01About Rating Definitions

Fitch Ratings publishes credit ratings that are forward-looking opinions on the relative ability of an entity or obligation to meet financial commitments. Issuer default ratings (IDRs) are assigned to corporations, sovereign entities, financial institutions such as banks, leasing companies and insurers, and public finance entities (local and regional governments).  Issue level ratings are also assigned, often include an expectation of recovery and may be notched above or below the issuer level rating. Issue ratings are assigned to secured and unsecured debt securities, loans, preferred stock and other instruments, Structured finance ratings are issue ratings to securities backed by receivables or other financial assets that consider the obligations’ relative vulnerability to default. 

Credit ratings are indications of the likelihood of repayment in accordance with the terms of the issuance.  In limited cases, Fitch may include additional considerations (i.e., rate to a higher or lower standard than that implied in the obligation’s documentation). Please see the section Specific Limitations Relating to Credit Rating Scales for details.

Fitch Ratings also publishes other ratings, scores and opinions. For example, Fitch provides specialized ratings of servicers of residential and commercial mortgages, asset managers and funds. In each case, users should refer to the definitions of each individual scale for guidance on the dimensions of risk covered in each assessment.

Fitch’s credit rating scale for issuers and issues is expressed using the categories ‘AAA’ to ‘BBB’ (investment grade) and ‘BB’ to ‘D’ (speculative grade) with an additional +/- for AA through CCC levels indicating relative differences of probability of default or recovery for issues. The terms “investment grade” and “speculative grade” are market conventions and do not imply any recommendation or endorsement of a specific security for investment purposes. Investment grade categories indicate relatively low to moderate credit risk, while ratings in the speculative categories signal either a higher level of credit risk or that a default has already occurred.

Fitch may also disclose issues relating to a rated issuer that are not and have not been rated. Such issues are also denoted as ‘NR’ on its web page.

Credit ratings express risk in relative rank order, which is to say they are ordinal measures of credit risk and are not predictive of a specific frequency of default or loss. For information about the historical performance of ratings, please refer to Fitch’s Ratings Transition and Default studies, which detail the historical default rates. The European Securities and Markets Authority also maintains a central repository of historical default rates.

Fitch’s credit ratings do not directly address any risk other than credit risk.  Credit ratings do not deal with the risk of  market value loss due to changes in interest rates, liquidity and/or other market considerations. However, market risk may be considered to the extent that it influences the ability of an issuer to pay or refinance a financial commitment. Ratings nonetheless do not reflect market risk to the extent that they influence the size or other conditionality of the obligation to pay upon a commitment (for example, in the case of payments linked to performance of an equity index).

Fitch will use credit rating scales to provide ratings to privately issued obligations or certain note issuance programs, or for private ratings using the same public scale and criteria. Private ratings are not published, and are only provided to the issuer or its agents in the form of a rating letter.

The primary credit rating scales may also be used to provide ratings for a narrower scope, including interest strips and return of principal or in other forms of opinions such as Credit Opinions or Rating Assessment Services.

Credit Opinions are either a notch- or category-specific view using the primary rating scale and omit one or more characteristics of a full rating or meet them to a different standard. Credit Opinions will be indicated using a lower-case letter symbol combined with either an ‘*’ (e.g. ‘bbb+*’) or (cat) suffix to denote the opinion status. Credit Opinions will be typically point-in-time but may be monitored if the analytical group believes information will be sufficiently available. 

Rating Assessment Services are a notch-specific view using the primary rating scale of how an existing or potential rating may be changed by a given set of hypothetical circumstances. While Credit Opinions and Rating Assessment Services are point-in-time and are not monitored, they may have a directional Watch or Outlook assigned, which can signify the trajectory of the credit profile.

Ratings assigned by Fitch are opinions based on established, approved and published criteria. A variation to criteria may be applied but will be explicitly cited in our rating action commentaries (RACs), which are used to publish credit ratings when established and upon annual or periodic reviews.

Ratings are the collective work product of Fitch, and no individual, or group of individuals, is solely responsible for a rating. Ratings are not facts and, therefore, cannot be described as being "accurate" or "inaccurate." Users should refer to the definition of each individual rating for guidance on the dimensions of risk covered by the rating.

02Ratings Scales

03Why Ratings Matter


Why Ratings Matter

As part of the Museum of American Finance’s CEO series “Why Wall Street Matters,” Fitch Group CEO Paul Taylor explains how credit ratings work and their role in the global economy.


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