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What Is The Difference Between A Promissory Note And A Loan Agreement?

What Is The Difference Between A Promissory Note And A Loan Agreement?

Before you lend or borrow money, you should familiarise yourself with the instrument being used and the terms in it. Learn about promissory notes and loan agreements, and the distinction between them.

12th July 2017

The lending process can be a daunting experience, particularly if you are not familiar with the documents you must sign. Whether you are a borrower or a lender, it is important to consider what type of document you will use to set out the terms of your loan. Typically, lenders may use their own agreement as a basis for negotiating with borrowers, which may take the form of two documents. First, a promissory note. Second, a loan agreement. Generally, there are differences you should be aware of so you can distinguish between the two.

When drafting a promissory note or loan agreement, you must ensure the legal instrument is correct, accurate and reflects the wishes of both parties.

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What Is A Promissory Note?

A promissory note is a negotiable instrument issued by you, or from you, for the promise to pay a sum of money. Sometimes it is known as an IOU, Payment on Demand, and Payment on Arrival. Basically, it is a formal contract between parties that contains a promise to pay a certain amount of money on demand at a specified time or over a period of time in future. Usually, a promissory note is used for small amount loans.

Once two people enter into a promissory note, the individual who promises to pay is called the payer (borrower), whereas the person to whom payment is owed is called the payee (lender). Both the payer and payee have legal obligations to perform when a promissory note is signed and dated.

When Can A Promissory Note Be Used?

A promissory note can be used if you would like to document a sum owed to you or a sum payable to you. A promissory note can be used in a range of situations that involve a small sum of money. For example, if a close friend or family member asks to borrow money. A promissory note is recommended if you do not want to draft or sign a loan agreement, but still want documentary evidence of the sum owed to or by you.

What Is A Loan Agreement?

A loan agreement serves a similar purpose as a promissory note. Like a promissory note it is a contractual agreement between a lender who agrees to loan money to a borrower. However, a loan agreement is much more detailed than a promissory note. There are two types of loan agreements. First, unsecured loan agreements that have no security against the loan if the borrower defaults. Second, secured loan agreements that enables the lender to recover money from the borrower’s asset/s to repay the debt.

When Can A Loan Agreement Be Used?

A loan agreement can be used in many situations that involve a substantial amount of money, such as lending to a friend to purchase a car or high priced item, and lending to a child for a house deposit. Additionally, a loan agreement can also be used to charge a borrower for late fees or defaulting.


A promissory note is a simple document that is not as complex as a loan agreement, and may be shorter and less detailed. It is a useful way of recording a promise to pay back money. Also, it is a good legal instrument for establishing a clear written record or paper trail of a loan between individuals or entities (such as banks). It minimises confusion and misunderstanding when loaning or borrowing money.

However, if the promissory note contains complex clauses, be aware that it may be deemed to be complex financial instrument. This means it will be regulated by the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth). If this is the case, it is extremely important to seek the assistance of a contract lawyer.

Unlike a promissory note, a loan agreement imposes obligations on both parties, which is why both the borrower and lender must sign the agreement. A loan agreement should state what purpose the loan is used for, and whether the borrower must provide compensation if the lender suffers loss. Overall, it is a complex document.

For more information about what considerations you must make, check out our previous guide How To Create A Loan Agreement.


The type of legal instrument you choose will depend on the circumstances of the loan and the relationship you have with the borrower/lender. Either way, if you decide on using a promissory note or loan agreement, you need to make sure that you draft it correctly. It is highly recommended you should consult a lawyer using Quick Quotes.

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LawPath provides access to all the legal documents you will need when making a loan to an individual or entity. Contact a LawPath consultant on 1800 529 728 to learn more about customising legal documents, obtaining a fixed-fee quote from our largest online network of expert lawyers or to get answers to your legal questions.

Fiona Lu

Fiona is a Paralegal working in our content team which aims to provide free legal guides to facilitate public access to legal resources. With an interest in information, media, consumer and employment law, her primary focus is on how technology will affect the future of the legal industry.