Fitch just downgraded the U.S. credit rating — how much does it matter?

Fitch Ratings downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+ in response to the federal government’s handling of the debt crisis, causing concern over the nation’s deteriorating finances and political divisions.

Cutting the credit rating: On Tuesday, Fitch Ratings reduced the American debt rating by one notch.
* Fitch’s decision mirrors that of S&P in 2011, a consequence of a Congressional debt ceiling standoff.
* The downgrade arises from concerns about the U.S.’s worsening financial state and doubts about the government’s ability to manage the escalating debt burden.

Ratings and their impact: Credit ratings denote the security of investing in a nation’s or company’s debt.
* The ratings determine the interest rate a country or company will need to pay when selling a bond or security.
* Credit ratings are critical to bond markets globally and can influence investment decisions, especially for developing countries.

Reliability questioned: Despite being deeply integrated into global finance, credit rating agencies have faced criticism.
* The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 exposed issues within the rating system. Regulations were tightened after the crisis but the debt rating system remains largely the same.
* Importantly, ratings are subjective and can differ between agencies.

Consequences of the downgrade: Though the U.S. market’s initial reaction has been more muted compared to the 2011 downgrade, there are still impacts to consider.
* Losing the AAA rating moves the U.S. out of a select group of countries that retain the top rating from all three major agencies.
* Experts warn of serious fiscal challenges for the U.S., which need to be addressed despite the nation’s political division.
* Nevertheless, U.S. Treasuries are still viewed as one of the safest investments; a significant change to this perception is unlikely due to the downgrade.

View original article on NPR

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