund or apply credit to a future purchase|
|Reduces a buyer’s accounts payable||Reduces seller’s accounts receivable|
Managing a Bank Account
When you open and use a bank account, it is important to understand the fee structure so that you aren’t surprised by a debit memo on your monthly account statement. Ask for a fee structure upon opening a new account, and monitor your statements closely to understand what fees are being assessed.
As best as you can, check your checking account for low balances, and set up alerts for all transactions. It can also be wise to activate fraud alerts to help manage your banking security and protection.
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Do you pay a debit memo?
A debit memo serves as a notification of a debit from your account. The bank will automatically debit your account. In a B2B scenario, a debit memo is a form or document that notifies the buyer that the seller has increased the accounts receivable amount.
Who issues a debit memo?
A bank or credit union may issue a debit memo to a personal or company account for specific fees, including bounced checks, insufficient funds, or printing checks. A business may issue a debit memo to another business to correct an invoice that results in underpayment. A business can also use a debit memorandum internally, to offset a credit balance in a customer account.
Is a debit memo the same as an invoice?
A debit memo is not the same as an invoice. Rather, businesses often issue debit memos as a correction to an initial invoice, typically when they have mistakenly undercharged a customer.
Photo credit: iStock/Vadym Pastukh
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