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Loan Loss Provision


A Loan Loss Provision is a financial concept that refers to the money set aside by banks or lending institutions to cover potential defaults or non-payment of loans. It is essentially a precautionary measure used by financial institutions to manage their risks. The provision amount is determined based on expected losses, influenced by economic conditions and the borrower’s ability to repay.


The phonetic transcription of “Loan Loss Provision” is: /ləʊn lɒs prəˈvɪʒən/

Key Takeaways

  1. Key Risk Management Tool: Loan Loss Provision serves as a significant risk management tool for financial institutions. It is the amount set aside by banks, credit unions, and other lending institutions to cover potential losses on loans or other financial assets they have issued to borrowers who might default.
  2. Impact on Profitability: The provision for loan losses can significantly impact an institution’s profitability. If the provision increases, it reduces net income as it’s an expense item on the income statement. Conversely, if the provision decreases, it can inflate net income.
  3. Legal and Regulatory Requirements: Due to the nature of their operations, lending institutions are required by regulators and standard accounting practices to create loan loss provisions. This ensures they maintain sufficient reserves to cover any risky or bad loans and continue to remain solvent even in the face of high default levels.


The Loan Loss Provision is a critical component in the finance sector because it serves as a preventive measure for potential bad debts. Banks and other financial institutions use it to compensate for expected future loan losses. It acts as a safety net for credit losses by constituting a financial buffer in the bank’s balance sheet. This ensures the financial stability of these institutions, protecting them and their investors from unexpected losses. As the amount set aside for loan loss provision can significantly influence a bank’s profitability and capital adequacy ratios, its accurate calculation is essential for risk management, financial reporting and strategic decision-making. Hence, the loan loss provision is a key indicator of both the credit risk within a bank’s portfolio and the bank’s financial health.


The purpose of the loan loss provision is to safeguard financial institutions against potential losses emanating from defaulted loans. This is an accounting technique that allows financial institutions, such as banks or credit unions, to account for potential losses in their loan portfolio. Essentially, it acts as a protective measure, enabling these institutions to set aside a certain portion of their funds to cover for future losses from loans. If a borrower cannot repay a loan due to any reason, the institution will still be able to cover the loss by tapping into its loan loss provision.The loan loss provision is a crucial component of a firm’s financial health, with its primary role being to ensure financial stability. If a higher risk of loan default is perceived, an institution will increase the size of its loan loss provision, consequently impacting its earnings and capital. The usage of this provision is more than just foretelling possible losses; it also underscores an institution’s risk management initiatives and its understanding of the potential risk within its loan portfolio. Overall, its usage can resonate confidence to investors and stakeholders about the institution’s precautious approach in managing its loan portfolio.


1. Wells Fargo Bank: In the second quarter of 2020, Wells Fargo reported a significant increase in its loan loss provisions. The amount surged to approximately $9.57 billion, up from the $1.17 billion that they had set aside in the same period the previous year. This increase was primarily due to the economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which increased the likelihood of customers defaulting on their loans.2. JPMorgan Chase: In the first quarter of 2020, JPMorgan Chase added approximately $6.8 billion to its loan loss provisions. The bank did this in anticipation of future loan defaults due to the deteriorating economic conditions caused by the global coronavirus pandemic.3. Santander Bank: In 2021, Santander – one of Spain’s largest banks, framed a loan loss provision of nearly €12.1 billion to cover potential losses from loans that might not be repaid because of the financial fallout caused by COVID-19. This was a forward-looking move to protect the bank’s financial health in the face of uncertain and challenging economic conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is a Loan Loss Provision?

A Loan Loss Provision is a monetary allocation that financial institutions make as a precautionary step against potential future loan losses. It is an expense set aside to cover loans that may default in the future.

How is a Loan Loss Provision calculated?

The Loan Loss Provision is determined using statistical modeling methodology, historical loan loss experience, and review of current loan portfolio quality. The amount will vary depending on these factors and the institution’s judgement about prevailing and future conditions.

Why is Loan Loss Provision important for banks?

It’s important because it serves as a buffer against potential future losses, ensuring the stability and soundness of the bank. It also demonstrates to regulators, investors, and customers that the bank is managing its risk appropriately.

Does a Loan Loss Provision impact a bank’s profits?

Yes, since it is an expense, it reduces a bank’s profits. However, it is a preemptive measure done to maintain the overall health of the bank’s financial status in case of future loan defaults.

Is Loan Loss Provision the same as bad debt?

No, a Loan Loss Provision is simply a safety net for potential loan losses. Bad debt, however, is an amount which has already been written off by the business as a loss, and is unlikely to be recovered.

How often is the Loan Loss Provision reviewed?

Most financial institutions review their Loan Loss Provisions on a quarterly basis. This allows them to better manage their risk and adjust the amount set aside as necessary.

Where on a balance sheet can I find information about a bank’s Loan Loss Provision?

The Loan Loss Provision can be found on a bank’s income statement and is subtracted from gross income along with taxes. It also appears on the bank’s balance sheet as a contra asset under loans.

Related Finance Terms

  • Non-performing Loans: These are loans in which the borrower is unable to make scheduled repayments.
  • Credit Risk: This is the possibility that a lender may lose the entire amount lent to a borrower who fails to repay.
  • Write-off: This is the action of reducing the value of an asset to zero because it is unlikely to be recovered.
  • Collateral: Assets that a borrower offers a lender to secure a loan. If the borrower defaults, the lender has the right to take the collateral.
  • Basel III: This is an international regulatory accord that introduced a set of regulations designed to ensure that financial institutions have enough capital on hand to meet potential losses from loans.

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