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To find your total working capital, use the net working capital formula, which is simply:
Current business assets – current business liabilities = net working capital
A positive number for your net working capital calculation shows that your company has enough cash and other liquid assets to cover short-term debts and expenses.
Although many business owners understand what working capital is, fewer have actually calculated how much they have. Using the net working capital formula is important if you’re trying to raise money, obtain a business loan, or partner up with another company for a project. Generally speaking, other entities are more likely to work with you if your company’s liquidity is high, showing you’re able to manage your assets effectively and pay off your obligations.
Working capital includes cash and other liquid assets that a business has on hand to cover day-to-day business expenses, such as marketing, supplies, and payroll. Without sufficient working capital, your business can’t fulfill orders, pay staff, acquire customers, or carry out the hundreds of other tasks needed to grow a business.
The working capital formula—your business’s current assets minus your business’s current liabilities—can help you calculate just how much your business is working with. A positive number shows that your company has enough cash and other liquid assets to cover short-term debts and expenses.
Learn how the working capital formula works, see an example, and figure out how to interpret the result. You’ll also learn some proven strategies for improving your net working capital.
Small businesses and startups tend to have short lifecycles—you can tell pretty quickly if the business is going to succeed or fail. In fact, one-fifth of businesses fail in their first year, and nearly one-third fail by the second year. Insufficient capital to cover business expenses is one of the main reasons for business failure.
That’s why net working capital is an important indicator of your business’s financial health—for yourself and for lenders, investors, and other third parties, too. The more working capital you have, the more liquid your company is in the short-term. You can pay off your business’s debts and obligations, plus have money left over to fuel growth and cover emergencies. On the other hand, a business that’s struggling to cover expenses might not be able to survive much longer.
By using the net working capital formula to calculate your business’s working capital, you’ll have a pulse on how you’re doing financially.
Net working capital formula, also known as just working capital formula, measures the difference between what a business owns and owes in the short term.
Here’s the basic formula for working capital:
Net Working Capital = Current Assets – Current Liabilities
Working capital is a balance sheet calculation, meaning that every number you need to calculate net working capital should appear on your most recent balance sheet. If you don’t know how to create a balance sheet, use our free balance sheet template.
Here’s an example of how to calculate net working capital, using a sample business called ABC Manufacturing. We start out with the company’s assets and liabilities for the coming year:
ABC Manufacturing Current Assets:
Total current assets = $1 million
ABC Manufacturing Current Liabilities:
Total current liabilities = $755,000
ABC Manufacturing Net Working Capital = Current Assets – Current Liabilities
$1 million – $755,000 = $245,000
ABC Manufacturing has $245,000 of working capital. The company will have an estimated $245,000 left over at year’s end after paying all of their expenses and obligations. That means ABC is in a strong financial position for the coming year.
In this example, we calculated working capital for a one-year period, but you can also go with a quarterly or monthly calculation. In that case, you’d include accounts receivables that will be paid within the quarter or month, and you’d include debt payments that are due within the quarter or month.
Net working capital is a financial snapshot of your business at a single moment in time. Just like any balance sheet calculation, net working capital can change dynamically over time, even from day to day.
When your current assets or liabilities change, so does your net working capital. For instance, a decline in the value of your inventory or an increase in the number of uncollectible invoices results in lower working capital. So does taking on debt.
Scott Orn, chief operating officer at Kruze Consulting, says changes in working capital are more important than a single calculation:
“Changes in working capital as a company grows are usually more important than the absolute number, since the change tells you about how the company’s cash will be used as the business grows.”
In other words, working capital is a number you should monitor regularly and hopefully see an upward trend in as your business grows.
Here are some actionable ways to improve your net working capital:
The simplest way to improve working capital, but one that people often overlook, is to increase profits. You can accomplish this by upping your revenue or cutting costs. Cutting back on staffing or adapting your marketing spend could have the intended result.
To increase revenue, many small business owners borrow money. Paola Garcia, a small business advisor at Excelsior Growth Fund, says,
“Working capital will only increase if you put more money into the business yourself or if you retain profits in the business. That’s where it may make sense to work with a lender to support your working capital strategy.”
We know what you’re thinking: Won’t taking on debt lower my working capital? In the short term, the interest you have to pay on the loan will decrease your working capital. However, if you can channel that debt to improve your business’s bottom line, then you’ll end up with more revenues and profits in the future.
