Credit Memo vs Invoice | What’s The Difference?

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Accounting is a broad field and it’s okay if you don’t know everything. Especially if you are just starting your business. And not only you but 60% of business owners like you are not confident about their accounting knowledge.

And that is mostly because it is quite a steep learning curve for small business owners and especially for contractors. Therefore, we should take one step at a time. And today, it is credit memo vs invoice. Let’s learn the difference, the similarity, and how to use both for the most effective accounting process without investing in accounting software.

So, if you want to differentiate any two things, you must learn both of them inside out separately. Hence, let’s learn what a credit memo and an invoice are, individually.

What is a Credit Memo or Credit Note?

The term credit memo is the abbreviated form of the credit memorandum. It is also known as a credit note.

The textbook definition of the credit memo is an accounting document that is issued by the seller to the customer to notify them of their positive balance in the account.

In simpler words, whenever the customer has paid more than the worth of services or goods he/she got, the company issues a credit note to reflect the same.

Still confused? Let’s understand it with a credit memo example.

A customer of yours hired you for renovating his bathroom. You had an agreement on the estimated price of $10,000, which he had paid you in advance. Now, for some reason, the project got completed for just $9000.

So, you will have to create a credit memo to acknowledge the extra $1000 of positive balance he has.

Now, you must be thinking what are those scenarios that create a need for issuing credit memos, right?

So, let’s discuss when you need to issue credit memos.

When to Issue Credit Memos

Your accounts payable department needs to create credit memos in many situations. So, you must know when to issue credit memos.

  • When your customer returns goods or disagrees to avail your services, and demands a refund.
  • When the prices drop and the customer has paid advance payments.
  • When you want to settle pricing disputes.
  • When the scope of the service gets modified resulting in reduced accounts receivable balances for you.

Basically, whenever the seller owes money back to the customer, the seller needs to create a credit memo. You can use a credit memo maker to quickly prepare credit memos.

But can’t he/she just tell the customer about the same thing over a phone call?
Umm no! And here’s why.

What’s the Purpose of Credit Memos?

Well, that’s right that the contractor can simply inform about the positive credit balance over a phone call but that’s not the only purpose of a credit memo. So, let’s know more about it.

  • Balancing accounting records
    If the contractor does not issue credit memos, how will he/she justify the extra payment made by a customer? The credit note justifies the positive balance left in the customers’ accounts and thus helps prepare journal entries.
  • Future audits
    Credit-memo help in understanding the transactions done in an account at the time of audit.
  • Bookkeeping
    Contractors need to bookkeep every transaction and credit memos help them bookkeep transactions like refunds or credit points.

Now, if you have understood the concept of credit memos, let’s talk about the invoice.

What is an Invoice?

An invoice is a legally binding accounting document that is issued by the seller to the customer for requesting the payments for the goods/services provided. While this is the primary purpose, it has multiple secondary purposes too, which we will discuss in this blog shortly.

An invoice helps the customers know how much they owe to the vendor, what they need to pay, when they are expected to pay, and how to pay the due.

Therefore, an invoice is mandatory to produce for every business transaction.

When to Issue Invoices

A contractor needs to create and send invoices at several instances during the time of the contract. This highly depends on the contract and the prior agreement between you and your client.

However, we will discuss the most common times to send invoices and you can choose the one which suits your business.

  • At the End of the Service
    This is the most common scenario as the clients are more willing to pay the due after experiencing your services. Once the client is satisfied with the work, you have a greater chance of quick payment processing. And such a type of invoice is also known as a credit invoice.
  • In-between the Project
    Mostly the gross amount of a contract is way too large to process in a single go and not every contractor can afford to invest such a large capital initially. Therefore, contractors issue interim invoices after every major event gets completed during the project to break down the total amount into smaller installments and manage their cash flow better.
  • Before the Service Starts
    As discussed in the above point, the contractor has to invest huge amounts of capital at the beginning of a project. Thus, contractors issue an invoice before the service starts to request a partial payment or full payment as an advance payment depending upon the agreement.

