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Grow Your Business Finances

How Long Could Your Business Survive on Cash Reserves?

How Long Could Your Business Survive on Cash Reserves?
Credit: Rawpixel/Shutterstock

If your business had a slow month, would you be able to survive?

New research from the JP Morgan Chase Institute finds that many small businesses are living month to month, and the median small business has only enough cash in the bank to last 27 days without additional funds.

"It is well known that small businesses are a critical driver of economic growth, but the consistency of their growth is in question if they're living month to month," Diana Farrell, president and CEO of the JPMorgan Chase Institute, said in a statement

The number of days businesses can survive without bringing in any money varied widely among industries:

  • Restaurants: 16 days
  • Repair and maintenance: 18 days
  • Retail: 19 days
  • Construction: 20 days
  • Personal services: 21 days
  • Wholesalers: 23 days
  • Metal and machinery: 28 days
  • Health care services: 30 days
  • High-tech manufacturing: 32 days
  • Other professional services: 33 days
  • High-tech services: 33 days
  • Real estate: 47 days

Cash reserves are critical in order for small businesses to meet liquidity needs, the study's authors said.

"Cash reserves provide a readily available means to pay employees and suppliers in normal times and are an important buffer to draw upon during adverse times," the study's authors wrote. "In other words, cash reserves are a key measure of the vitality and security of a small business."

The research found that the median small business holds an average daily cash balance of $12,100. At the high end of the spectrum, small businesses in the high-tech industry have $34,200 in reserves, on average, compared with just $5,300 for small businesses in the personal services industry. [See Related Story: Best Alternative Small Business Loans 2016]

When small businesses don't bring in much more money than they spend each day, it contributes to low cash reserves, the research showed. Overall, the median small business spends an average of $374 each day and brings in an average of only $381 daily.

The study's authors said this small profit margin leaves small businesses with very little wiggle room.

"Without strong and continuous cash-flow management, even small changes in cash inflows or outflows — especially if unexpected — can have large impacts on the financial health of these businesses," the study's authors wrote.

The results show that small business policymakers, advocates and private-sector partners need to do more to help small business owners improve their financial resilience, the researchers said. They proposed two main courses of action for small businesses.

"First, increasing access to credit can provide a lifeline to small businesses in the face of economic and/or idiosyncratic shocks," the study's authors wrote. "Second, [stakeholders need to be] helping small business owners better manage their cash flows and build up their cash buffer days to weather challenging times without relying on (often expensive) sources of credit."

The study's authors think there has to be a better set of available credit offerings to match the needs of the smallest and most financially fragile small businesses and more educational programs that illustrate to small business owners the consequences of poor cash-flow management.

"By helping small business owners understand typical levels of cash buffer days for their industry and region, providing information about typical causes of unexpected cash shortfalls, and providing concrete information about the timing and cost of credit options, these programs could help small business owners make better-informed decisions about the levels of cash balances they should seek to hold," the researchers wrote.

The study was based on data from more than 470 million anonymized and aggregated transactions conducted by 597,000 U.S. small businesses between February and October 2015.

Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.