Accounts Payable Vs. Note Payable: Understand The Difference

There are multiple terms and techniques in the finance world that we know of on a surface level, but what they actually mean, their evolution and uses, is something we do not have the correct knowledge of. Two such terms are accounts payable and notes payable. With their literal meaning, we understand that account payable must be related to the accounts that pay the expenses, but what does note payable mean?

To know about this answer and understand account payable vs. note payable, let’s explore this article and get to know some critical information in the finance and accounting world.

Accounts Payable: The Short-Term Debt

Accounts payable is a short-term liability representing the amounts a business owes to its creditors for goods or services purchased on credit.

Nature of Accounts Payable:

Accounts payable typically arise from routine business transactions. Good or services received on credit is recorded in the accounts payable entry to acknowledge the debt. This is a common occurrence in many industries, as businesses often receive supplies or inventory before making payment.

Usage of Accounts Payable

Accounts payable is used for everyday operational expenses, such as purchasing inventory, office supplies, or services like utilities and rent. It allows businesses to maintain relationships with suppliers and vendors while managing their cash flow more effectively.

Accounting Treatment:

From an accounting perspective, accounts payable is a current liablity because it represents a short-term obligation. As payments are made to suppliers, the accounts payable balance decreases.

Notes Payable: The Long-Term Debt

Notes payable, on the other hand, is a long-term liability that signifies a formal written promise to repay a specific amount of money at a future date, along with any agreed-upon interest. This type of liability often involves a more structured borrowing arrangement than the informal nature of accounts payable.

Nature of Notes Payable:

Notes payable transactions are typically documented in a written agreement known as a promissory note. This legally binding document outlines the loan terms, including the principal amount, interest rate, repayment schedule, and maturity date. Notes payable are usually used when a business needs to borrow a significant amount of money for a specific purpose, such as financing expansion or purchasing high-value assets.

Usage of Notes Payable:

Businesses use notes payable for various reasons, such as acquiring real estate, machinery, or vehicles, funding a major project, or addressing a cash flow gap. It offers a more structured and formalized approach to borrowing, often involving negotiations with lenders.

Accounting Treatment:

From an accounting standpoint, notes payable are long-term liability. The portion of the debt due within one year is classified as a current liability, while the remainder is categorized as a non-current or long-term liability. As payments are made on the note, the current and non-current portions are reduced.

Accounts Payable vs Note Payable:

  1. Nature: Accounts payable is an informal, short-term liability resulting from regular business transactions, while notes payable is a formal, long-term liability created through a written agreement.
  2. Usage: Accounts payable are used for routine operational expenses, while notes payable are used for significant investments or financing needs.
  3. Documentation: Accounts payable typically don’t involve formal written agreements, whereas notes payable require a legally binding promissory note.
  4. Timing: Accounts payable are generally due within a short period, often within 30 to 60 days, while notes payable have a more extended repayment timeline, often several years.
  5. Interest: Accounts payable typically do not accrue interest, while notes payable often include an interest component.

When to Use Each:

Deciding between accounts payable and notes payable depends on the needs and circumstances of a business:

Use Accounts Payable When:

  • It would help to cover routine operational expenses such as inventory, supplies, or services.
  • You want to maintain good relationships with suppliers and vendors by taking advantage of credit terms.
  • You want to manage short-term cash flow fluctuations efficiently.
  • You have a reliable source of funds to cover these short-term obligations.

Use Notes Payable When:

  • You require a substantial amount of capital for a significant investment, project, or expansion.
  • You prefer a more structured and formalized borrowing arrangement.
  • You are comfortable with a longer repayment period and are willing to pay interest.
  • You must negotiate specific terms, such as interest rates and repayment schedules, with a lender.


While accounts payable and notes payable both represent financial obligations, they differ in their nature, usage, and accounting treatment. Accounts payable is ideal for short-term operational expenses, while notes payable are suitable for long-term financing needs. Understanding the distinctions between these two types of liabilities is essential for businesses to make informed financial decisions and effectively manage their debts.