In a nutshell, it is issued whenever the vendor wants to request money. Now, if you want to save time and get them approved quickly, make invoices online.

What’s the Purpose of Invoices?

Creating an invoice is among the first things accountants need to learn because it has multiple purposes that can benefit the business and the client. So, let’s learn a few of them.

  • Bookkeeping
    Invoices are recorded for bookkeeping and keeping track of business sales.
  • Accounting records
    Invoices help in recording your business transactions and managing the accounts tally.
  • Legal purpose
    As invoices are law binding, you are supposed to make professional invoices to avoid a lawsuit against your business.
  • Managing Inventory
    An invoice records the product/goods sold and thus, you exactly know how stocked your inventory is.
  • Brand marketing
    An invoice is a great place to market your brand. You can mention all your services, brand logo, and contact details. It helps a lot in boosting customer loyalty.

See, that’s why every business should keep the invoicing process updated. If you find your invoice process complex and tiresome, signup to InvoiceOwl and create professional-looking invoices now!

Now that we have discussed credit memos and invoices separately, let’s compare them next to each other and know the difference.

How are Credit Memos different from Invoices?

Criteria Credit Memo Invoice
What does it show? A positive balance in the customer’s account. The amount a customer owes to the contractor.
When is it issued? When the:


  • customer demands a refund
  • rate changes
  • scope changes
When the contractor sells services/products.
At what time is it issued? Mostly, after the customer has paid the amount. Whenever the contractor wants to request a payment.
What does it include?
  • Customer’s information
  • Contractor’s information
  • Issuing date
  • Credit memo number
  • Original invoice reference number
  • Item list with description
  • Total positive balance
  • Customer’s information
  • Contractor’s information
  • Date of issue
  • Invoice number
  • Purchase order reference number
  • Itemized list of products/services provided
  • Total accounts payable
Who owes the total amount to whom? The contractor owes the customer. The customer owes the contractor.

What are the Similarities Between Credit Notes and Invoices?

Yes, they have quite a few differences.

But, both have similarities too. And that’s why most contractors are confused between them.

So, let’s talk about the similarities.

Criteria Credit Memo Invoice
Who issues it? Contractor Contractor
Whom is the addressee? Customer Customer
Is it legally binding? Yes Yes
Which department handles it? Accounts payable department Accounts payable department

Alright, we have discussed the differences and similarities between both accounting documents. Now, you can easily differentiate between the two and know what to issue and when to.

And just to make sure we cover all your doubts, we have answered the frequently asked questions to help you clarify your doubts if any.

Frequently Asked Questions
  1. What is the difference between a credit memo and an invoice?

    An invoice is the accounting document used for requesting payments. Whereas, a credit memo is the accounting document used for informing clients about the positive balance they have in the account.

  2. Is a credit memo an invoice?

    No, a credit memo is not an invoice. A credit memo denotes a positive balance and an invoice denotes an outstanding balance.

  3. Is a credit memo a refund?

    A credit memo is a document that contractors have to issue whenever they owe money to a client. This includes various scenarios like a refund, rate fluctuation, change in scope, or deposit return.

  4. What is a credit memo used for?

    A credit memo is used for notifying the client about his/her account balance left after the deduction of the invoice amount.


Both the buyer and the seller must know the difference between a credit memo and an invoice. Especially contractors like you. Because you have to issue the appropriate documents at the appropriate time to be professional.f

So in this blog, we talked about the differences and similarities between a credit note and an invoice.

If this is too overwhelming for you as a contractor, you must try InvoiceOwl —estimating and invoicing software for contractors. You get a free trial without any commitment. So, sign up to InvoiceOwl no to win more jobs and get paid faster.

Author Bio
Jeel Patel
Jeel Patel

Jeel Patel is the founder of InvoiceOwl, a top-rated estimating and invoicing software that simplifies the invoicing and estimating processes for contractor businesses. Jeel holds a degree in Business Administration and Management from the University of Toronto, which has provided him with a strong foundation in business principles and practices. With understanding of the challenges faced by contractors, he conducted extensive research and developed a tool to streamline the invoicing and estimating processes for contractors. Read More

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