How to Calculate Default Probability

by Patrick Gleeson, Ph. D., Registered Investment Adv; Updated September 26, 2017
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Default probability most often refers to the likelihood that a borrower will fail to repay a debt according to the terms of the loan contract. The underlying idea is that a certain performance is required according to an agreement with time constraints. The calculation quantifies the probability of the performing party failing to fulfill the contractual obligation. The default probability calculation is an important risk assessment tool, often performed by large financial institutions specializing in quantifying risk for wholesale lenders and quasi-governmental institutions, such as The International Monetary Fund.

Using a Default Probability Calculation

The actual calculation is not something an individual lending to another individual is likely to have the resources to execute. Fortunately, you do not need to perform the calculation yourself to benefit from the determination. A borrower's credit score is a well-known instance of a determination of default probability that you can access for either a relatively modest fee or at no cost, providing that the other party gives you permission to access the information. The process is outlined by Experian, one of three major credit-scoring agencies, in their online form "Register to Check Your Customer's Credit." Other firms provide more detailed default probability calculations at higher costs.

About the Author

Patrick Gleeson received a doctorate in 18th century English literature at the University of Washington. He served as a professor of English at the University of Victoria and was head of freshman English at San Francisco State University. Gleeson is the director of technical publications for McClarie Group and manages an investment fund. He is a Registered Investment Advisor.

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