What is Credit Risk?

Credit risk is the probability that a debtor will not pay back a loan or other credit extended to them by a financial lender. Credit risk applies to both individual consumers and business borrowers, whether they are applying for loans, lines of credit, credit cards, insurance policies, and more.

Credit risk is a leading concern for financial institutions, which spend a considerable amount of time and research to carefully review and evaluate applicants before approving or rejecting client applications. Accurately assessing credit risk is also known as credit decisioning or credit risk assessment, and is a role often fulfilled by underwriters at these institutions.

Determining Credit Risk

Despite the efforts of financial companies, there is no way to completely eliminate credit risk, or predict it with complete certainty. Every financial lending decision carries a certain level of risk, and even applicants who present strong credit histories and credentials may still end up defaulting on a loan.

However, financial lenders typically rely on a set of criteria known as the Five C’s to help them make the best decisions possible when reviewing a candidate’s application. These criteria are based on:

  • Character: The credit history of any applicant, including past and present accounts and their statuses.
  • Capacity: The ability of an applicant to pay back a loan, based on their income, investments, and other earnings, in addition to expenses, debts, and other obligations.
  • Collateral: Assets an applicant has to help secure the loan, including property, equipment, vehicles, and certain valuable possessions.
  • Capital: How solvent an applicant is, which considers the source of their income to determine whether they have adequate cash flow to make their payments.
  • Conditions: The economic situations that may impact an applicant’s ability to pay back, especially if their capacity and capital is tied up in long-term financing.

To navigate these factors, financial lenders are increasingly relying on data to power their assessment and decisioning processes. By obtaining more complete, updated sources of data about consumer and business applicants, lenders can better assess risk, even based on up-to-the-minute changes and new types of information that might not have been available previously.

Negative factors for credit risk

When evaluating an applicant, financial lenders will look for several common “red flags” that could signal that an applicant poses a high credit risk. These issues include:

  • Previous history of default, which increases the chances of another default again in the future.
  • History of missed, late, or unpaid payments, which suggests they are more likely at-risk to not make timely payments.
  • Existing high credit / debt usage, which suggests that the applicant is already at their debt limit and may not be able to safely take on any additional obligations.
  • Spotty income history, which suggests they may not have a reliable and steady source of income.
  • Credit history that is too new or short, which makes it harder to get a strong sense of their repayment potential.
  • Lack of diversity in credit accounts, which suggests they are over-reliant on one specific type of financing or income.