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Working capital: definition, formula, & management tips

Working capital: definition, formula, & management tips


Effective managers utilize various metrics to guide their decision-making processes, and working capital stands out as a pivotal one. A business’s ability to function hinges on its capacity to produce adequate cash inflows. By keeping a close eye on working capital, you can ensure a consistent and sufficient cash influx every month.

By understanding and leveraging the elements of working capital, along with vital financial ratios, you can enhance both your results and your business’s short-term financial stability. Dive deeper to discover the essence of working capital, its computation, and valuable management insights.


What is working capital?

Working capital, often referred to as net working capital (NWC), is an accounting metric determined by subtracting a company’s current liabilities from its current assets. These assets encompass cash on hand, outstanding invoices from customers, completed products, and raw materials. On the other hand, liabilities include all immediate debts and pending payments.

Typically, when a company boasts a positive NWC, it’s better positioned for growth and investment opportunities. Conversely, if a company’s current assets don’t surpass its liabilities, it could face difficulties in settling its debts. Such financial strain could lead to potential bankruptcy.

Why is working capital important?

Working capital is crucial as it indicates a company’s operational efficiency, overall financial well-being, and liquidity—the capability to produce adequate current assets to cover immediate obligations.

Without generating sufficient current assets, there might be a need to secure external financing to support daily operations. If a company’s immediate assets don’t surpass its short-term debts, its longevity could be at risk. Effective management of working capital ensures the smooth functioning of the business and can ward off potential cash flow challenges.

Reasons your business may require additional working capital

In essence, cash flow projections and cash flow forecasts refer to the same concept. Both serve as techniques for anticipating a business’s financial trajectory. Small business owners can seamlessly interchange these terms.


Beyond the fundamental significance of working capital, there are moments when your enterprise might require extra funds to remain agile and responsive to industry shifts and varied business demands. Here’s a breakdown of situations where that might be pertinent:

1. Seasonal Fluctuations: The ebb and flow of cash in businesses can be dictated by seasons. Consequently, extra funds might be essential to gear up for peak periods or sustain operations during leaner times.

2. Bulk Purchasing Benefits: Elevating your capital allows for bulk purchases, opening the door to potential discounts extended by suppliers.

3. Expense Management: There might be instances where increased working capital becomes crucial, such as when hiring temporary staff or addressing unforeseen project costs.

4. Meeting Commitments: On occasion, your enterprise might need to lean on its working capital to honor commitments to staff, vendors, and regulatory bodies, especially when awaiting client settlements.

Working capital formula

The working capital equation is derived from the current ratio concept. A ratio surpassing one indicates that the current assets surpass liabilities, leading to a favorable score:

Working capital = current assets – current liabilities

The balance sheet, a financial snapshot that itemizes assets, liabilities, and equity of a business at a particular moment in time, houses these assets and liabilities. It is within this balance sheet that we derive the values needed to compute the working capital.

Let’s break down the components of a balance sheet:

  1. Assets: These represent the possessions of a business. Assets encompass resources that generate revenue. Take the case of a plumber: their vehicle and their tools would qualify as assets.
  2. Liabilities: This category details the obligations your business has to other entities. Items such as accounts payable and extensive-term debts fall under liabilities.
  3. Equity: This is essentially the net value of your business. It’s the residual value after you’ve subtracted liabilities from assets. In simpler terms, if you were to liquidate all your assets and utilize the proceeds to clear all your obligations, the leftover amount would represent equity.

To illustrate, consider a retail business with current assets valued at $70,000 and current liabilities of $30,000. The working capital of this enterprise would stand at $40,000.

It’s also essential to understand the nature of ‘current’ assets and liabilities. Current assets encompass cash or items that will transform into cash within a year’s time frame. Conversely, current liabilities signify obligations that need settlement within a year, encompassing accounts payable, short-term loans, and the imminent portion of more extensive-term debts.

Operating working capital definition and formula

Operating working capital focuses on the current assets and current liabilities directly tied to the daily functions of a business, contrasting with NWC, which encompasses all assets and liabilities.

