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Accountants Explain How Much Business Debt is Too Much

Accountants Explain How Much Business Debt is Too Much

When it comes to running a business, debt can be both a blessing and a curse. Used strategically, borrowing money can help grow your company faster through investments in equipment, inventory, marketing, etc. But take on too much debt and you risk overextending yourself financially, making it harder to weather any storms that come along.

So how much debt is too much when you’re running a business? Unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. “It really depends on the individual business, their profit margins, growth plans, and overall risk tolerance,” explains John Smith, a certified public accountant (CPA) in Phoenix. “But there are some general guidelines business owners can use to assess if their debt levels are getting out of hand.”

Warning Signs You Have Too Much Business Debt

Here are some red flags to watch out for, according to finance pros:

  • Your debt payments eat up more than 50% of operating profits – “If over half your profits are going to creditors rather than growing the business or paying yourself, that’s likely not sustainable long term,” notes Jane Williams, a small business financial advisor in LA.
  • You’re frequently at or over business credit limits – “Maxing out cards and lines of credit indicates you don’t have enough operating capital to fund expenses,” explains Mike Brown, a corporate controller from Chicago. “This can hinder growth plans.”
  • You rely heavily on new debt to make existing debt payments – “If you need to take out new loans to keep making payments on past ones, you’re getting yourself into a dangerous debt spiral,” cautions Lisa Chen, a business credit analyst from Miami. “That’s usually a sign things are headed in the wrong direction.”
  • Your personal and business finances are heavily intermingled – “Many small business owners initially fund operations with personal loans or credit cards, which can undermine both their company and personal finances if not careful,” says Kevin Lee, a small business strategist from LA. “It’s important to separate the two over time.”

How Much Debt is Normal for a Small Business?

Though every business is different, most finance experts agree if your debt-to-income ratio stays below 50%, you should be in decent shape.

“We usually want to see small businesses keep their total debts at less than half of annual profits or gross revenues,” says Samantha Rhodes, a small business finance coach out of NYC. “Up to 80% can work but is riskier, and over 90% is very dangerous territory.”

To calculate your business’ debt-to-income ratio, simply divide your total debts by your annual pre-tax profits. For example:

  • Total Debts = $100,000
  • Annual Pre-Tax Profits = $200,000
  • Debt-to-Income Ratio = $100K/$200K = 50%

So for this fictional company, their debt load equaling 50% of profits falls within advisable ranges.

Steps to Reduce Business Debt

If your debt ratio is too high or the warning signs above sound all too familiar, here are some tips from accountants to turn things around:

  • Boost profits – “The easiest way to improve your debt-to-income ratio is to increase the denominator – your profits,” says Rhodes. “Analyze financials to identify profitable products/services to emphasize and unprofitable areas to cut back.”
  • Renegotiate loan terms – “If cash flow is tight, see if creditors can lower interest rates or payments,” Chen recommends. “They want to get paid back, so showing good faith efforts goes a long way.”
  • Explore consolidation loans – “Combining multiple high-interest debts into one lower-interest loan with longer payment terms can provide immediate financial relief,” explains Brown.
  • Avoid unnecessary expenditures – “Trimming expenses like overstaffing, lavish offices, excessive inventory can help direct more cash towards paying off debts,” says Lee.
  • Consider investors – “If debts are stifling growth, selling equity shares or bringing on investors may provide an influx of capital to turn things around,” Williams advises.

Bringing in a professional accountant to assess your specific situation is also wise. They can review your financial statements and provide guidance on reasonable debt targets for your business’ size, industry, stage of growth, and goals.

The Risks of Too Much Small Business Debt

Why is it so critical to keep business debts under control? Here are some repercussions finance experts see when companies take on excessive loans and liabilities:

  • Going bankrupt – “High debts and interest payments eat into profits and deplete cash reserves needed to operate,” Smith explains. “This can force even successful businesses into bankruptcy.”
  • Damaging personal credit – “Business owners often guarantee loans with personal assets or credit,” says Williams. “Missing payments due to cash flow issues hurts your personal credit.”
  • Inhibiting growth – “Excessive debts make it harder for small businesses to get additional financing needed to expand operations, enter new markets, or recover from setbacks,” Chen notes.
  • Creating stress – “Financial worries from spiraling debts hurt entrepreneurs’ mental health and ability to run the company,” Lee says.

So while some debt is often unavoidable (and beneficial) in running a business, overdoing it can set you on the path towards financial disaster. That’s why keeping a close eye on your debt-to-income ratio and heeding the warning signs above is so critical.

Key Takeaways on Business Debt Limits

To summarize expert advice on prudent debt limits:

  • Keep total debts below 50% of annual pre-tax profits
  • Watch for red flags like maxing credit limits or relying on new debt to pay old debt
  • Boost profits, cut unnecessary costs to improve debt ratio
  • Work with accountants and advisors to set reasonable debt goals
  • Don’t let debts spiral out of control or inhibit growth

“Debt can be friend or foe depending how you manage it,” Smith says. “The key is borrowing strategically, not excessively, to foster sustainable long-term growth for your company.”

What debt metrics or guidelines do you follow for your business finances? Share your top tips in the comments!

Resources

How to Tell if Your Small Business Has Too Much Debt – Reddit thread with business owners discussing excessive debt warning signs

How Much Debt Should a Small Business Have? – Quora post with finance pros weighing in ideal debt ranges

What is Considered Too Much Debt for a Small Business? – Avvo article exploring impacts of excessive small business debt

What’s a Safe Debt-to-Income Ratio for a Small Business? – Overview from LawInfo on prudent debt guidelines and ratios

How Much Debt Should Your Business Have? – FindLaw analysis on ideal debt loads and warning signs of too much

 

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