ELI5: The Debt/Equity Ratio

Advanced Definition
Last updated: Jul 29, 2023

Understanding Debt/Equity Ratio: Balancing the Borrowing Act

If you've ever wondered how companies manage their finances and make sure they don't borrow too much money, you've come to the right place! In this article, we'll demystify the "Debt/Equity Ratio" in simple terms, using easy-to-understand examples to help you grasp its meaning and significance.

💡 Key Ideas

  • Balancing Act: The debt/equity ratio shows how a company balances borrowing money (debt) with the money invested by its owners (equity).

  • Comparing Debt and Equity: By dividing total debt by total equity, the ratio gives a number that helps understand how much debt a company has compared to its own money.

  • Financial Health: A lower ratio suggests a healthier financial position, while a higher ratio may indicate higher risk due to more debt.

What is the Debt/Equity Ratio?

The Debt/Equity Ratio is like a financial seesaw that shows how a company balances its borrowing with its own money. It compares the total debt a company owes (like loans and bonds) to the amount of money invested by its shareholders (known as equity).

How Does It Work?

Imagine you own a lemonade stand, and you want to expand your business. You have two options: borrowing money from a friend (debt) or asking your family to invest in your business (equity). The Debt/Equity Ratio helps you decide how much debt is comfortable for your business without taking too much risk.

Step 1: Gathering Information

To calculate the Debt/Equity Ratio, you need two numbers from a company's financial statements:

  • Total Debt: This is the amount of money the company owes to creditors, such as loans and debts.

  • Total Equity: This represents the value of money invested by shareholders, also known as owners' equity.

Step 2: Crunching the Numbers

Once you have the Total Debt and Total Equity, you divide the Total Debt by Total Equity to get the Debt/Equity Ratio.

Step 3: Interpreting the Ratio

The Debt/Equity Ratio is expressed as a number. If the ratio is low, it means the company relies more on equity (money from shareholders) and less on borrowing (debt). A higher ratio indicates the company has more debt compared to equity.


Let's look at an example to understand the Debt/Equity Ratio better:

Company XYZ has Total Debt of $50,000 and Total Equity of $100,000.

DebtEquityDebt/Equity Ratio

In this example, the Debt/Equity Ratio for Company XYZ is 0.5. It means for every $1 of debt, the company has $2 of equity.

Importance of Debt/Equity Ratio

The Debt/Equity Ratio is essential because:

  1. Financial Health: It shows how well a company manages its finances. A lower ratio may indicate financial stability.

  2. Risk Assessment: A higher ratio means the company has more debt, which might be riskier if it struggles to repay the loans.

  3. Comparisons: Investors and creditors use the ratio to compare companies and make informed decisions about lending money or investing.

Considerations and Industry Variations

It's essential to consider that different industries have different norms for acceptable Debt/Equity Ratios. Some industries, like utilities, might naturally have higher ratios, while others, like technology, might have lower ones.


In conclusion, the Debt/Equity Ratio is a financial measure that shows how a company balances borrowing and shareholders' investment. A lower ratio may indicate a healthier financial position, while a higher ratio might suggest higher risk. Understanding this ratio can help investors and businesses make better financial decisions and maintain a stable financial standing in the business world.