Learn business math basics and how to deploy them in Excel.
- Use Excel to track your business's financial health by calculating debt ratio, the future value of money, the cost of loan payments and more.
- Consistent recordkeeping is the biggest predictor of your success in using most basic financial math calculations.
- Check out our handy financial math glossary for help understanding the language commonly used to describe different numbers.
There are lots of financial formulas businesses can use in Excel. Some are simple, some are complex, but all of them can give you a fuller picture of your business's financial health. Appropriately deployed, financial formulas can also aid you in decision-making, projecting costs and income, and long-term business planning.
If you find yourself overwhelmed upon consulting Excel financial formula how-to guides, it might have more to do with the concepts than it does with the technology. Many successful entrepreneurs have managed to get their businesses off the ground without delving too deeply into financial math, but a baseline understanding of financial math concepts (if not the math itself) is necessary to harness a powerful tool like Excel or other business finance products.
In this guide, we'll not only point you in the direction of valuable step-by-step Excel resources, but also explain the types of functions that exist in financial math and how they can be used to inform real-world decisions. Think of this like a primer to exploring the power of financial functions in Excel, or the accounting software of your choice.
1. Debt ratio formula in Excel
The total amount of debt a business has compared to its assets comprises its debt ratio. Your business's debt ratio is an important indicator of your overall financial health, and it's a number that investors and lenders will probably want to know. A beautiful office, well-appointed staff and even excellent sales don't mean much if the debt ratio of your business is greater than 1. A lower debt ratio is better than a higher one, with around 0.4 representing the threshold between an excellent debt ratio and an OK debt ratio. Most investors will have concerns as the debt ratio creeps toward (or surpasses) 1.
The calculation for a debt ratio is simple but, like other calculations that can be done in Excel (or on paper), only valuable if the numbers you start with are correct. Consistent recordkeeping, rather than high-level math skills, is the biggest predictor of your success in using most basic financial math calculations.
Debt ratio calculation
For the basic debt ratio calculation, you divide your total debt amount by your total assets. You can easily divide in Excel using =number1/number2. (Just make sure you use the correct numbers.) This is how the calculation would look on paper:
- Debt ratio = Total debt/Total assets
2. FV functions in Excel
Future value (FV) functions comprise a large family of financial formulas that can be used in Excel. Before you dig through all the possible FV calculations you can run, it's wise to get a handle on the concept of the future value of money, especially if you don't have a basic background in financial math.
Future value of money
The future value of money is a concept that can be applied to financial investments (like investing in the stock market) or business investments (like investing in an advertising campaign). At its core, the future value of money is a projection of growth based on the initial investment amount, time and interest or assumed growth rate.
FV family of functions
Anytime you calculate compound interest on an investment, you are calculating future value. There are variations on future value functions in Excel, which makes it impossible to recommend one formula over the other, because there are lots of variables to consider. A better approach is to start with a goal in mind (e.g., to analyze growth of X investment over Y years) and find the best FV function for your purposes.
Some investment types offer the same return year after year, while others are variable or scale with each year, and there are ways to either include or exclude additional payments into the investment when considering the future value. With all that in mind, you can select the right FV function for you. To learn more about utilizing specific FV functions, consult an expert resource with step-by-step instructions and definitions.
Compound interest formula
Calculating compound interest is also quite easy with a standard calculator or online compound interest calculator. If you're anxious about doing the math on your own, a fill-in-the-blank calculator like this one from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is a great alternative. Compound interest is important not only for businesses but also for individual investors, and the calculation process is exactly the same whether you're projecting the future value of a business investment or of your individual 401(k).
3. The cost of loan payments
Being future-oriented is important when you're building a business. That means taking advantage of the future value of your money by not only investing it wisely, but also by budgeting and planning out future expenses. A business loan or financing plan is often negotiable, but it's impossible to negotiate if you don't know how much your monthly payment will be.
Using the =PMT function in Excel, you can play around with interest rates and loan lengths (via total number of payments) and find out what your monthly payment would be as those numbers change. The =PMT function also allows you to see how much of your monthly payment will go toward the principal of your loan versus interest on the loan. Naturally, shortening the term of a loan will save you money on interest, but it will also increase the monthly loan payment.
To learn how to execute the =PMT Excel formula, check out this excellent step-by-step guide.
4. Break-even point formula
A business's break-even point is the point at which a business is making exactly enough money in sales or contracts to cover its fixed and variable expenses. New business owners are especially concerned with achieving a break-even point, as it's an early indicator that a young business is becoming more stable and hopefully en route to profitability. It's not unusual for a small business to temporarily operate at a loss as it finds its footing, but knowing your break-even point can help you strategize on how to achieve it by increasing sales, lowering expenses or both.
To accurately calculate your break-even point, you must first know the ins and outs of your business's fixed and variable expenses. These expenses should include not only things like cost of goods and salaries, but also taxes, depreciation and interest payments. Once you know all the pertinent numbers, you can easily calculate your break-even point, which can be expressed like this:
- Fixed expenses + Variable expenses = Revenue
When the equation is perfectly balanced, you have hit your break-even point. If your revenue is higher than your fixed and variable expenses, you have surpassed it. Typically, the issue people run into when calculating their break-even point isn't about the math itself; it's about incomplete tracking and excluding expenses that should be included. To learn more about using Excel to track fixed and variable expenses as well as revenue, check out this Excel break-even guide.
Financial math glossary
The formulas we've outlined here are just the tip of the iceberg for what you can calculate using Excel. Financial math is a huge field, and even small businesses can benefit from utilizing a wide variety of calculations. The most confusing part of financial math isn't the calculations themselves, but the language used to describe different numbers. With that in mind, we've created a basic financial math glossary, with resource links included, to help you get better acquainted with the language of business finances.
- Annuity: This is a set payment made repeatedly at a specific interval, like a monthly direct deposit to an investment or a monthly loan payment.
- Cost of goods sold: Also called COGS, the cost of goods sold includes the cost of everything associated with producing and selling a product, like labor and materials.
- Depreciation: This is the gradual reduction in value of an asset over time. Depreciation of physical assets is important to consider because it can impact your business's taxes as well as your overall financial planning.
- Gross profit: This is the profit from selling goods after the cost of selling the goods has been deducted, but before associated costs of running the business have been deducted.
- Net income: This is the total profit (or loss) a business has made after all the expenses related to the business have been deducted.
- Net profit: This is the profit from selling goods after all the costs of running the business and selling the goods have been deducted.
- Profit margin: This is the amount over the break-even point that your business is making in revenue.
- Revenue: This is the income a business receives from providing goods or services. Revenue is calculated based purely on incoming money and does not account for the costs of operation.
- Retained earnings: This is the total amount a business has earned since its inception, minus any money paid out to investors.
- Time value of money: This refers to the concept that money is worth more the sooner you have it in hand, because of its potential growth (or future value).
Tools and resources to help you manage your business finances
This isn't a comprehensive guide for all things related to financial math, as the internet is chock-full of resources to help you along the way. Here are some of our favorite learning resources and product recommendations for managing your business's finances.
Financial math resources
These PDFs and guides can help you get a handle on financial math terms and equations, both in and out of Excel.
- Free financial planning tools from Investor.gov
- Open Textbook Library: Business Math
Business finance products
Tracking all the cash flow and investments for your business can be more challenging than computing compound interest or your gross profit margin. Many small business owners rely on user-friendly SaaS solutions to help them track and manage their financials.
Here are a few of our top guides to popular products: