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Is a debt service coverage ratio important to business lenders?

Learn how your DSCR can determine what kind of loan you're eligible for.

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Factors such as your credit history, business assets and debt service coverage ratio (DSCR) play a leading role in helping lenders decide whether you’re a risky investment or not — but it’s impossible to know which one a lender will care about most.

What is the debt service coverage ratio?

The DSCR — also called a debt coverage ratio — is an industry measure of the cash income a business has left over at the end of the month that can be used to service its debt. It includes principal, interest and lease payments.

Any time you apply for a loan at a bank or any other traditional financial institution, the lender uses your DSCR to decide whether your business will be able to manage its repayments.

Simply put, the DSCR is one of the main benchmarks used to determine your ability to repay a loan. If your business isn’t generating the income it needs to pay its operating costs and make repayments, then a lender will likely pass on your application.

How do you calculate the DSCR?

Divide your annual business operating income by your total annual debt service level — the amount of principal and interest you must repay in a given year. The total annual debt service level will include all of your current debt and the loan you’re applying for.

But lenders may use different figures when assessing your operating income. Some will use EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — others will add net operating income to depreciation and any other noncash charges.

As a result, the DSCR figure won’t be the same across lenders, which can make direct comparison difficult. Some also express the DSCR as a percentage rather than as a ratio.

What does the DSCR mean?

Since the debt service coverage ratio is a measure of your income over your debt payments, it’s at its very core a way to determine cash flow. Its meaning can be divided into three categories:

  • A ratio less than one or 100%. This indicates negative cash flow, and that your business relies on outside funds to stay afloat.
  • A ratio equal to one or 100%. Your business can perfectly cover its costs each month. It leaves no room for a dip in sales, and is considered risky.
  • A ratio more than one or 100%. While just over one or 100% may still be too close for some lenders, it does indicate an ability to repay debts completely with the revenue from your business.

How does the DSCR affect your business loan?

Regardless of how a lender arrives at the DSCR, the concept itself is immensely important to the process of applying for a business loan. Although other factors such as credit history and loan collateral will be considered as part of your loan application, if your ratio is too low, you’ll likely be denied.

In general, a ratio of 1.2 is the minimum DSCR that a lender is willing to accept. However, depending on the type of industry your business operates in, your lender may have a higher or lower minimum ratio.

How to work out your debt service coverage ratio

To illustrate how the DSCR works, let’s assume your business has a total annual net operating income of $80,000 and you’re applying for a loan with an annual debt service of $30,000.

Let’s also consider you have another already-existing long-term loan that you’re currently servicing. You’ll need to factor this into your total annual debt service. So, if this already-existing loan stands at $40,000 of annual debt service, your total annual debt service would be $70,000.

Next, take your annual net operating income of $80,000 and divide it by your annual debt service of $70,000. This would equal a DSCR of 1.14, a low ratio that would likely prevent your application from being accepted. However, if you’re able to use future financial projections to convince the lender that your second loan would increase profits to a level sufficient enough to boost your DSCR, then you could be accepted.

Compare business loans from top providers

Confident in your business’s DSCR? See what lenders you might qualify with by entering the loan amount you’re requesting, time in business, personal credit score and revenue over the past year. Then select Show loans.

Data indicated here is updated regularly

Name Product Filter Values Loan amount APR Requirements
First Down Funding business loans
$5,000 – $300,000
Fee Based
At least 2 years in business, an annual revenue of $300,000+, and a minimum credit score of 400
Alternative financing up to $300K with highly competitive rates.
Lendio business loans
$500 – $5,000,000
Starting at 6%
Operate business in US or Canada, have a business bank account, 560+ personal credit score
Submit one simple application to potentially get offers from a network of over 300 legit business lenders.
ROK Financial business loans
$10,000 – $5,000,000
Starting at 6%
Eligibility criteria 3+ months in business, $15,000+ in monthly gross sales or $180,000+ in annual sales
A connection service for all types of businesses — even startups.
OnDeck small business loans
$5,000 – $250,000
As low as 11.89%
600+ personal credit score, 1 year in business, $100,000+ annual revenue
A leading online business lender offering flexible financing at competitive fixed rates.
Rapid Finance small business loans
$5,000 – $1,000,000
Fee based
Steady flow of credit card sales, bad credit OK
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Compare up to 4 providers

Steps to improve your DSCR

Your debt service coverage ratio reflects your business’s cash flow versus its debts and operating expenses. The best way to improve it is to up your cash flow.

This can mean cutting down on operating expenses or increasing your profits. Both, of course, are easier said than done. To get a good starting point read our guide to common cashflow problems.

Bottom line

You should always be careful of getting into too much debt. But when your business is in need of cash, being fully aware of the debt service coverage ratio and how it factors into the decision-making process of a lender will help better prepare you for a business loan.

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