A character owes a debt to someone, but is unable to pay the sum being demanded, or they can't pay it in the time allotted. Or maybe they don't want to have to Work Off the Debt, either because the debt-holder is a Jerkass, the debt was incurred via Blackmail, or the debt was a result of a Leonine Contract or an offer that initially couldn't be refused. So what to do?
Why, get rid of the debt by getting rid of the debt-holder, of course! After all, if you don't have anyone to owe, there'll be no debt to pay, right?
The amount of money being owed doesn't matter, though usually in fiction it's a very hefty sum. What this trope is about is the debtor rationalizing that the debt will be canceled with the lender's death, and his/her trying and/or actually succeeding to kill the lender. Also, the debts in question are often of shady or otherwise unwanted means, such as with gambling debts (though this trope is in response to any kind of financial debt to an individual).
If said lender was a Jerkass, Loan Shark or worse, being killed by the debtor will turn that person into an Asshole Victim. Especially if he was gonna kill the debtor if the debtor didn't do it first, in which case it counts as self-defense. However, this trope doesn't count if a person owes money to a financial institution, such as a bank or credit union, as those debts are generally legit (unless the lender in question is of questionable morals).
The creditor killing the debtor is an inversion. The debtor failing to kill the creditor is a subversion (including if the creditor then dies due to unrelated factors).
Note that in Real Life, this doesn't work if the debt was official and in writing (e.g. a promissory note). The executor of the dead person's estate, or the deceased person's heirs, can take legal action to collect from anyone who owed money to them (unless they take action to destroy the documentation proving the debt, though nowadays any debt through an official lending institution is likely to have backup copies of the records either digitally or in some other location, making that impractical).
Not the same as the Ballistic Discount, which is where a person goes into a gun-shop, asks to try a gun, and then shoots the salesperson and leaves without paying for the gun.
- In the Justice League fanfiction Flash by Northwest, which is set in a crime-thriller story inside a magical book, this turns out to be the motive for Wally West's character to kill Mari McCabe's character, albeit indirectly. According to the script, J'onn's character, an unscrupulous accountant, had loaned Wally money that was skimmed from Mari's accounts, but Wally couldn't pay the loan back; the theory is that he may have killed Mari as a way to get the loan forgiven.
- There's a Dragon Ball fanfic called Bad Man, where a man who owes money to some criminals kidnaps Bulma so that he can blackmail Vegeta into killing the criminals for him. You all know how this ended.
- In Nepotism Adventure Series, the reason Equestria doesn't collect taxes is because a town burned the second tax collector who tried to do so at the stake. (The first one was just an idiot who choked on a marble.)
- Inverted in Casino Royale (2006), where Le Chiffre is killed by his creditors after squandaring their money on a failed terrorist scheme and failing to get it back.
- In Glitter, Billie's former manager hasn't received his money from her new manager and makes threats at Billie to that effect. When he hears about this, the new manager viciously assaults the old manager. Eventually inverted when the old manager confronts the new one and shoots him dead.
- Played with in Spaceballs, where a debt that Lone Star and Barf owe to crimelord Pizza the Hutt is cancelled upon Pizza's death. However, they didn't do the killing; Pizza killed himself when he got locked in his car and ate himself to death.
- While Popeye didn't exactly kill him (he has too strong of a moral compass to do that), he was clearly getting fed up with the crooked tax collector charging him for various taxes as he's trying to get himself settled after moving out of the Oyls' house. Popeye finally can't take it anymore, and shoves him off the dock and into the sea. Right after that, the whole town, who had shunned Popeye since he first came ashore, now hailed him as a hero.
- In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov kills the old moneylender, though his motivations are more complex than just getting rid of the creditor.
- In the Star Wars Extended Universe stories, the heroes in the movie inadvertently released everyone in debt to Jabba the Hutt when they killed the gangster.
- In Derek Robinson's novel of the Cold War, Hullo Russia, Goodbye England, one of the Vulcan pilots who would not hesitate for an instant to nuke Russia adopts this strategy to sort out a problem with a bookie, who is threatening to expose a fellow pilot's expensive gambling debts.
- On Chicago Fire, Cruz's brother owes a debt to a gang leader. The gang leader threatens to hurt or kill the brother if he does not get his money. When a building used by the gang catches fire, Cruz is one of the fire fighters sent to the scene. While searching the building, he finds the gang leader in one of the rooms. Rather than rescue him, Cruz exits the building and leaves the gang leader to die in the fire.
