What Is A Debit Note, And How Does It Work?

Written by
Aaron Oh
Last Modified on
May 22, 2024

Have you ever received something that wasn't quite right or realized there was a mistake with an invoice? It happens more often than we'd like. From incorrect charges to items not meeting expectations, these situations call for some form of adjustment.

A debit note plays a crucial role here. It's basically a way to say, "Hey, something needs fixing with our transaction."

A key fact about debit notes is that they are issued by sellers to document the return of goods or to adjust the invoiced amount that a buyer owes. It acts as a way to communicate financial adjustments between businesses. Debit notes play a significant role in managing financial adjustments within various business transactions, including both business-to-business and business-to-customer engagements, ensuring accurate tracking of outstanding debt and account balances.

This article will guide you through all there is to know about debit notes—what they are, when, and how to issue them. Let’s begin.

What is a debit note?

If you're wondering what the difference is between a debit note vs. invoice, a debit note is a reminder, typically issued from a seller to the buyer, stating that there's been a mistake or change needed in what was billed.

It's a friendly way to say, "There's something wrong with the invoice that needs correcting." And might be because something was returned, damaged, or not delivered.

Issuing a debit note means the seller wants the buyer to make things right by adjusting the amount they should pay. Often, a debit note is issued in relation to adjustments needed on an existing invoice, especially when part of a delivery or shipment of goods is being returned or if the seller failed to deliver the goods as agreed.

Unlike an invoice that asks for payment for goods and services rendered, a debit note says there's been too much charged and needs adjusting. It keeps everyone honest and makes sure businesses stick to their deals.

Plus, it helps keep all those numbers accurate for when it's time to look at financial records or deal with legal issues.

When to issue a debit note?

As a seller, you may need to issue a debit note if a buyer receives goods that are damaged or not as ordered.

Issuing a debit note allows the seller to inform the buyer of a problem and to adjust the money the seller expects to receive. If a buyer’s invoice indicates more items than was received or if it charges more than the agreed price, the seller issues a debit note to correct this.

For both buyers and sellers, clear communication is vital when issuing a debit note. A debit note updates both parties’ account records, ensuring adjustments are accurately reflected in their financial statements.

Additionally, a debit note also serves as a tax document, which is crucial for adjusting the value and tax charged on a previous transaction.

What information should a debit note include?

A debit note should include all transaction details outlined in the original transaction, including:

  1. Seller and buyer details: Write down the names and addresses of both parties. This makes sure everyone knows who is involved.
  2. Transaction and invoice numbers: Include the original transaction date and the related invoice number. This links the debit note to a specific deal.
  3. Reason for the debit: Clearly explain why you are issuing this note. Maybe an item was returned, or there was a mistake in pricing.
  4. Amount being debited: List how much money needs to go back to the seller, including any taxes or fees that apply.
  5. Description of goods or services: If any items are returned to the seller, describe them here.
  6. Payment terms: Outline how and when you expect any funds to be returned.
  7. Authorization: Make sure someone authorised signs off on this document. A signature confirms that all info is correct and agreed upon.

How to issue a debit note?

To issue a debit note, start by collecting all the details about the transaction that need correction. This can be invoice numbers, dates, and the specific amounts to be adjusted.

Use this data to fill out a debit note template or create one if you're starting from scratch. Make sure your debit note includes the key points outlined above while stating how much more the buyer owes due to an error or adjustment.

For buyers requesting a debit note, explain why you're reaching out to the seller. This might be because of received goods that were damaged or incorrect pricing previously agreed upon.

Suppliers issuing such notes should document the reasons and details of debit notes issued for their records.  They may then issue a credit note in response, confirming they acknowledge the claim and are adjusting their records accordingly.

Both parties need to keep copies of these documents for their accounts and checks later on. Issuing a debit note will increase the accounts receivable in the seller's books.

How to request a debit note as a buyer?

A debit note is an important tool for buyers to correct transaction issues. It helps when goods received are not up to standard or when billing errors occur. Here's how you, as a buyer, can request a debit note from a seller, especially when dealing with quality issues:

  1. Check the original purchase details: First, review the invoice linked to the goods you bought to confirm the transaction details.
  2. Note down the problem: Clearly describe what went wrong with the goods. For instance, if you ordered electronic devices and they arrived damaged or malfunctioning, specify this in detail.
  3. Calculate the value: Determine the financial implication, like cost of repair or replacement for damaged goods.
  4. Contact the seller: Reach out to explain the problem and provide all relevant details. Indicate that due to these issues, a debit note from them would be appropriate to rectify the finances.
  5. Detail affected goods: List the items affected, including names, quantities, and nature of the issue.
  6. State reasons for requesting a debit note: Clearly explain the reasons for the adjustment, focusing on the discrepancy between what was agreed on and what was received.
  7. Reference transaction documents: If an order number or original invoice number is connected to these goods, mention it to keep records straight.
  8. Follow up: After your initial communication, follow up to ensure that the debit note is issued and the transaction is adjusted. This follow-up may also result in the issuance of credit memos by the seller, which serve to officially adjust the accounts without the exchange of actual money.

