The FindLaw Legal Dictionary -- free access to over 8260 definitions of legal terms. Search for a definition or browse our legal glossaries.
[Old French dette, ultimately from Latin debita, plural of debitum debt, from neuter of debitus, past participle of debere to owe]
1 : something owed: as
a : a specific sum of money or a performance due another esp. by agreement (as a loan agreement) [to pay the s…of the United States "U.S. Constitution art. I"] [a for alimony]
b : an obligation to pay or perform on another's claim [discharged the ] compare asset, equity NOTE: It is often up to the courts to decide what is or is not a debt under various laws. Courts disagree whether criminal restitution is a debt under the Bankruptcy Code. The historical practice of imprisoning debtors for nonpayment is no longer used.
: debt that is incurred prior to a property transfer paying or securing the debt compare preference
: a debt that cannot be collected NOTE: An income tax deduction is allowed for bad debts.
: debt that is incurred by an individual primarily for the purchase of consumer goods or services compare consumer credit
: a debt established by a judgment and enforceable by a legal process (as an execution of judgment or attachment)
c : a state of owing [in ]
d : the aggregate of money owed [the national ]
2 : the common-law action for the recovery of a specified sum of money or a sum that can be simply and certainly determined called also action of debt writ of debt compare assumpsit, covenant
Source: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law ©1996. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Published under license with Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.