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Level 3


Level 3 refers to a category of assets within the “fair value” hierarchy established by accounting standards. These assets are considered the most illiquid, and their values are determined by unobservable inputs or valuation techniques, as they rarely have a reliable, market-based price. Examples include complex derivatives and private equity investments.


The phonetics of the keyword “Level 3” can be denoted as: “ˈlɛvəl θriː”

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Level 3 is a crucial term in business and finance referring to a category of assets classified by the fair value hierarchy under the U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). These are assets that are illiquid and hard to value as they don’t have regular market pricing. Instead, their fair value is often based on management’s assumptions or unobservable inputs, making them more subjective, and therefore, considered to carry the highest risk and uncertainty. Understanding Level 3 assets is vital for investors and stakeholders as it aids in assessing the true value and risk associated with a company’s portfolio which can significantly impact the company’s financial stability and future performance.


Level 3, in finance, refers to a classification system for the valuation of assets in a company’s financial portfolio. The primary purpose of Level 3 is to establish transparency and fairness in financial reporting. This concept is notably applied to assets that are difficult to value due to a lack of market data. Level 3 represents the third tier of the three-tiered fair value hierarchy defined by the Accounting Standards Codification (ASC), established by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) in the United States.Level 3 assets are primarily used for evaluating and disclosing the fair values of investments where there is little to no active market information. The valuation of Level 3 assets relies heavily on a firm’s internal assumptions or models because observable market data is not readily available. They usually include securities such as private equity investments, complex derivatives, or distressed debt. Despite their potential high risk, these assets can provide substantial returns and thus form an essential part of a company’s investment strategy. The values provided for these assets directly affect a company’s overall financial health image in its balance sheet, making it critical for stakeholders’ decisions like shareholders, potential investors, banks, or other financial institutions.


Level 3 assets, also known as Level 3 investments, are financial assets and liabilities whose fair value cannot be determined by using observable measures, such as market prices or models. Instead, they are calculated using proprietary models or valuation methods which require significant judgment due to lack of transparency or verifiability. 1. Mortgage-backed Securities: Level 3 assets often include mortgage-backed securities. These are securities that are backed by a collection of mortgages. The fair value is often hard to estimate due to the various conditions and factors that can affect the actual return on investment, which makes it a good example of a Level 3 asset.2. Complex Derivatives: Another example of a Level 3 asset is complex derivatives. These include items like collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) or credit default swaps (CDSs). Since these financial products are derived from other assets, determining their fair value requires complex modeling and significant assumptions.3. Private Equity Investments: Private equity investments can also be classified as Level 3 assets since they are often illiquid and it’s difficult to accurately measure their fair value. There’s usually no active market or observable price for these type of investments, requiring companies to model their values based on internal inputs and assumptions.It’s essential for companies to properly denote Level 3 assets and the associated risks as they can impact a company’s financial health significantly. As the value is more subjective and can be manipulated, it can increase the risk for investors.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is Level 3 in terms of finance and business?

Level 3 refers to a category within the fair value hierarchy specified under the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) accounting standards, which evaluates the transparency and reliability of the valuation of assets and liabilities in a company’s balance sheet.

What categories of assets or liabilities fall under Level 3?

This level includes assets and liabilities with values that are not derived from observable market data. They are often illiquid and harder to value, including complex financial derivatives, private equity investments, and real estate investments held in a company’s portfolio.

How does Level 3 differ from Levels 1 and 2?

Level 1 consists of assets or liabilities with values readily obtainable from active markets. Level 2 includes assets or liabilities for which observable market data is available but not as direct as Level 1, like over-the-counter traded derivatives. Level 3, on the other hand, contains assets and liabilities that can’t easily be valued using observable market data.

How are Level 3 assets and liabilities valued?

Due to a lack of observable market data, Level 3 assets and liabilities are valued using company’s own assumptions or valuation models. These might include projected cash flows, discount rates and volatilities.

Are Level 3 assets and liabilities risky for a company?

Yes, they can be. Because Level 3 assets and liabilities are harder to value and less liquid, they can pose higher potential financial risk and volatility for a company.

Which standard governs the classification of assets and liabilities in these different ‘Levels’?

The Financial Accounting Standards Board’s (FASB) accounting standard known as FAS 157 governs the classification of these assets and liabilities across Levels 1, 2 and 3. This was later incorporated into Topic 820 of FASB’s Accounting Standards Codification (ASC).

Related Finance Terms

  • Mark-to-Market Valuation
  • Illiquid Assets
  • Financial Risk Assessment
  • GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles)
  • Asset Valuation Models

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