- In The Unusuals one of the detectives, a born-again Christian, is being blackmailed by his old partner-in-crime for several crimes he had done back in Texas, and the detective ends up killing his former partner because he can't pay.
- In Angel, Angel wages his soul for Gunn's (which he had sold willingly), double or nothing. Upon losing, Angel immediately incapacitates the demon creditor (the demon couldn't be killed easily), then asks the casino patrons how many of them owe this demon. The mob then proceeds to kill the demon, fulfilling this trope en masse.
- In the Law & Order episode "Terminal", a struggling businessman shoots a woman at a social event to keep the check he wrote her from bouncing. The governor wants the death penalty, but Adam Schiff successfully argues the possibility that he was only trying to injure the victim.
- The attempted murder of an Evil Debt Collector on the CSI: Miami episode "Bang, Bang, Your Debt" was partially this, partially a Roaring Rampage of Revenge (the attempting murderer was doing so because he and a friend of his had been driven to ruin by the collector, bad enough that they were Driven to Suicide and the friend succeeded).
- In Once Upon a Time, Rumplestiltskin makes a deal with a wizard for a potion to save his son from a poisonous snake. Without gold to pay for it, he bargains for his second child, figuring that he wouldn't have one to worry about. When he becomes the Dark One, he kills the wizard, thinking that would void the contract. Unfortunately, this transferred the contract to Hades, Lord of the Underworld, giving Hades the right to the child.
- Shadowrun. Once the runners have succeeded in a mission, their next task is to be paid by "Mr. Johnson", the person who hired them for the run. Unfortunately, if Mr. Johnson is ruthless, he may decide to kill the runners so he doesn't have to pay them (plus they know too much). Players have been advised in official supplements to get half of the promised payment in advance in order to reduce the incentive for Mr. Johnson to betray them.
- In the The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLC pack Dragonborn, an orc loan shark by the name of Mogrul will saddle you with a debt owed by someone who you hired to head off to Tel Mithryn to act as Master Neloth's steward, since Mogrul is too scared to approach someone under a Telvanni mage-lord's auspices. His reasoning is a fine piece of Insane Troll Logic. Killing him is considered a feasible option to end the quest (as long as you do it in a manner that doesn't raise the ire of the town guard).
- More of a case of Ethnically Cleanse the Creditor in Crusader Kings II. If your realm is running out of money, you can borrow money from the local Jewish population, to be paid back later with interest. If you can't (or don't want to) pay the loan back and you're a king or emperor, you can simply expel the Jews from your realm, and seize some extra money in the process. However, this results in a negative modifier for your character and an economic downturn for your realm for several years, and it will be a while before you can invite Jews back to your realm.
- Without the Sons of Abraham DLC, you could also kill yourself if you have a negative bank balance. Death or suicide in Crusader Kings 2 erases your debts, and your debts aren't subtracted from your successor's bank balance. Furthermore, if you previously expelled the Jews, your successor can invite them back (and then expel them again if you still need the money)
- In Mafia II, Vito's father loaned money from loan shark Bruno Levine, but couldn't pay him back, and it's revealed late in the game that it was mob head Derek that had him killed for it. Vito eventually borrows money from Levine himself, but Levine cautions him against trying to invert this trope, as killing him won't cancel the debt, since it doesn't belong to him, it belongs to his mob financers.
- The denizens of the Inkwell Isles are none too happy to see Cuphead and Mugman, now under the Devil's employ, arriving to take their contracts (and souls) away, so they initiate an all-out fight.
- Also subverted in the good ending for the player. The duo whale on the Devil until he breaks down in tears and surrenders. They then destroy all the contracts, freeing the grateful residents of the Inkwell Isles, who throw their heroes a celebratory party.
- King Philip IV of France did this to The Knights Templar by framing them for heresy.
- Inverted with the Burke and Hare murders, which started with tenants who couldn't pay rent.
- It is thought that a few pogroms against the Jews were done for this reason, as in medieval times Jews were prominent in banking or money-lendingnote . Some unscrupulous borrowers must have thought it was easier to slay the banker than repay the loan; for example, the anti-Jewish pogrom in York, England in 1180 is thought to have been initiated by a local lord who borrowed money from Jewish lenders on behalf of an unscrupulous king who refused to pay it back.
- This is the likely source of the German idiom jemanden übers Ohr hauen, which literally translates as, "to strike someone over the ear." It means to cheat or swindle somebody, and likely refers to a debtor killing his creditor to avoid holding up his end of the bargain, or else knocking them out to make an escape.