A payment is the trade of value from one party (such as a person or company) to another for goods, or services, or to fulfill a legal obligation.
Payment can take a variety of forms. Barter, the exchange of one good or service for another, is a form of payment. The most common means of payment involve use of money, cheque, or debit, credit or bank transfers. Payments may also take complicated forms, such as stock issues or the transfer of anything of value or benefit to the parties. In US law, the payer is the party making a payment while the payee is the party receiving the payment. In trade, payments are frequently preceded by an invoice or bill.
In general, the payee is at liberty to determine what method of payment he or she will accept; though normally laws require the payer to accept the country's legal tender up to a prescribed limit. Payment is most commonly effected in the local currency of the payee, unless if the parties agree otherwise. Payment in another currency involves an additional foreign exchange transaction. The payee may compromise on a debt, i.e., accept a part payment in full settlement of a debtor's obligation, or may offer a discount, for example, for payment in cash, or for prompt payment, etc. On the other hand, the payee may impose a surcharge, for example, as a late payment fee, or for use of a certain credit card, etc.
The root word "pay" in "payment" comes from the Latin "pacare" (to pacify), from "pax", meaning "peace". In the Middle Ages, the term began to be used more broadly, to mean "to pacify one's creditors". As the Latin word was made part of Old French "paier", it retained the meaning "pacify" (and "appease") but gained the meaning "to pay" (as in paying a debt). The Middle English word "payen", which came from French, was also used in both ways.
Payments may be classified by the number of parties involved in a transaction. For example, a pre paid care transaction usually involves four parties (the purchaser, the seller, the issuing bank, and the acquiring bank). A cash payment requires a minimum of three parties (the seller, the purchaser, and the issuer of the currency). A barter payment requires a minimum of two parties (the purchaser and the seller).
In 2005, an estimated $40 trillion globally passed through some type of payment system. Roughly $12 trillion of that was transacted through various credit cards, mostly the 21,000 member banks of Visa and MasterCard. Processing payments, including the extending of credit, produced close to $500 billion in revenue. In 2012, roughly $377 trillion passed through noncash payment systems. This led to total account and transaction revenues close to $524 billion.