EBITDA for Dummies: Formula, Margin, Ratio, Calculator & More

EBITDA for dummies

It doesn’t matter whether your company is new or you’ve been at it for a while. While the challenges you face will evolve over time, you’ll always be concerned with determining and tracking the financial well-being of your business. After all, projecting profitability with some degree of accuracy is paramount if you hope to anticipate and exceed customer needs. Without some knowledge about what the future may bring, you won’t be able to plan ahead and put your available resources to their most effective use. Thankfully, you can use your financial statements to gauge how well your company is doing.

The EBITDA formula is one of the most comprehensive — and therefore precise — ways to evaluate your business and identify the next steps to keep your company on the road to success. “EBITDA” is an abbreviation for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization;” every business owner should be aware of this approach and how to calculate EBITDA. Before we delve too deep into specifics, let’s have a proper introduction.

The EBITDA Formula Explained

As you might expect, there is a learning curve when it comes to applying a tool as powerful as EBITDA. However, it’s not incapable of being mastered. How you interpret your financial numbers can often impact the conclusions you come to and, by extension, the impactful decisions you make. Calculate carefully whenever you run your company’s numbers, especially with a formula like EBITDA.

In the past, this formula had been criticized as a poor indicator of business health, in part because it has been applied incorrectly. Whereas companies traditionally seek to identify their net income (gross revenue minus expenses), EBITDA emerged decades ago with an alternative — and some say more accurate — take.

The formula posits that companies can more closely nail down long-term profitability by setting aside any expenses that can’t be traced back to core operations — specifically the interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization that comprise two-thirds of the formula’s name. Without these so-called distractions muddying up your calculations, you should be able to get a truer sense of your ability to turn a profit. Of course, EBITDA is still best used in certain circumstances, such as straight comparisons between more traditional types of businesses. Nonetheless, distilling the complicated figures of your company’s ledger down to single number has undeniable appeal and could yield vital lessons if wielded properly.

How to Calculate EBITDA (and EBIT vs. EBITDA)

Now that we’ve brought you up to speed on what EBITDA is, let’s go step-by-step on how to put the formula into action.

  • First, you’ll need your company’s financial statements handy. In particular, your income statement, cash flow statement and profit and loss report will give you all the operating information you need to calculate EBITDA. Once you have the earnings, tax, interest, depreciation and amortization figures for your company, you can get started.
  • Next, you need to identify the operating profit of your company, which is normally found on the income statement. This total, also known as the EBIT, represents your revenue before expenses. You may need to calculate the EBIT manually. If that’s the case, just subtract all expenses (except for interest and taxes) from your total sales revenue.
  • Now you need to find all expenses resulting from depreciation and amortization. The former pertains to tangible assets that have value over time, while the latter relates to any depreciation in intangible assets. Both totals will likely be found on your profit and loss report (or perhaps the cash flow statement). Ensure you have single totals for each category.
  • Finally, armed with the depreciation and amortization totals, you’re ready to perform the final calculations of EBITDA. Don’t worry — the hard part is over! To reveal your EBITDA, simply combine your EBIT with the depreciation and amortization numbers you’ve just identified. Now you have a sense of your company’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

Your EBITDA Margin and Coverage Ratio

One of the most useful elements of your EBITDA is how easy it makes it to define your EBITDA margin. This is a reflection of how your EBITDA compares to your revenue, and it’s derived by dividing your EBITDA by your company’s total revenue. The total you’ll arrive at is instrumental for you and any potential investors, as it will reveal how much of an impact your operating expenses are having on your overall profits. If you have a higher EBITDA margin, your company is considered more financially sound and poses a more reasonable risk. If it’s the opposite, you might have some work to do.

Your EBITDA coverage ratio, on the other hand, pits your EBITDA against your company’s liabilities, such as debt and lease payments. Most frequently, the coverage ratio is used as a predictor of your ability to make future payments in a timely manner. This formula is a combination of your EBITDA and your lease payments divided by the sum of your interest payments, lease payments and principal repayments. When complete, you’ll likely have a ratio between 1 and 2. A lower number indicates that you can pay off your debts (perhaps with some struggle), while higher figures are preferable and bode well for your future profitability.

Naturally, it’s in your best interest to achieve optimum results here, since many view your EBITDA coverage ratio as the definitive factor that qualifies the health of your business. Moreover, you can use these numbers as a litmus test for your progress from one year to the next. By keeping tabs on this yourself, you can be more proactive in ensuring your business is healthy, and even identify problem areas before they arise. Reporting as a whole is always a smart move, but it’s doubly important when it comes to your EBITDA coverage ratio.

Calculating a Better Future

In case we haven’t made it clear yet, your business absolutely should be utilizing EBITDA to propel itself into a brighter future. By being fully self-aware and in tune with your most meaningful financial figures, you are positioning yourself that much closer to reaching that next milestone. Even though taking on this legwork does add one more item to your never-ending to-do list, the value you’ll receive once you keep your EBITDA formula handy (and the relevant numbers adequately crunched) far exceeds the inconvenience.

But we’re interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter. Maybe you have a success story about how EBITDA helped boost your business and land you a new investor. Perhaps you’ve identified a slightly tweaked approach that amplifies the benefits of the formula. We’re dying to hear what you have to say on the topic. So feel free to share your thoughts, comments or questions with us on Twitter over @Revenued_com.

Robert Yaniz Jr. has been a professional writer since 2004, including print and online publications. Much of his experience centers on the business world, including work for a major regional business newspaper and a global law firm.

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