What Is the Debt Service Ratio?

How to Calculate the Debt Service Ratio

Woman tracking her business's debt service ratio
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Definition

The debt service ratio is one way of calculating a business's ability to repay its debt. It compares income to debt-related obligations. Bankers often calculate this ratio as part of their considerations of whether or not to approve a business loan.

Key Takeaways

  • The debt service ratio compares a business's net operating income to its debt-related obligations.
  • A result of more than 1 demonstrates an ability to pay off debt and still profit, and a result below 1 demonstrates an inability to pay off debt.
  • This calculation is most often used during the loan application process because lenders want to ensure that borrowers will be able to honor their debt payments.

How the Debt Service Ratio Works

The debt service ratio—otherwise known as the debt service coverage ratio—compares an entity's operating income to its debt liabilities. Expressing this relationship as a ratio allows analysts to quickly gauge a company's ability to repay its debts, including any bonds, loans, or lines of credit. This is an especially important calculation for bankers, who may be deciding whether or not to allow a business to take on more debt.

The name of the ratio stems from debt service, which is the amount of money required over a period of time to repay debts. A common timeframe for debt service is a year. For example, if you have a $100,000 loan at 6% interest for 10 years, debt service might be measured by 12 monthly payments of $1,110.21. In other words, your annual debt service for this loan is $13,322.52.

How Do You Calculate the Debt Service Ratio?

To calculate the debt service ratio, divide your company's net operating income by its debt service. This is commonly done on an annual basis, so it compares annual net operating income to annual debt service, but it can be done for any timeframe.

Debt service ratio formula

Debt Service Ratio Example

To better understand the debt service ratio, consider this example. A business has two short-term loans that total (with principal and interest) $100,000. The business also has a lease on a company car with annual payments of $8,000. Therefore, this company has a total of $108,000 in annual debt service. 

Last year, the business had a net operating income of $156,000. Divide $156,000 by $108,000, and you'll get a debt service ratio of 1.44.

Note

You can calculate a company's net operating income—also known as earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT)—by subtracting both direct and indirect costs from total revenue, except for debt service.

A result of 1 is the lowest ratio a company can have before it starts operating at a loss. This 1:1 ratio means that all of the business's net income for a year will need to be used to pay off existing debt. If the formula's result dips to 0.8, for example, then that means a company can direct all of its net income to debt payments, and it would only cover 80% of its obligations. The result in the example above of a debt service ratio of 1.44 means the company can pay off its debt obligations and still have some money left over.

Debt Service: An Important Key to Business Credit

Debt service is one of the four C's of business credit (capital, collateral, capacity, and character)—the "capacity" to repay the loan. Debt service measurements verify that a business can generate revenues to pay off business loans, leases, and other debts.

A lender will only lend money to your business if they have a reasonable expectation that the loan will be repaid. One of the major factors in repayment is the current debt being carried by the borrower. Your business credit rating will show this too, but many lenders have found debt service to be a reliable indicator of repayment potential.

Banks and other lenders prefer that you list debt service separately on your income statement (P&L). Debt service is considered a current expense for your business. Listing debt service as an expense shows how it adds in with other expenses and compared to the income your business will be getting each month.

Note

For income tax purposes, the interest on business loans (and payments for some capital leases) is considered a deductible business expense. The loan principal is not a deductible business expense.

Limitations of the Debt Service Ratio

One limitation of the debt service ratio is that it doesn't work well for new businesses. A new business won't have a track record of net income, so any debt service ratio calculation will show an inability to repay debt. Therefore, these businesses may struggle to secure a business loan, and they may have to seek creative financing methods until they can demonstrate enough net income to offset debt service.

While debt service may be a large part of a business's expenses, it's not the only one. Net operating income accounts for these expenses, so it doesn't affect the accuracy of the debt service ratio. However, the debt service ratio won't tell you many details about a business's expenses. For analysts who want to dig into expenses, they'll need to use other calculations and measurements.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a good debt service coverage ratio?

A good debt service coverage ratio is anything over 1. This indicates that the business has the ability to pay off its debt obligations.

How do you find the debt service ratio for your business?

Take the net operating income of your business and divide it by your total debt obligations like business loans. For example, if your net operating income is $100,000 and your debts total $100,000, the ratio would be 1.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. UNC School of Government. "Key Financial Indicators: Debt Service Coverage Ratio."

  2. Clinton, Massachusetts. "Common Real Estate, Income, & Expense Glossary."

  3. Iowa State University. "Financial Ratios."

  4. Michigan State University. "Financial Ratio’s Part 15 of 21: Term Debt Coverage Ratio."

  5. IRS. "Topic No. 505 Interest Expense."

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