\ ˈdet How to pronounce debt (audio) \

Definition of debt

1 : something owed : obligation unable to pay off his debts owe them a debt of gratitude a criminal's debt to society
2 : a state of being under obligation to pay or repay someone or something in return for something received : a state of owing deeply in debt to creditors
3 law and business : the common-law action for the recovery of money held to be due
4 : sin, trespass Forgive us our debts.

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from debt

debtless \ ˈdet-​ləs How to pronounce debt (audio) \ adjective

Examples of debt in a Sentence

He is trying to pay off gambling debts. The company has run up huge debts. Their debts are piling up. He's been working three jobs in an attempt to get out of debt. The company was in debt but is now turning a profit. I am deep in debt. I'm thousands of dollars in debt. She went into debt to pay for college. I'm worried that we will fall into debt.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web The company has struggled in recent years under a heavy debt load, and was trying to turn the business around when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Jennifer Smith, WSJ, "Trucker YRC Got 95% of All Covid-19 National Security Loan Funding," 14 Jan. 2021 Tailored emerged from bankruptcy with a lighter debt load in December. Jordan Valinsky, CNN, "The 30 retailers and restaurant chains that filed for bankruptcy in 2020," 12 Dec. 2020 The risk of further delays to MGM’s slate and its large debt load led S&P Global Ratings last month to downgrade the company’s credit rating to B from B+. Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times, "At James Bond studio MGM, questions mount about the company’s direction," 25 Nov. 2020 For Simon & Schuster’s owner ViacomCBS, the all-cash deal will help the company pay down its $21 billion debt load and keep up dividend payments to shareholders. New York Times, "Penguin Random House to Buy Simon & Schuster," 25 Nov. 2020 Fundraisers helped reduce the debt load and it was decided in September the race would continue on the Alaska side. John Schandelmeier, Anchorage Daily News, "Snow is on the ground. But what about the sled dog races that traditionally accompany it?," 31 Oct. 2020 Before stockpiling, financial experts advise consumers to take a few steps to avoid overspending or getting into debt. Aimee Picchi, USA TODAY, "American are hoarding toilet paper again because of COVID fears, and it could cost them," 23 Dec. 2020 Debtors Anonymous is a 12-step program for people who compulsively drive themselves into debt. Amy Dickinson, Detroit Free Press, "Family has a savings and loan crisis," 19 Dec. 2020 The total transaction value is calculated on a cash-free and debt-free basis for the business, with the deal expected to be closed by April 1. Asli Kandemir,, "Arcelik Seals $300 Million Deal for Hitachi Electronics Business," 16 Dec. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'debt.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of debt

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

History and Etymology for debt

Middle English dette, debte, from Anglo-French dette something owed, from Vulgar Latin *debita, from Latin, plural of debitum debt, from neuter of debitus, past participle of debēre to owe, from de- + habēre to have — more at give

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about debt

Time Traveler for debt

Time Traveler

The first known use of debt was in the 13th century

See more words from the same century

Statistics for debt

Last Updated

25 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Debt.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for debt


How to pronounce debt (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of debt

: an amount of money that you owe to a person, bank, company, etc.
: the state of owing money to someone or something
: the fact that you have been influenced or helped by someone or something


\ ˈdet How to pronounce debt (audio) \

Kids Definition of debt

1 : sin entry 1 sense 1 We ask forgiveness of our debts.
2 : something owed to another
3 : the condition of owing something I am in debt to you for all your help.



Legal Definition of debt

1 : something owed: as
a : a specific sum of money or a performance due another especially by agreement (as a loan agreement) to pay the debts…of the United StatesU.S. Constitution art. I a debt for alimony
b : an obligation to pay or perform on another's claim discharged the debt — compare asset, equity sense 4

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.

antecedent debt
: debt that is incurred prior to a property transfer paying or securing the debt — compare preference
bad debt
: a debt that cannot be collected

Note: An income tax deduction is allowed for bad debts.

consumer debt
: debt that is incurred by an individual primarily for the purchase of consumer goods or services — compare consumer credit
judgment debt
: 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 debt
d : the aggregate of money owed the national debt
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

History and Etymology for debt

Old French dette, ultimately from Latin debita, plural of debitum debt, from neuter of debitus, past participle of debere to owe

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on debt

What made you want to look up debt? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Slippery Words Quiz—Changing with the Times

  • ducreux self portrait yawning
  • What is an earlier meaning of nice?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!