Liabilities are colloquially often equated with liabilities, ie, with repayment obligations of natural and legal persons from third parties. The term finds wide applications in the legal field, but is partially defined differently depending on the legal basis.

Applies, for example, the following for the Federal Republic of Germany:

  • Under civil law, there is the definition of § 241 et seq.
  • Commercial law, the term debt such as also provisions as not legally was key, but probable liabilities.
  • In tax law, there is the definition of § 37 et seq tax code.


The negatively loaded term debt is colloquially, but often used in law as equivalent to wealth. Especially in a high interest rates and / or economic downturns can debt to a debt, a debt mountain and eventually grow to an uncontrollable debt trap that requires a debt brake. In particular, the interest on debt contribute to a progressive increase in the total debt burden. On a state level, the term debt is common ( national debt, municipal debt, debt relief ). The debt of an economy vis- called foreign debt.

Figures on debt

In Germany, since the introduction of the new Insolvency Act 1999 to the year 2011 a total of about 813 000 applications for a consumer insolvency proceedings. In 2010, the average debt burden of over-indebted individuals with regard to 34 314, - €. Reasons for the indebtedness, unemployment ( 28.5%), tragedy (14%), known illnesses, addictions and accidents ( 11.1%) and inefficient financial management ( 10.2%).


The law assumes that the property is the basis for debt. It is immaterial, for any reason debt incurred.

Civil law

Under civil law, the term is widely used debt far and even overwrites the second book " Law of Obligations " of the Civil Code. Herein, the delivery of the purchased item and the buyer owes about when buying contract according to § 433 para 1 and 2 of the Civil Code, the seller the payment of the purchase price. This Synallagma makes the interdependence of both benefits from each other significantly. If the purchased item is delivered and the purchase price has been paid out yet, the buyer is their debtor, and vice versa. Even with continuing obligations such as rent is both parties before a debt. Although the Mietschuld is perceived as the most recognizable, the landlord's lease of the leased property to the contract conforming use owes permanent ( § 535 para 1 BGB). Total debt is when several debtor shall be liable for the same performance and each of the co-debtors may be required to repay the total debt, but the creditor may require performance only once ( § 421 para 1 BGB).

Thus rendered is not always in money, but in any kind of a contractually guaranteed performance. To better delineate the benefits due from each other, is spoken of clarification of a money debt or other performance obligation.

Commercial Law

Trade and accounting law, the term debt liabilities and provisions within the meaning of § 249 paragraph 1 sentence 1 HGB to subsume ( provisions for uncertain liabilities and anticipated losses from pending transactions ). So shall prepare in accordance with § 242 paragraph 1 HGB the merchant a the ratio of its assets and liabilities constituting statements. After HGB § 246 para 1 has this annual financial statements to include all assets, liabilities, prepaid expenses, income and expenses. It is made clear in that provision that debts are included in the balance sheet of the debtor ( § 246 paragraph 1 HGB ). In § 247 paragraph 1 HGB is required, that are in the balance sheet, investment and current assets, equity, liabilities and prepaid expenses shown separately and sufficiently break down. The breakdown of provision of § 266 para 3 B and C HGB again dealing with the recognition of provisions and liabilities for corporations or equivalent forms of society. The evaluation is done according to § 253 para 1 and 2 of the HGB with their ( estimated ) settlement amount.

Debts are capable of accounting if they represent an existing or reasonably certain, at expected load of the assets, a legal or economic obligation of the reporting entity are, and can be evaluated independently. After the completeness requirement of § 247 paragraph 1 HGB equity, debt and deferred income on the liabilities side of the balance be shown. Debt are therefore under formal point of all liability items, which are neither equity nor the liabilities Deferred.


The Court uses the term debts. Thus, the Supreme Court has decided that phone providers may block a cell phone connector only if the customer has with them at least 75 euros debt. When gain compensation maintenance liabilities should like all debts shall be deducted from the final wealth; the debtor had already paid for the upkeep, the final wealth would be reduced by the same amount.

Commercial Tax- term duration of the liabilities is discussed. It 's about whether lending rates as operating expenses may reduce the taxable profit. This applies only to liabilities of the current commerce, insofar as they are repaid in a customary period of time. A liability is settled case-law of the Federal principle of non-temporary reinforcement of working capital when their values ​​amplifies the working capital for more than a year. Not the lasting gain of the working capital used on the other hand, despite a term of more than one year debts that are economically related to current transactions and will be repaid in the usual way after the respective transaction period. This is in particular loans, which takes a company to finance the acquisition or production cost of a particular asset as current assets and are to be repaid from the proceeds realized upon disposal of the asset. These principles also apply to current account liabilities. Then current account liabilities are generally ongoing debt, unless from the business relationship of the parties must be concluded that despite the external shape of Kontokorrentverkehrs a certain minimum credit is to be the company dedicated to permanent.

Debt service

As debt service ( debt service ) the contractual payments of interest and principal by the debtor is called. The debt service charged as expenses liquidity and may therefore depending on the nature of the debtor's account for only a small portion of its revenue. High debt also trigger high debt service and increase the risk of liquidity shortages. With the success of inspection it looks similar: Interest rates represent the debtor, expensed, which reduces the gain or loss increases, so that high debt can also cause income risk. These factors affect debt sustainability.

Debt sustainability

Economically, it depends on whether and to what extent a debtor is able to carry its debt plus interest, although the reality is compromised (such as bankruptcy ). To determine this, the amount of debt the asset or the recoverable permanent income is compared. The rationale is that the assets for creditors is the basis for granting of credit and allow the income of the debtor's statements about its ability to service debt. For this school of thinking figures have been developed that apply to the type of debtor (central government, companies, individuals ) as indicators. School thinking number codes are referred to, provide indicators of the sustainability of debt, to allow statements about the creditworthiness of borrowers.

The debt duration (better: debt repayment period ), such a ratio and indicates how long a debtor is required to completely degrade based on its permanent recoverable revenue the existing debts. When the state permanently recoverable revenue from export earnings put together in company of freely available cash flow is used, while for individuals whose net income is applied. The figure indicates according to how long a state needs to get its debts with the export revenues generated or how long a company needs in order to become debt free using the free cash flow. Accordingly, a high debt period for creditors is an unfavorable indicator in the assessment of a debtor.

Municipal debt Legal terms

Until the budget reform on 1 January 1974 there was municipal budgets in a strict division of debt in " yielding " and " unprofitable ". Among the " yielding " were among those municipal debts that were wholly or mainly covered by ( functional ) certain revenues (such as special contributions, fees or subsidies ), while the " unprofitable " were covered by general budget. This distinction has been eliminated with the introduction of the universality principle in the capital budget in accordance with § 16 Section 1 No. 2 KommHaushVO. To continue to receive the earlier statement value, today borrowings of the investment measures with predominant funding separately from other liabilities through certain revenue through its own group number must be shown. Because in addition to the overall level of debt and the state of " yielding " debt shall specify, it still remains in effect in the previous regulation. This improves the meaningfulness of a municipal debt ratio, with the total debt the earmarked revenue are compared.


Debt are therefore obligations of the debtor, which can be fulfilled only in money debts by paying money. Power in this sense is based on the a contractual obligation and wanted immediate economic benefit, or shift assets from the debtor to the creditor. However, the best term to use debt is not the plural of debt within the meaning of the criminal law. This is a legal term for the culpability of criminal acts. Fault again treats the culpability of a civil offense.