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Grow Your Business Finances

What Is EBITDA?

business finances, bank account mistakes
With so many options for business banking, it’s easy to get confused when setting up a commercial bank account. / Credit: Financial report image via Shutterstock

Accurately gauging the financial health of your company is essential. Projecting your reasonably anticipated profitability is a key part of strategic planning and investment in your business's growth. It's also important to demonstrate to potential business partners that your business is indeed stable and growing.

So, what's the best way to determine your business's financial health? The accounting technique EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — is a comprehensive view of your business's fiscal condition beyond basic budget comparisons.

EBITDA gained popularity in the 1980s, at the height of the leverage buyout era. Unlike standard net income calculations that use a simple formula of revenue minus expenses, EBITDA factors in other expenses, like taxes and interest. EBITDA allows analysts to generate useful comparisons between companies, and to project long-term profitability and the ability to pay off future financing.

Joseph Ferriolo of Wise Business Plans says a healthy EBITDA calculation can help cinch the deal if you are interested in selling or merging your company.

"EBITDA is one of, if not the most important measures that investors consider when a company is being bought or sold," Ferriolo told Business News Daily. "If I was going to invest, my primary concern would be ensuring that the business had an audited, up-to-date EBITDA analysis."

To calculate EBITDA, a business must know its income, expenses, interest, taxes, depreciation (the loss in value of operational assets, such as equipment) and amortization (expenses for intangible assets such as patents, that are spread out over a number of years). With those numbers in hand, the formula is:

EBITDA = Revenue - Expenses (excluding tax, interest, depreciation and amortization)

Or, more simply, it equals net income plus interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

Because EBITDA is not a part of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), it may not automatically be included in a company's financial statement. However, EBITDA can be calculated using existing figures. With the EBITDA value, the business and its investors are now able to better compare profits against those of the business's competitors.

While many companies find EBITDA to be a good indication of performance, others believe the calculations can be quite deceptive and not representative of a company's profitability.

The main argument against relying on EBITDA as a performance indicator is that it does not account for changes in working capital. This indication of the company's liquidity fluctuates due to interest, taxes and capital expenditures. While a negative EBITDA value may indicate that the business has trouble with profitability, a positive value may not be synonymous with a healthy company, because taxes and interest are actual expenses that businesses must account for. In contrast, a company may have low liquidity if its assets are difficult to convert into cash, but still maintain a high level of profitability. 

EBITDA can also provide a distorted picture of how much money a company has available to pay off interest. By adding back depreciation and amortization, a company's profits can be made to appear greater than they actually are. EBITDA can also be manipulated by changing depreciation schedules to inflate profit projections. For these reasons, many believe EBITDA is used simply as a way to make a company appear more attractive to investors than it really should.

One way to get a more realistic profit picture is to calculate EBITDA margin. To determine EBITDA margin, a business must first calculate its EBITDA and then divide that number by total revenue.

EBITDA Margin = EBITDA ÷ Total Revenue

This result helps show how much operating expenses are eating into a company's profits. In the end, the higher the EBITDA margin, the less risky a company is considered financially.

No matter how you're looking at your company's financial health, it is critical to ensure that your financial statements have been audited and verified, especially if you're looking to attract investors.

"The most important question for investors and analysts is to ensure that the company's financials have been recently and thoroughly audited by a CPA," Ferriolo said. 

Additional reporting by Katherine Arline and Chad Brooks. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Adam C. Uzialko

Adam received his Bachelor's degree in Political Science and Journalism & Media Studies at Rutgers University. He worked for a local newspaper and freelanced for several publications after graduating college. He can be reached by email, or follow him on Twitter.