To determine the operating working capital, one subtracts the sum of two primary current liability accounts from the sum of the three principal current asset accounts:

Operating working capital = (cash + accounts receivable + inventory) − (accounts payable + accrued expenses)

This version of the working capital formula narrows down to its most vital elements. Notably absent from this computation are the current asset accounts like prepaid expenses and notes receivable. These are excluded as they aren’t typically associated with the regular operations of a business and aren’t as commonly used.

Time, akin to money, holds significant value in business operations. Companies that have the ability to quickly turn a sale into cash have a financial advantage. This is captured in the concept of the working capital cycle.

Sales, whether made online or in a brick-and-mortar store, need to be transformed into cash post-sale. Companies that have a more efficient working capital cycle require less cash to function compared to their counterparts. If a business is adept at collecting payments swiftly, it can replenish its inventory quicker and allocate funds to other essential requirements.

Current asset accounts

In summary, current assets encompass both cash and assets anticipated to be liquidated into cash within a year. Meanwhile, current liabilities refer to debts expected to be settled within the same timeframe.

Typical Current Asset Accounts For day-to-day operations, many businesses rely on the following current asset accounts:

  • Cash and Cash Equivalents: Reflects the cumulative amount of readily available funds.
  • Accounts Receivable: Represents the sums owed by customers who’ve made purchases on credit terms.
  • Inventory: Goods procured for the intent of reselling to clientele.
  • Prepaid Expenses: Costs that have been settled in advance, like a semi-annual insurance premium.
  • Investments: Balances in money market accounts, as well as holdings in stocks and bonds. While some investments can fall under long-term categories, the majority are considered short-term assets.
  • Notes Receivable: Debts due to you that are projected to be paid off within the upcoming 12 months.

On the other hand, businesses typically maintain a more concise list of current liability accounts. Continue reading to discover the most prevalent ones.

Common current liability accounts

Current liabilities refer to financial obligations to external entities expected to be settled within a year. Here are some frequently encountered liabilities:

  • Accounts Payable: This covers regular operational costs like utility bills, subscriptions, and amounts due to vendors and service providers.
  • Payroll Liabilities: The sum designated for employee compensation on the upcoming payday is a current liability, typically recorded under accrued wages payable or simply wages payable.
  • Debt Payments: Obligations related to short-term business borrowings, such as credit card balances or lines of credit, as well as installments for longer-term debts that are due within the year.

Whenever a business incurs a debt to an external party, the respective amount might be recorded in an accrual account. For instance, interest due on a bank loan would be recorded under accrued interest.

While there are numerous financial metrics and ratios to gauge a business’s health, working capital is undoubtedly a primary indicator deserving of close scrutiny.

How to use working capital ratios

Working capital balance plays a crucial role in a business’s financial health, and several ratios can help you keep an eye on it. With the help of accounting software, these ratios can be effortlessly derived.

  1. Current Working Capital Ratio This ratio is straightforward and mirrors the working capital formula. It is the difference between current assets and current liabilities. Ideally, every business should aim to keep this ratio at or above 1.0.

Working Capital=Current Assets−Current Liabilities

For instance, a company possessing $120,000 in current assets and liabilities amounting to $100,000 holds a current ratio of 1.2. This implies that for every $1 of current liabilities, the owner has $1.20 in current assets.

  1. Quick Working Capital Ratio Also known as the acid test ratio, the quick ratio refines the current ratio by eliminating certain current assets that aren’t quickly liquidated. While there are variations to this formula, the most standard approach excludes inventory and prepaid expenses.

Quick Ratio=Current Assets – Inventory – Prepaid ExpensesCurrent Liabilities

Continuing with our prior example, if the business holds $10,000 in inventory and has no prepaid assets, the adjusted total for current assets becomes $110,000 ($120,000 – $10,000). Hence, the quick ratio calculates to 1.1.

