What Is a Credit Default Swap (CDS)?

What Is a Credit Default Swap (CDS)?

By Charles Joseph | Editor, Financial Affairs
Reviewed by Corey Michael | Senior Financial Analyst

A Credit Default Swap (CDS) is a financial derivative or contract that allows an investor to “swap” or offset his or her credit risk with that of another investor. Imagine you’re a lender – you’ve lent money, but there’s some risk that you won’t get your money back because the borrower might default, or fail to pay. Instead of being stuck with this risk, you can transfer it to someone else. This is where the Credit Default Swap comes in: another investor agrees to take on the risk in exchange for regular payments. Essentially, the CDS serves as an insurance policy against the default risk of a borrower.

Related Questions

1. Who uses Credit Default Swaps and why?

Investors, financial institutions, and banks use CDS to manage potential credit risk. It helps them guard against financial loss if a borrower fails to honor their debt obligations.

2. What happens when the borrower defaults?

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If the borrower defaults, the party who sold the CDS (basically, the insurer) compensates the protected party (the buyer of the CDS) for their loss.

3. Is a Credit Default Swap similar to Insurance?

Yes, a CDS is similar to an insurance policy where the seller, like an insurance company, promises to compensate the buyer in the event of a specified loss.

4. What’s the risk involved in a Credit Default Swap?

The risk lies in the seller’s ability to compensate the buyer in case the borrower defaults. If the seller lacks sufficient financial capacity, the buyer won’t be fully compensated for their loss.

5. How did Credit Default Swaps play a role in the 2008 financial crisis?

They played a substantial role in the 2008 financial crisis. When the housing market crashed, it led to an increase in loan defaults. Many CDS sellers were unable to fulfill their obligations, magnifying the impact of the crisis.