Why Bankruptcy Professionals Care About Credit Default Swaps

The American Bankruptcy Institute published a great article regarding credit default swaps and why they are important to bankruptcy professionals.

A credit default swap (CDS) (essentially) is a contract in which the holder of the indebtedness (the creditor) pays a third party to guarantee payment of the debt. When a “credit event” occurs (e.g., default in payment), the third party is required to purchase the debt from the original creditor with a given period of time. The parties (creditor and third party) are swapping risk for return. The creditor will get less interest on the debt, but is guaranteed full payment of the principal, so the risk goes down. The third party shoulders the risk of default, but gets the increased interest to compensate for the risk.

So why does this matter in the bankruptcy arena? If a debtor calls a lender trying to workout a loan modification and the lender has a CDS on the debt, they will tell the debtor: “Why should I work out a modification with you? I’m going to get paid in full for this debt.” Now, once the debt is swapped to the third party, the third party may or may not be willing to work out a loan modification based on the reason the third party bought the CDS. However, in the confusing morass of figuring out who owns the debt and which of the possible owners might be willing to work with him, the debtor usually gets discouraged and figures there is no way to save his home.

This is yet another reason why allowing mortgages of personal residences to be modified in bankruptcy makes a great deal of sense.