What is a 'Waterfall Payment'

A waterfall payment is a type of payment scheme in which higher-tiered creditors receive interest and principal payments first, while the lower-tiered creditors receive interest and principal payments after the higher-tiered creditors are paid in full. Debtors typically structure these schemes to prioritize the highest principal loans first as they are likely the most expensive.

BREAKING DOWN 'Waterfall Payment'

For example, this type of payment scheme works for a company repaying more than one loan. Assume this company has three operating loans, all with different interest rates. The company makes principal and interest payments on the more costly loan, and makes only interest payments on the remaining two loans. Once the more expensive loan is paid off, the company can make all interest and principal payments on the next, more expensive loan. The process continues until all loans are repaid.

Waterfall Payment Scheme Example

To demonstrate how a waterfall payment scheme works, assume a company has taken loans from three creditors, Creditor A, Creditor B and Creditor C. The scheme is structured so that Creditor A is the highest-tiered creditor while Creditor C is the lowest-tiered creditor. The arrangement for what the company owes each of the creditors is as follows:

Creditor A: is owed a total of $5 million in interest and $10 million in principal.

Creditor B: is owed a total of $3 million in interest and $8 million in principal.

Creditor C: is owed a total of $1 million in interest and $5 million in principal.

Assume in year one the company earns $17 million. It then pays off the entire $15 million owed to Creditor A, leaving it with $2 million to pay off further debts. Since the priority structure is still in place, this $2 million must be applied to Creditor B. Assume the company pays $1 million to Creditor B for interest and $1 million to Creditor B for principal. The result after year one is:

Creditor A: fully paid.

Creditor B: is owed a total of $2 million in interest and $7 million in principal.

Creditor C: is owed a total of $1 million in interest and $5 million in principal.

If in year two, the company earns $13 million, it could then pay off the remaining obligation to Creditor B and begin paying off Creditor C. The result after year two is:

Creditor A: fully paid.

Creditor B: fully paid.

Creditor C: is owed $2 million in principal.

This example was simplified to show the mechanics of a waterfall payment scheme. In reality, some waterfall schemes are structured so minimum interest payments are made to all tiers during each payment cycle.

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