[Latin, Are due.] A promissory note or bond offered by a corporation to a creditor in exchange for a loan, the repayment of which is backed only by the general creditworthiness of the corporation and not by a mortgage or a lien on any specific property.
Debentures are usually offered in issues under an indenture, a document that sets the terms of the exchange. A debenture is usually a bearer instrument. When it is presented for payment, the person in possession of it will be paid, even if the person is not the original creditor. Coupons representing annual or semi-annual payments of interest on the debt are attached, to be clipped and presented for payment on their due dates. They may be deposited in, and collected by, the banks of holders of the debentures, the creditors of the corporation.
A convertible debenture is one that can be changed or converted, at the option of its holder, into shares of stock, usually common stock, at a fixed ratio as stated in the indenture. The ratio can be adjusted in light of stock dividends; otherwise the value of converting the debt into securities would be worth less than retaining the debenture until its date of maturity.
A subordinate debenture is one that will be repaid only after other corporate debts have been satisfied. A convertible subordinate debenture is one that is subject or subordinate to the prior repayment of other debts of the corporation but which can be converted into another form of security.
A sinking fund debenture is one whereby repayment is secured by periodic payments by the corporation into a sinking fund, an amount of money made up of corporate assets and earnings that are set aside for the repayment of designated debentures and long-term debts.