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Credit Rating Agency
A company that provides investors with assessments of an investment's risk. The issuers of investments, especially debt securities, pay credit rating agencies to provide them with ratings. A high rating indicates low risk and may therefore encourage investors to buy a security. Additionally, banks may only invest in securities with a high rating from two or more credit rating agencies. The SEC recognizes 10 firms as credit rating agencies; Fitch, S&P, and Moody's are the three most prominent. However, the methods of credit ratings agencies have been subject to criticism. For example, most agencies gave high-risk mortgage-backed securities top ratings until they defaulted at the collapse of the housing bubble.
A company that evaluates preferred stocks and debt securities based on the likelihood of default. The ratings service provides an objective rating to the security; the rating is higher when the likelihood of default is lower. There are three main ratings services: Moody's, Fitch, and Standard & Poor's. Companies issuing new preferred stocks or debt securities pay one or more of the ratings services to have their securities rated. Banks are not allowed to invest in securities with ratings below a certain level. See also: Investment-grade, Junk.
Companies that grade securities so as to indicate the quality of the securities for investors. The two major rating services are Moody's Investor Services and Standard & Poor's Corporation. Two lesser known rating firms are Duff & Phelps and Fitch Investors Service.