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What Is Working Capital? Definition and Guide

What is working capital?

Capital is another word for money and working capital is the money available to fund a company’s day-to-day operations – essentially, what you have to work with.

In financial speak, working capital is the difference between current assets and current liabilities. Current assets is the money you have in the bank as well as any assets you can quickly convert to cash if you needed it. Current liabilities are debts that you will repay within the year. So, working capital is what’s left over when you subtract your current liabilities from what you have in the bank.

In broader terms, working capital is also a gauge of a company’s financial health. The larger the difference between what you own and what you owe short-term, the healthier the business. Unless, of course, what you owe far exceeds what you own. Then you have negative working capital and are close to being out of business.

See also: 5 Top Options for Working Capital Financing

Ratios to watch

When you divide your current assets by your current liabilities, you get a number that represents your company’s relative financial health. That’s your working capital ratio.

Current Assets/Current Liabilities = Working Capital Ratio

For example, $200,000/$150,000 = 1.33

You want a working capital ratio between 1.2-2. That means that you have ample cash to pay your debts, but not too much just sitting around doing nothing.

A ratio below 1 means you have a negative working capital and are struggling to stay current with your debts.

A ratio above 2 means you have lots of extra cash that you could be reinvesting in the company and are not. If you have extra cash, you’re not making smart choices about your money.

Businesses with large working capital requirements

Companies that are cyclical or seasonal generally have higher working capital requirements than year-round businesses. That’s because it’s likely that debts still need to be repaid even when business is down or the company is not in operation, which means that more assets need to be banked to carry the business through those down times.

So a Halloween costume store, for example, likely does a brisk business during the fall but then needs capital to carry the business during the times of the year when costumes are not as popular. The same might be true of a farmer’s market or a landscaping business.

Working Capital FAQ

What is working capital in simple terms?

Working capital is a measure of a company's short-term liquidity and is calculated by subtracting current liabilities from current assets. In simpler terms, it is the money a business has available to fund its day-to-day operations.

What are examples of working capital?

  • Cash on hand
  • Short-term investments
  • Accounts receivable
  • Inventory
  • Marketable securities
  • Office supplies
  • Prepaid expenses
  • Short-term loans
  • Accounts payable

What are the 4 types of working capital?

  • Inventory: The raw materials, work-in-process, and finished goods that a company has on hand to produce goods or services.
  • Accounts Receivable: Money owed to a company for goods or services that have been provided but not yet paid for.
  • Short-Term Investments: Funds invested in short-term instruments like money market funds, certificates of deposit, and Treasury bills.
  • Cash: Money on hand or available in a checking or savings account.
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