A check is considered to be the equivalent of cash. So is a credit card charge. Hence receipt of the check or credit card charge constitutes income to the taxpayer. On the payment side, payment by check is made when taxpayer delivers it in the manner that taxpayer normally does, e.g., by mail. Payment by credit card is made when the charge is incurred.
In an important case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit considered whether a promissory note or contract right is a “cash equivalent” and said:
A promissory note, negotiable in form, is not necessarily the equivalent of cash. Such an instrument may have been issued by a maker of doubtful solvency or for other reasons such paper might be denied a ready acceptance in the market place. We think the converse of this principle ought to be applicable. We are convinced that if a promise to pay of a solvent obligor is unconditional and assignable, not subject to set-offs, and is of a kind that is frequently transferred to lenders or investors at a discount not substantially greater than the generally prevailing premium for the use of money, such promise is the equivalent of cash and taxable in like manner as cash would have been taxable had it been received by the taxpayer rather than the obligation.
Cowden v. Commissioner, 249 F.2d 20, 24 (5th Cir. 1961). A “promissory note” is treated as “property” and so its receipt is income to the extent of its fmv. What are the factors that make receipt of a promissory note “gross income?”
On the other hand, giving a promissory note is not the equivalent of payment, and so a promissory note does not entitle the maker to a deduction, even if the recipient of the note must include the fmv of the note in his/her gross income. SeeDon E. Williams Co. v. Commissioner, 429 U.S. 569, 579 (1977). “The promissory note, even when payable on demand and fully secured, is still, as its name implies, only a promise to pay, and does not represent the paying out or reduction of assets. A check, on the other hand, is a direction to the bank for immediate payment, is a medium of exchange, and has come to be treated for federal tax purposes as a conditional payment of cash.” Id. at 582-83.