Financial Management

How Much Debt is Too Much?

Some people are risk takers and don’t mind going in to debt and some are totally debt averse.  They don’t borrow at all.

But how much debt is too much?

The easy answer is don’t borrow more than you can afford to pay back or don’t borrow more than a lender is willing to loan you. They may not be the same amount.  Do you want to use up all your borrowing power on this transaction or do you want to keep some in reserve? Here are some things to consider:

how much debt is too much?


  • Assume for the moment that you will use terms loans with monthly principal and interest payments for any borrowing need: working capital, equipment real estate or business acquisition.
  • Each loan will probably have a different term. Working capital is 2-3 years, equipment is 3-5 years, real estate is 15-25 years and business acquisition up to 10 years.
  • Calculate the total amount of your loan payments and make sure you have cash flow to cover those payments with a 25-30% cushion.  100,000 in payments requires $125,000-130,000 in cash flow.
  • Cash flow is typically defined as EBITDA: earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.


Remember the higher the cushion (50-100% vs 25-30%) the more wiggle room you have for owner’s distributions for taxes and or other personal expenses.


Here’s the tough part.  Let’s pretend you’ve maxed out your borrowing capacity.  All of a sudden there’s a great opportunity to buy out a competitor.  You’re forced to either fund it yourself (if you even have the resources) or take on an investor.  More often than not, the investor will seize the opportunity to take a bigger piece of your company than you want to give up.  It may be a good idea to save some of your borrowing capacity for the future.


Another way to look at how much debt is too much is look at the leverage ratio or debt to equity ratio.


  • Most lenders like to see the ratio of $3-4 of debt to every $1 of equity on the balance sheet.
  • This is a 3 or 4 to 1 debt to equity ratio.
  • Think of it this way. Your creditors have put up credit for 75-80% of your assets and you’ve put up 20-25% in equity.
  • Beyond this level, most lenders feel they’re taking more than their share of the risk.
I hope these tips will be helpful the next time you think about borrowing. Now you’ll know whether it’s the right time to borrow.

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