Demystifying Leveraged Loans: Risks, Benefits, and Usage


Leveraged loans are a financial instrument extended to individuals or companies with substantial existing debt or a less-than-stellar credit history. these loans come with a higher risk profile, leading to elevated interest rates for borrowers. in this comprehensive guide, we delve deep into the world of leveraged loans, exploring their structure, classification criteria, and how businesses employ them for various financial needs. we also examine the role of investment funds in leveraged loans and provide a comprehensive faq section to address any lingering queries.

Understanding leveraged loans

Leveraged loans, a subset of the loan market, are a financing option provided to individuals or companies with substantial pre-existing debt or less-than-ideal credit histories. lenders categorize these loans as high-risk due to the increased likelihood of borrowers defaulting on their obligations, which leads to higher costs for the borrowers themselves.

these loans are typically structured, arranged, and administered by commercial or investment banks, often referred to as “arrangers.” what sets leveraged loans apart is their potential syndication, where the originating bank(s) may sell portions of the loan to other banks or investors. this practice aims to distribute risk among multiple parties, thereby mitigating the exposure of the lending institutions.

Key criteria for leveraged loan classification

defining a leveraged loan can vary depending on the criteria employed. some market participants rely on interest rate spreads, particularly those linked to benchmarks like the secured overnight financing rate (sofr). this benchmark replaced the london interbank offered rate (libor) in june 2023. leveraged loans often feature a floating rate tied to sofr or another benchmark, along with a specified basis or arm margin. when this arm margin exceeds a certain threshold, the loan is classified as leveraged.

alternatively, classification may be based on the borrower’s credit rating, with loans rated below investment grade being labeled as leveraged loans. these credit ratings, often represented as ba3, bb-, or lower by agencies such as moody’s and s&p, indicate a higher risk of default.

during the syndication process, banks possess the flexibility to adjust the loan terms, a practice known as “price flex.” in scenarios where demand for the loan is lacking at the initial interest rate, banks may increase the arm margin, referred to as “upward flex.” conversely, if demand is robust, the spread over sofr may be reduced, known as “reverse flex.”

How do businesses use leveraged loans?

companies employ leveraged loans for a variety of financial purposes, each with its unique set of implications and potential benefits:

Financing mergers and acquisitions (m&a)

leveraged loans play a pivotal role in facilitating mergers and acquisitions (m&a) transactions. one common m&a scenario involving leveraged loans is a leveraged buyout (lbo). in an lbo, a company or private equity firm acquires a publicly traded entity, taking it private. debt financing is typically utilized to cover a portion of the purchase price, and leveraged loans serve as a crucial funding source.

Recapitalizing the balance sheet

balance sheet recapitalization involves adjusting the composition of a company’s capital structure. this can be achieved by issuing debt in the capital markets. a typical transaction in this process involves using the proceeds from debt issuance to buy back company stock or provide cash dividends to shareholders.

Debt refinancing

companies may opt for leveraged loans to refinance existing debt. this strategy can be employed to secure more favorable terms, such as lower interest rates or extended repayment periods, potentially reducing the overall financial burden.

General corporate purposes

leveraged loans can also be utilized for general corporate needs, offering flexibility in addressing various financial requirements as they arise.

Example of a leveraged loan

s&p’s leveraged commentary & data (lcd), a reputable provider of leveraged loan news and analytics, classifies loans within its leveraged loan universe if they hold a bb- rating or lower. additionally, loans that lack a credit rating or have a rating of bbB- or higher may also be categorized as leveraged loans, provided they are secured by a first or second lien.

What is the difference between a bank loan and a leveraged loan?

leveraged loans, often referred to as floating-rate loans or bank loans, are initially extended by banks or financial institutions but are subsequently sold to investors. these loans are commonly employed by companies for a range of financial purposes, including debt refinancing, funding m&a activities, or financing various projects. what sets leveraged loans apart is the credit profile of the companies that receive them. these borrowers typically have credit ratings below investment grade.

moreover, leveraged loans are secured by collateral, which can include tangible assets like real estate and equipment or intangible assets such as intellectual property, including brands, trademarks, and customer lists.

How do funds invest in leveraged loans?

investment funds, including mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (etfs), may choose to include leveraged loans in their portfolios based on their specific investment strategies. the decision to invest in leveraged loans depends on factors such as the fund’s risk tolerance and return objectives.

some funds make modest investments in leveraged loans as part of a diversified portfolio, while others may take more substantial positions in these loans. portfolio managers are often drawn to leveraged loans because of their higher interest rates, which can potentially translate into greater returns for the fund’s investors.


here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • provides financing options for companies with high debt or poor credit.
  • enables companies to fund mergers and acquisitions.
  • supports balance sheet recapitalization.
  • can be used for debt refinancing.
  • higher interest rates due to increased risk.
  • borrowers may face difficulties in repayment.
  • may lead to a higher cost of capital.

Frequently asked questions

How do leveraged loans affect a company’s credit rating?

leveraged loans, by themselves, do not directly impact a company’s credit rating. however, the way a company manages these loans and its overall financial health can influence its credit rating. if a company struggles to meet its leveraged loan obligations, it may experience credit rating downgrades.

Are leveraged loans always tied to a floating interest rate?

while many leveraged loans feature floating interest rates linked to benchmarks like sofr, some loans may have fixed interest rates. the structure of the loan is typically determined during the origination and syndication process, and it can vary based on market conditions and the preferences of the borrower and lenders.

What is the role of covenants in leveraged loans?

leveraged loan agreements often include covenants, which are conditions or restrictions that borrowers must adhere to. these covenants are designed to protect lenders by ensuring that borrowers maintain certain financial ratios and meet other obligations. breaching covenants can lead to serious consequences, such as loan default.

What is the typical term for a leveraged loan?

the term of a leveraged loan can vary widely based on the specific agreement between the borrower and lenders. leveraged loans may have short-term maturities, such as three to five years, or longer-term maturities extending to seven years or more. the term is often negotiated to align with the borrower’s needs and financial circumstances.

Can individuals access leveraged loans, or are they primarily for businesses?

leveraged loans are typically associated with corporate financing and are more commonly used by businesses. however, some financial institutions may offer leveraged loan products to high-net-worth individuals or investors looking to leverage their investments. these loans may have different terms and requirements compared to corporate leveraged loans.

Key takeaways

  • Leveraged loans are extended to individuals or companies with high levels of debt or poor credit ratings, carrying a higher risk of default.
  • These loans are structured and managed by commercial or investment banks and may be sold to reduce risk.
  • Classification criteria for leveraged loans can vary, including interest rate spreads and credit ratings.
  • Businesses use leveraged loans for purposes like financing mergers and acquisitions, balance sheet recapitalization, and debt refinancing.
  • Investment funds may hold leveraged loans in their portfolios based on their investment strategies, with the potential for higher returns.
View article sources
  1. Leveraged loans – Harvard University
  2. Leveraged loan – U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
  3. Leveraged loan funds – investor bulletin – U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
  4. What is a leveraged loan? – SuperMoney