What it is:
Negotiable refers to an item that can be sold or transferred to another party as a form of unconditional payment. Negotiable also means that the terms of an agreement can be adjusted.
How it works (Example):
A negotiable check given to one person can then be endorsed and may be used as a payment to a third party. Also, certain types of commercial paper securities or bonds may be negotiable (they may be signed by the bearer of the bonds and redeemed). The right to payment through a negotiable instrument, such as a currency or endorsed checks is determined based on possession.
According to the United States Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), an item is negotiable if it meets the following criteria: the promise to pay must be unconditional; the payment must be for a specific sum; payment must be made on demand; no further performance by any party is needed; and payment must be to the bearer of the negotiable instrument.
In terms of an agreement, the parties may be negotiating the terms of a contract or the scope of a project. For example, a proposal for work by a contractor at a certain fee may be negotiable. That is, the contractor may be willing to do more work or lower the price. A contract is usually negotiable until it is executed.
Why it Matters:
Once a negotiable instrument is given to another party, it is payable unconditionally. Possession governs in almost every way; it is the functional equivalent to cash. On a balance sheet, negotiable instruments are classified as "cash or its equivalents." Under the US UCC regulations, letters of credit, bills of lading, most securities, deeds, and IOUs are not negotiable.