Short-Term Debt: Definition & Concept

Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Debt is a common type of business liability. In this lesson, you'll learn what short-term debt is and how it fits into the overall financial situation of a business. You'll also have a chance to take a short quiz.


Debt is money a company has borrowed and must pay back to the lender, often with interest, or money that is owed for goods and services already received by a company. In accounting, debt is classified as either short-term debt or long-term debt.

Short-term debt is debt that must be paid within one year. It shouldn't be much of a surprise to learn that long-term debt is debt that is not due for a year or more. Both types of debt are reported as liabilities on a company's balance sheet.

Debt and Financial Obligations

It's important to understand that not all liabilities are debts, even though all debts are liabilities. Let's look at some examples to illustrate the difference. Probably the simplest example of debt is a bank loan. A bank loans you money and you have to pay it back within a certain time, usually with interest. This loan is both a financial obligation and a debt. In the most basic sense, debt is money you have borrowed, and financial obligations are not.

Now let's consider wages you pay to employees on a biweekly basis. The day before payroll is due, you have a financial obligation to pay your employees, but not yet. It's an obligation but not a debt because it is not owed at this time. However, if you fail to pay your workers on time, the financial obligation also becomes a type of debt because you have basically borrowed the use of money that isn't yours - the money you should have paid your employees.

Example of Short-Term Debt

Let's look at two common forms of short-term debt.

  • Accounts payable is money owed by a company for purchases of goods and services that it has received but not yet paid. Usually there is no interest charged if the payment is made in a timely manner - typically within 30 or 60 days of invoicing.
  • Short-term notes payable are loans that are due within one year. They are usually bank loans but don't need to be. Sometimes, private parties, investors, or the company's owners may loan the company money. Usually, a company will give the lender a promissory note, which is a special type of loan agreement where the borrower unconditionally promises to pay the lender. Interest is usually charged with the loan.

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