Let's say you ordered 50 smartphones for your business and upon arrival, 10 of those had screen defects. After reviewing your original purchase invoice for accuracy against what was received, you’re ready to address the issue with the seller:

  • Review the original order and invoice
  • Document the issue, in this case, screen defects on smartphones.
  • Estimate the financial impact of these errors.
  • Contact the supplier with details of the discrepancies, including photos as evidence.
  • Follow up to ensure the supplier acknowledges and issues a debit note.

How to issue a debit note as a supplier?

Shifting focus, let's look at a scenario where a supplier issues a debit note. Suppliers sometimes find errors in invoicing that require correcting the amount a customer owes. A debit note can help rectify this.

Here's how suppliers typically go about issuing a debit note:

  1. Spot an error: The supplier reviews invoices and notices they charged too little for goods or services.
  2. Decide to correct it: They choose to issue a debit note to fix the error, ensuring their records and the customer's balance are accurate.
  3. Gather information: The supplier collects all relevant details of the initial invoice, including invoice number, date, and incorrect amount charged.
  4. Create the note: Using a template or software, they draft the debit note, which includes the increase in amount owed by the buyer due to additional goods or services delivered.
  5. Record in books: The supplier then records this debit note in their financial books to reflect the increased amount the customer owes.
  6. Send to customer: Finally, they send the debit note to the customer, informing them of the correction made to their account. The adjustment reflected in the debit note may affect the customer's account balance, potentially being used against 'future purchases'.

Let’s go back to the smartphone debit note example. Upon being contacted by the buyer who received 10 defective smartphones, as a seller, you’d take the following actions to address their concerns:

  • Verify the buyer’s order and invoice to corroborate their claims.
  • Assess the defects and review the photos.
  • Determine the financial adjustment needed for the defective smartphones.
  • Proceed to issue a debit note to the buyer to correct the billing for faulty items.

Debit note in accounting

In accounting, mastering the "debit note journal entry" and "debit note double entry" is essential for transparent transactions.

 When a buyer needs to return goods or request a price change due to an error or overcharge, the seller may issue a debit note. Here, the buyer would record the transaction in their accounting journal by debiting the accounts payable to decrease liability while crediting the appropriate account (i.e., inventory for returned goods or an expense account) to account for price adjustments.

Conversely, when sellers issue a debit note to the buyer, it reflects the amount reduced due to returned goods or price changes. The seller would record this with a debit note double entry. Typically, they will debit their sales returns account and credit their accounts receivables to ensure the ledger remains balanced.

These entries help keep financial records straight and ensure all parties are on the same page regarding payments. In essence, debit notes streamline reconciliations and uphold the integrity of financial statements, making every penny accounted for. Similarly, credit notes are used in accounting to adjust transactions and maintain accurate financial records, serving as a notification for billing adjustments, order changes, or to correct any discrepancies, thereby ensuring clear and precise accounting records.

Debit note vs. credit note

Distinguishing between debit note vs. credit note is essential to your company's financial documentation and adjustments. Let's clarify their differences, focusing on their issuance purpose and how they affect accounting records.

Debit Note Credit Note
Issuance Purpose Typically received by buyers to adjust the amounts they owe upwards, indicating an undercharge or purchase return. Usually issued by sellers to adjust the amounts owed to them downwards, signaling an overcharge or sales return.
Linked To Additional transactions that need to be accounted for beyond the original invoice. Corrections or adjustments to transactions already recorded.
Why It's Issued Goods returned by the buyer, price discrepancies discovered post-sale, or additional charges that were not invoiced originally. Goods returned to the seller, errors in the invoiced amount, or concessions granted by the seller.

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About the author
Aaron Oh
is a seasoned content writer specialising in finance, insurance and tech industries. With a writing history at S&P Global, EdgeProp, Indeed, Prudential, and others, Aaron leverages finance knowledge and business insights to help businesses improve productivity and performance.
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