  1. Accounts Receivable Turnover Ratio This ratio measures how efficiently a business can convert its accounts receivable into cash. It is determined by dividing net annual credit sales by the average accounts receivable.

Accounts Receivable Turnover Ratio=Net Annual Credit SalesAverage Accounts Receivables

Here’s a breakdown of the components:

  • Credit Sales: Sales where immediate payment isn’t demanded.
  • Net Credit Sales: Credit sales after deducting accounts receivable that can’t be collected.
  • Average Accounts Receivable: The mean of the starting and ending balances for a month.

A company’s aim should be to enhance credit sales while simultaneously reducing accounts receivable. A higher ratio indicates faster conversion of accounts receivable into cash.

  1. Inventory Turnover Ratio This ratio evaluates how often a business sells and replaces its inventory. It is found by dividing the cost of goods sold by the average inventory.

Inventory Turnover Ratio=Cost of Goods SoldAverage Inventory

A higher ratio indicates more frequent sales without a proportional rise in inventory. Therefore, the goal is to boost sales while maintaining or even reducing inventory levels.

For effective monitoring, consider placing these ratios on a financial dashboard, ensuring they remain front and center each month. They stand as invaluable tools in assessing your financial standing and optimizing your working capital.


7 working capital management tips

Strategies for Effective Working Capital Management

Working capital management is a pivotal accounting approach that steers businesses towards maintaining a harmonious balance between their current assets and liabilities.

For a more robust working capital and enhanced operational efficiency that can boost earnings, consider the following tactics:

  1. Develop a Cash Flow Projection Determine your current financial position. Project the expected cash receipts from sales and anticipated cash disbursements month by month. The sum of the starting cash balance, cash inflows, and the subtraction of cash outflows gives you the concluding cash balance for each month.

If you discern potential cash deficits in the upcoming six months, strategize to hasten cash collections. Recognizing the issue is the first step towards a solution.

  1. Keep an Eye on Accounts Receivable Regularly generate an aging report for accounts receivable. This report showcases amounts owed to you, segmented based on the age of the invoice.

Typically, these reports segment invoices into categories such as 0-30 days, 31-60 days, and so forth. Older invoices tend to be riskier, often indicating potential non-payment.

  1. Establish and Uphold a Collection Protocol Having a well-defined collection policy—and adhering to it—is crucial for optimizing cash receipts. Set payment terms that incentivize early settlements.

For instance, if an invoice remains unpaid after 30 days, you might send an email reminder, followed by a phone call after 60 days. Continual delays in payments from a specific customer should prompt reconsideration of your business relationship with them.

  1. Prudent Inventory Management When inventory constitutes a significant part of your expenses, it’s vital to supervise your procurement judiciously. Purchase enough to meet customer demands, but avoid overstocking to the point of straining your finances. Effective inventory management can notably amplify cash flow.
  2. Promote Early Payment with Discounts Consider providing customers with a slight discount (typically 1%-2%) if they settle their bills within a few days of receiving the invoice. The accelerated cash collection could outweigh the slight reduction in revenue from the discount.
  3. Facilitate Diverse Payment Options Ensure a seamless payment experience for your clients by enabling various payment methods. Incorporate electronic payment facilities on your site, accept a range of cards, and consider sending invoices via email with direct payment links.
  4. Honor Commitments to Vendors For small businesses, fostering strong vendor relations is vital. By ensuring timely payments, you not only preserve these relationships but also stabilize your cash reserves.

By actively adopting these strategies, you can speed up the conversion of current assets into cash. Enhancing working capital primarily revolves around optimizing current assets, which, in many instances, offers more flexibility than tweaking current liabilities.


Navigating the vast sea of financial data about your business can be daunting. Yet, by zeroing in on critical metrics such as working capital, you can streamline your focus. Delving deep into these ratios and implementing the strategies highlighted earlier can empower you to refine your business framework. Such targeted improvements can catalyze growth and foster tangible outcomes.

Schedule a complimentary QuickBooks data file review today for a quick and easy QuickBooks health check.



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