Understanding the Debt Ratio: Definition and Formula (2024)

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The debt ratio is a financial metric that compares a business’ total debt to total assets. It’s a crucial ratio that analysts and finance professionals use to assess a company’s financial health. In this article, we’ll review the debt ratio and why it is an essential concept for students interested in corporate finance.

What Is the Debt Ratio?

The debt ratio shows how leveraged a company is. It provides insights into the proportion of a company’s financing derived from debt compared to assets. There are variants of this ratio that consider liabilities to equity. However, all leverage ratios measure how much a company relies on borrowed funds versus its own funds on some level.

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How to Calculate the Debt Ratio

Mathematically, the debt ratio is calculated by dividing a company’s total debt by total assets and multiplying the result by 100 to express it as a percentage. The formula is as follows:

(Total debt / Total assets) x 100

For instance, if a company has $500,000 in total debt and $1,000,000 in total assets, the debt ratio would be 50%:

(500,000 / 1,000,000) x 100 = 50%

You can skip the multiplication at the end and express the ratio as a decimal. For instance, in this example, the debt ratio would be 0.5.

Interpreting the Debt Ratio

The debt ratio is valuable for evaluating a company’s financial structure and risk profile. If the ratio is over 1, a company has more debt than assets. If the ratio is below 1, the company has more assets than debt. Broadly speaking, ratios of 60% (0.6) or more are considered high, while ratios of 40% (0.4) or less are considered low.

However, what constitutes a “good debt ratio” can vary depending on industry norms, business objectives, and economic conditions. For instance, startups or companies in rapid expansion phases, too, may have higher ratios as they utilize debt to fund growth initiatives. While a higher ratio can be acceptable, carefully analyzing the company’s ability to generate sufficient cash flows to service the debt is essential.

A good debt ratio should align with the company’s financial goals, risk tolerance, and industry standards. It should support the company’s ability to meet its financial obligations, maintain financial stability, and enable sustainable growth. Comparing a company’s ratio to industry peers, historical performance, and industry averages can provide valuable insights to determine what is considered favorable within a specific sector.

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Who Uses the Debt Ratio?

This fundamental financial metric is used by various stakeholders in corporate finance, including:

  • Financial analysts: Financial analysts play a crucial role in assessing a company’s financial performance and making investment recommendations. They rely on this metric to evaluate a company’s risk profile and financial stability. By analyzing the debt ratio, analysts gain insights into the level of financial leverage and the potential impact of debt on the company’s profitability and solvency.
  • Investors: Investors, including individual investors, institutional investors, and fund managers, closely examine the debt ratio when making investment decisions. A company with a favorable ratio may be financially sound and capable of generating consistent returns. Conversely, a high ratio might raise concerns about a company’s ability to manage its debt and fulfill its financial obligations. Investors consider the debt ratio as part of their overall risk assessment and investment strategy.
  • Lenders and creditors: Lenders and creditors, such as banks and financial institutions, rely on this metric to evaluate a company’s creditworthiness and determine its borrowing capacity. A lower ratio indicates a company is at a lower risk of defaulting on its loans and may be more likely to secure favorable financing terms. Lenders use this metric as one of the critical factors in assessing the company’s ability to service its debt and make timely interest and principal payments.
  • Management and executives: This metric is vital for management and executives in making informed financial decisions. It assists in determining the optimal capital structure for the company, balancing the use of debt and equity financing. By monitoring changes in this ratio, management can assess the impact of financing decisions on the company’s risk profile, profitability, and long-term sustainability.
  • Regulatory bodies like the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may require companies to disclose thia metric as part of their financial reporting obligations. Credit rating agencies also use it as one of the factors in assessing a company’s credit rating. A higher ratio might lead to a lower credit rating, affecting the company’s ability to secure financing at favorable terms.

>>MORE: Is Finance a Good Career Path?

Showcasing You Understand the Debt Ratio on Your Resume

You can convey that you understand this calculation by including any of the following items on your resume:

  • In your skills section: Include “financial ratio analysis,” “debt ratio evaluation,” or “capital structure assessment” as skills to demonstrate your familiarity with financial metrics and your ability to analyze and interpret financial data.
  • Mention coursework: Highlight courses that cover financial analysis, financial management, or corporate finance, as these subjects typically delve into this and similar calculations.
  • Highlight work experience: Describe specific projects or responsibilities that assessed a company’s capital structure or financial health.

Other necessary calculations to master if you’re interested in this career path include the following:

  • Other leverage ratios, including the debt-to-equity (DE) ratio, the debt-to-capital ratio, and the asset-to-equity ratio.
  • The current ratio, which compares a company’s current assets to its current liabilities.
  • Quick ratio, which measures a company’s short-term liquidity against its short-term obligations.
  • P/E (price-to-earnings) ratio, which compares a company’s share price to its annual net profits.

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