See Your Business Loan Options
Reducing your accounts receivable (AR) cycle turns money tied up in invoices into cash. This strengthens your working capital position. You can bill new customers with a Net 15 or Net 30 invoice instead of longer Net 60 or Net 90 terms. You can also encourage customers to pay you early with prompt payment discounts.
Another way to improve your business’s net working capital calculation is by carefully managing inventory levels. Although inventory is considered an asset in the working capital formula, lenders and suppliers prefer to see businesses that have more cash and less inventory that’s gathering dust on the shelves.
Make sure you order only the amount of inventory that you’ll be able to move off your shelves within a reasonable amount of time. Inventory management software can help you monitor inventory levels and set up automatic orders when inventory dips below a certain level.
Similar to unused inventory, unused long-term assets hurt your business’s short-term cash position. If you have, for example, equipment or a portion of your office space that you’re not using, sell or rent out those assets and convert them to cash.
Of course, you need to balance all of these strategies against other priorities for your business. You don’t want to sell off all your equipment, for instance, if it could potentially serve as collateral to help you secure a much-needed bank loan.
Lowering your debt payments increases your working capital. If you have an existing loan with a history of on-time payments, you might be able to refinance your business loan. Particularly if your credit score or business revenues have improved since initially getting your loan, you’re a good candidate for refinancing.
Working capital ratio is a formula that’s closely related to net working capital. Similar to the net working capital formula, this ratio compares your business’s assets and liabilities. Instead of subtracting these numbers, you divide them to get a ratio.
In our example above, you’d divide $1 million by $755,000 to get 1.3. That means the company has 1.3 times as many assets as liabilities. Ideally, you should strive for a working capital ratio between 1.2 and 2.0.
The working capital formula is pretty straightforward, but one common question is what to count as “current assets” and “current liabilities.” Business owners, accountants, and lenders sometimes have different preferences.
Current assets are cash and anything that you can easily convert to cash during the time period at issue. For example, you can relatively easily sell or liquidate inventory for cash, so that’s considered a current asset. Current assets usually include the following:
Current liabilities are any loans or expenses that you owe during the time period at issue. Current liabilities generally include the following:
Outlining your company’s assets and liabilities and calculating your working capital allows you to spot business risks. For instance, if your company has a lot of money tied up in real estate, equipment, and other fixed assets, you’ll have difficulty paying your bills when they are due. Ideally, a small business should strive for a balance of fixed assets and liquid assets.
As you might have already guessed, a positive amount of working capital is preferable to a negative number. And the more working capital you have on hand, the stronger your business’s immediate financial position is.
In most cases, you want to avoid negative working capital. However, for businesses with a rapid turnover of inventory, such as fast food chains and grocery stores, negative working capital isn’t necessarily a problem. These businesses transact with customers and bring in cash multiple times per day, so they don’t need to stockpile a large amount of working capital.
In addition, you want to avoid having too much working capital on hand. That can indicate that you’re sitting on too much cash, rather than investing profits back into the business. Also, the type of working capital that you have matters. Cash in the bank is more valuable than capital that’s tied up in unpaid invoices and unsold inventory.
Positive net working capital means the following:
Negative net working capital means the opposite:
The amount of working capital you have will impact your business’s ability to get a loan. The main thing that every business lender wants to know is whether you can pay back a loan, on time and in full. The answer to that question lies in your cash flow, and ultimately, your net working capital.
Matthew Nicolosi, a senior sales manager at Fundera, says:
“Lenders check working capital by looking at your bank balances and assessing the history of deposits (credits or inflows of money) and debits (withdrawals or outflows of money). This shows how you manage cash on a short-term basis, and where the business is trending. Some lenders also ask for a balance sheet to assess net working capital.”
Bank statements don’t show assets other than cash, and they don’t show liabilities, so they don’t provide a full picture of your business’s working capital. However, lenders will get some indication from bank balances of your business’s incoming and outgoing cash flow.
Short-term online lenders usually ask for three to four months of bank statements, and medium-term lenders usually require six months of bank statements. Banks and SBA lenders will ask for your current year’s balance sheet to do a more formal analysis of your working capital.
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Working capital formula is an important measure of your business’s short-term liquidity. When calculating your net working capital, keep the following in mind:
Remember that working capital is a dynamic number. Sometimes, things outside of your control might cause your working capital to decline. But there are also actionable steps you can take to improve this number and grow your small business.