An Introduction to Promissory Notes

by Laura Anthony, Esq. on August 04, 2011 in Uncategorized

A promissory note is a written promise by a person, persons or entity to pay a specific amount of money (called “principal”) to another, usually to include a specified amount of interest on the unpaid principal amount.  In addition, a promissory note will include the basic specifics of the debt, including full names of both debtor and creditor and an address for making payments.  The specified time of payment may be written as: a) whenever there is a demand, b) on a specific date, c) in installments with or without the interest included in each installment, d) installments with a final larger amount (balloon payment).   In the event that the written note does not include language specifying the time of payment, the law assumes it is payable on demand by the creditor.

Terms of Payment

A promissory note may contain other terms such as the right of the promisee to order payment be made to another person, security or collateral, conversion into stock or other equity, penalties for late payments, a provision for attorney’s fees and costs if there is a legal action to collect, the right to collect payment in full upon certain facts (such as the sale of collateral or a default in the note obligations.

There are legal limitations to the amount of interest which may be charged. When the amount due on the note, including interest and penalties (if any) is paid, the note must be cancelled and surrendered to the person(s) who signed it. The requirements of how a promissory note must be signed are governed by state law and vary from state to state. Some states require that a promissory note by witnessed, others require that it be notarized and some do not require witnessing or a notary.  Notes often contain enforcement provisions, such as notice requirements, jurisdiction and venue.

The note is signed by the person borrowing the money. The note is then kept by the person lending the money as evidence of the loan and the repayment agreement (with a copy usually provided to the borrower).  It is recommended that the debtor sign in blue ink so that there can be no confusion as to which document is the original (and thus enforceable) note.

Liens as Security

In some cases, a promissory note is used when a loan is made for the purchase of real property. When this type of loan is made, the person lending the money often takes a mortgage on the property. That is, the borrower agrees (through a written document that is recorded with the local recorder’s office) that the lender has an interest or lien on the property until such time as the loan is repaid in full. If the loan is not paid in full, the mortgage holder can file a lawsuit, usually called a foreclosure, seeking to have the property sold and the proceeds generated from that sale paid to the lender to satisfy or pay off the loan.

In cases where a loan is used for the purchase of specific personal property (i.e. property that is not land or real estate), a similar type of document can be used to secure the loan or to specify collateral for the repayment of the loan. A security interest can be obtained in the property that is purchased with the borrowed money – this is referred to as a purchase money security interest. If property other than the property purchased with the money is offered as collateral or security on the loan, this type of security is referred to as a non-purchase money security interest. The document that identifies these types of security interest is called a Security Agreement. This document sets forth the details on the type of collateral, location, and how the collateral is handled should the borrower not repay the loan as agreed.

Personal Guarantees

Some promissory notes provide for personal guarantees – if the person borrowing the money is a corporation or is an individual that does not appear to have a solid financial base, another individual will be required to sign the guarantee, thereby promising the lender to pay the loan if the borrower does not. These provisions are enforceable and will bind the person signing the guarantee in the same manner as the person who signed the note.

Unless specifically prohibited in the language of the note, a promissory note is assignable by the lender.  That is, the lender can sell or assign the note to a third party who the borrower must then repay.  However, a promissory note is never assignable by the borrower, without the express written consent and approval of the lender.  Moreover, convertible promissory notes are generally not assignable unless the third party meets specific criteria.

This is because a convertible promissory note is generally an investment decision (i.e. it can be converted into equity) and the exemption relied upon by the borrower may be limited to the lender meeting certain eligibility.  For example, generally lenders in a convertible promissory note must be accredited and not be disqualified from participating in stock offerings, such as by having a penny stock bar.

The Author

Attorney Laura Anthony,
Founding Partner, Legal & Compliance, LLC
Securities, Reverse Mergers, Corporate Transactions

Securities attorney Laura Anthony provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size public Companies as well as private Companies intending to go public on the Over the Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB), now known as the OTCQB. For more than a decade Ms. Anthony has dedicated her securities law practice towards being “the big firm alternative.” Clients receive fast and efficient cutting-edge legal service without the inherent delays and unnecessary expense of “partner-heavy” securities law firms.

Ms. Anthony’s focus includes but is not limited to compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, (“Exchange Act”) including Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K and the proxy requirements of Section 14. In addition, Ms. Anthony prepares private placement memorandums, registration statements under both the Exchange Act and Securities Act of 1933, as amended (“Securities Act”). Moreover, Ms. Anthony represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including preparation of deal documents such as Merger Agreements, Stock Purchase Agreements, Asset Purchase Agreements and Reorganization Agreements. Ms. Anthony prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of the Exchange Act, state law and FINRA for corporate changes such as name changes, reverse and forward splits and change of domicile.

Contact Legal & Compliance LLC for a free initial consultation or second opinion on an existing matter.


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