Definition of 'Credit Rating'
An assessment of the credit worthiness of a borrower in general terms or with respect to a particular debt or financial obligation. A credit rating can be assigned to any entity that seeks to borrow money – an individual, corporation, state or provincial authority, or sovereign government. Credit assessment and evaluation for companies and governments is generally done by a credit rating agency such as Standard & Poor’s or Moody’s. These rating agencies are paid by the entity that is seeking a credit rating for itself or for one of its debt issues. For individuals, credit ratings are derived from the credit history maintained by credit-reporting agencies such as Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Investopedia explains 'Credit Rating'
Credit ratings for borrowers are based on substantial due diligence conducted by the rating agencies. While a borrower will strive to have the highest possible credit rating since it has a major impact on interest rates charged by lenders, the rating agencies must take a balanced and objective view of the borrower’s financial situation and capacity to service/repay the debt.
The credit rating has an inverse relationship with the possibility of debt default. In the opinion of the rating agency, a high credit rating indicates that the borrower has a low probability of defaulting on the debt; conversely, a low credit rating suggests a high probability of default.
Credit rating agencies typically assign letter grades to indicate ratings. Standard & Poor’s, for instance, has a credit rating scale ranging from AAA (excellent) and AA+ all the way to C and D. A debt instrument with a rating below BBB- is considered to be speculative grade or a junk bond.
Credit rating changes can have a significant impact on financial markets. A prime example of this effect is the adverse market reaction to the credit rating downgrade of the U.S. federal government by Standard & Poor’s on August 5, 2011. Global equity markets plunged for weeks following the downgrade.
For individuals, the credit rating is conveyed by means of a numerical credit score that is maintained by Equifax, Experian and other credit-reporting agencies. A high credit score indicates a stronger credit profile and will generally result in lower interest rates charged by lenders.