Senior Debt

Article byPrakhar Gajendrakar
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Senior Debt?

Senior debt refers to the loan that the company must repay first if it shuts down or goes bankrupt. Such debts have the lowest interest rates and risks due to their highest priority and are often secured by collateral. Banks and the bond market are two options for businesses to raise these debts.

Also known as a senior note or senior loan, senior debt gives the lender or creditor the first lien claim over the company assets and cash flows in the event of nonpayment. The issuers of such debts, mostly banks and bondholders, are paid first, followed by subordinated debt, hybrid debt, and preferred stockholders.

what is senior debt

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Key Takeaways

  • Senior debt is the loan that the company obtains from banks or the bond market and must repay first if it goes bankrupt.
  • Due to their highest repayment priority, such debts have the lowest interest rates and risks and are often secured by collateral. If the debt is not paid, the company risks losing its collateral.
  • A senior loan enhances the company’s financial structure, allowing it to operate more efficiently.
  • Senior loan differs from subordinated debt in that the latter is unsecured, has a lower payback priority, and has higher interest rates and risks.

How Senior Debt Works?

Senior debt offers senior creditors leverage over other creditorsCreditorsA creditor refers to a party involving an individual, institution, or the government that extends credit or lends goods, property, services, or money to another party known as a debtor. The credit made through a legal contract guarantees repayment within a specified period as mutually agreed upon by both parties. read more when it comes to getting their money back if the company goes bankrupt. A business can obtain this debt from banks or the bond market at a fixed and lower interest rate and for a specified length of time. In addition, it can be secured (i.e., supported by collateral and given priority during liquidationLiquidationLiquidation is the process of winding up a business or a segment of the business by selling off its assets. The amount realized by this is used to pay off the creditors and all other liabilities of the business in a specific order.read more) or unsecured (i.e., not backed by collateral and given last priority during liquidation). The creditor can sell the company assets in the former type if it defaults on the loan.

senior debt features

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A company filing for bankruptcy tries to obtain senior debt relief by liquidating its assets and bank accounts. Banks offer secured senior loans because it is easy for them to give low-interest loans with the high priority of recovering their funds. At the same time, banks use collateral to secure these loans.

Since firms make regular principal and interest payments to creditors, these debtsDebtsDebt is the practice of borrowing a tangible item, primarily money by an individual, business, or government, from another person, financial institution, or state.read more become less risky. As a result, lenders (banks and bondholders) get paid before shareholdersShareholdersA shareholder is an individual or an institution that owns one or more shares of stock in a public or a private corporation and, therefore, are the legal owners of the company. The ownership percentage depends on the number of shares they hold against the company's total shares.read more in the event of bankruptcy or liquidation but receive smaller returns.

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Features Of Senior Debt

Examples Of Senior Debt

Let us understand the senior debt meaning with the following examples –

Example #1

Natasha dreams of opening a hardware store, but she needs money. So she applies for a business loan and puts her house up as collateral. Natasha opens her hardware store once the bank authorizes her loan. However, she needed to borrow money from her friend Thomas for inventory and operations.

After six months, the store suffers a considerable loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so Natasha decides to close it down. Her top priority is to repay the bank’s senior debt financing she received. If she does not repay the loan, she will be evicted from her home. The interest rates were low in this case, but the payback schedule was strict. Natasha explains the issue to Thomas and pledges to pay him back later.

Example #2

If a firm fails to repay the senior loan, it might face legal consequences. For example, in February 2012, Reliance Communications’ chairman Anil Ambani took out more than $700 million personal guarantee loan from three Chinese banks – Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd., Exim Bank of China, and China Development Bank.

The company, which is now bankrupt, has failed to repay the loan. On May 22, 2020, a UK court ordered Ambani to disclose his worldwide assets and repay the loan right away. On the other hand, the Chinese banks plan to take legal action against him and seize his worldwide assets to recover their debts.

Senior vs Subordinated Debt

Subordinated debt, also known as junior debt, has a lower payback priority than the senior loan. When it comes to senior debt vs subordinated debt, a business will always repay the former. Let us look at the following key distinctions between the two types of debt:

Senior DebtSubordinated Debt
Has the highest payback priority during bankruptcy or liquidation of the company Has the lowest payback priority during bankruptcy or liquidation of the company
Has lower interest ratesHas higher interest rates
Paid back before the subordinated debt Paid back after the senior loan
Often secured with collateral Not secured with collateral
Lowest or no risk for creditors to lose funds when it comes to debt repayment The highest risk for creditors to lose funds when it comes to debt repayment
Examples include a senior note Examples include mezzanine debt

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does senior debt mean?

Senior debt is the highest priority loan that gives senior creditors an advantage over other lenders to get their money back if the company goes bankrupt. A company can borrow money from banks or the bond market at a fixed, reduced interest rate for a set period. It can be secured (i.e., backed up by collateral and given priority during liquidation) or unsecured (i.e., not backed up by collateral and not given priority during liquidation).

What is the difference between senior and mezzanine debt?

Mezzanine debt is a combination of loan and investment in non-tradable security with lower repayment priority. Furthermore, the interest rates on this type of debt are higher. On the other hand, senior debt financing is a high-priority loan backed by collateral and offered at a lower interest rate. 

How is senior debt calculated?

Senior loan or debt is 2 to 3 times EBITDA (Earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization). Subordinated debt, on the other hand, is calculated differently.

This has been a guide to Senior Debt and its meaning. Here we discuss how it works along with its features, examples, and differences with Subordinated Debt. You can learn more from the following articles –

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