Understanding Different Personal Finance Ratios

Want to get a quick and easy measure of your financial health?

Personal finance ratios (which show the relationship between numbers), can be a great starting point.

You’ve likely heard about ratios before. Wall Street and corporate analysts use a host of ratios, such as debt-to-equity or price-to-earnings, to help determine how public companies or even the stock market as a whole are performing.

For individuals, there are several personal finance ratios (or “rules of thumb”) that use the same concept: They can show you a snapshot of your financial well-being using the relative value of two (or sometimes more) key numbers concerning your money.

Knowing these formulas can give you a bigger financial picture and help you make important decisions about your money, such as whether you need to be putting more away each month, or if you’re overspending on unnecessary purchases.

To help you put these important metrics to good use in your own financial life, we’ve created the following guide to eight of the most important personal finance ratios.

Emergency Fund Ratio

An emergency fund is the cash you keep on hand to pay for unexpected expenses, such as a job loss, a large medical bill, or a roof repair.

This fund acts as a safety net so you don’t have to go into debt or raid your long-term savings accounts to take care of the situation.

Formula: Monthly expenses X 6 = Emergency Fund Ratio

To calculate your target emergency fund, you’ll want to add up your essential monthly expenses, or, in other words, the minimum amount of money you need to live for one month. That includes your mortgage or rent, insurance, utilities, and groceries.

One common rule of thumb is to then multiply this by 3 months (as a bare minimum); while others may aim for 6 months. This gives you a good number to shoot for keeping in your emergency fund.

Liquid Net Worth Ratio

This formula is essentially an extension of your emergency fund. If you were to need funds as a result of an unplanned event or emergency, this metric looks at how many months of expenses would be covered by your liquid assets—funds that can be easily and quickly be converted into cash.

Formula: Liquid assets/Monthly expenses = Liquidity Ratio

Liquid assets include your checking and savings accounts, as well as cash-like equivalents such as money market funds.

For this number, you do not want to include other assets that are not liquid, such as your home, car, or tax-advantaged retirement savings accounts.

Monthly expenses include essentials expenses that you accounted for above to determine your emergency fund ratio.

A common goal: maintaining a liquidity ratio of between 3 and 6 months.

Personal Cash Flow Ratio

Cash flow is a term often associated with companies. But this can also be a simple yet powerful personal finance ratio because it tells you how much is flowing in vs. flowing out of your accounts each month.

Knowing how much cash flow you have is useful because it tells you exactly how much money you have available to pay down debt or save/invest for your future.

Formula: Monthly (After Tax) Income – Monthly Expenses = Personal Cash Flow Ratio

To calculate this, you’ll want to add up all of your average monthly take-home income, including your paycheck, any side gigs, and income from any investments or savings accounts that are available to you for spending.

Next, you can look at credit card and bank statements, as well as receipts, for the past several months to come up with the average amount you are spending each month. This includes necessities like mortgage or rent and utilities, and also discretionary spending such as eating out and entertainment.

You can then subtract your spending number from your income number and you’ll have your net cash flow. If that number isn’t where you want it to be, you can use these calculations as a starting point to make adjustments.

Generally, the higher your cash flow, the better off you are.

Housing-to-Income Ratio

This ratio is vital to helping you understand how much you can afford to spend on your home, whether you buy or rent. It is also an important metric that mortgage lenders use when they decide whether or not to approve your loan.
Formula: Monthly Housing Costs/Gross Monthly Income = Housing Ratio

It’s important to use total housing costs when you calculate this ratio. This includes: your monthly mortgage payments (or rent payments), property taxes, insurance, and utilities.

You can then compare that total cost to your gross monthly income (income before taxes are deducted). Financial experts often recommend keeping this number to 28 percent or less. In some high cost-of-living areas, closer to 40 percent can be common.

The lower this number, the more affordable your housing costs are and the more income you have for other financial goals.

Debt-to-Income Ratio

The debt-to-income ratio is often used to determine a company’s ability to pay its debts. It works for individuals as well. It tells you what percentage of your income is being used to repay debts.

Formula: Monthly Debt Payments/Monthly Gross Income = Debt-to-Income Ratio

To calculate your debt payments, you’ll want to include credit card, student loan, and other consumer debt, as well as your mortgage payments. Your gross income is how much you earn each month before any deductions or taxes are taken out.

The common wisdom is to keep your debt at or below 36% of your gross income, but the lower your debt-to-income ratio, the financially healthier you likely will be.

Many people are surprised when they calculate this number to find just how much of their income is going to repay debt, often at high interest rates. This ratio can help you rethink that situation.

Net Worth Ratio

Personal net worth is a measurement of an individuals’ total wealth. Your net worth ratio gives a little bit broader perspective than your debt-to-income ratio because it takes your total assets into account.

It is calculated as the total value of all your assets minus the total value of all your liabilities.

Formula: Total assets – total liabilities = Net Worth Ratio

To find this ratio, you’ll want to add up the current market values of all of your assets including your home, stock and bond holdings, checking and savings accounts, and any other financial accounts.

Next you’ll want to calculate your total liabilities. This includes any debt such as mortgages, credit card balances, car loans, personal loans and 401(k) loans.

You can then subtract your liabilities from your assets. The resulting number is, hopefully, positive, and the higher that positive number, the better for your financial health.

This is a snapshot of your net worth at this moment. You may want to calculate this metric periodically, perhaps quarterly or annually, to track your wealth. Ideally, you should see increases over time.

Savings Ratio

Since saving for the future is such a key part of personal finances, it makes sense there would be a personal finance ratio to help you gauge how you’re doing.

Your savings rate is expressed as what percent of your gross income you are putting away for the future, including retirement and other shorter-term goals.

Formula: Savings/Gross Income = Savings Ratio

To calculate this, you’ll want to add up your annual savings in any retirement accounts, including employer-sponsored retirement plans such as 401(k)s, traditional and Roth IRAs and taxable accounts earmarked for retirement. Do not include your emergency fund or college savings accounts.

Compare that savings to your annual gross income (your earnings before taxes and deductions are taken out).
Generally speaking, you want to aim for a saving rate of 10 to 20 percent. Younger people may want to aim for a 10 percent savings ratio, and then gradually increase their savings rate as their income increases.

50/3020 Budget Ratio

The 50/30/20 formula can help you manage your budget no matter what your income. It proves a simple guideline as to how to apportion your income so you can afford to pay your bills, have some fun, and also put money into savings.

Formula: 50% essential spending//30% discretionary spending/20% savings = Budget Ratio

Essential needs are the largest allocation at 50 percent of monthly take-home income. These are bills you must pay including mortgage or rent, utilities, health insurance, and groceries. Housing will likely take up a big chunk of this category.

With this formula, you’ll want to keep discretionary spending at no more than 30% of your monthly take-home income. These are most likely the things you do for fun, like dining out, travel, clothing beyond what you need for work, and entertainment.

Saving for future financial goals accounts for the remaining 20% of monthly take-home income. This includes retirement savings, saving for a house, tuition savings, saving to repay debt, etc.

The Takeaway

Personal finance ratios can give you a clear snapshot of your financial health in a variety of areas and help you make better decisions about money management and future planning.

Rather than making a best guess, personal financial ratios give you an edge in your analysis by using simple math.
Once you’ve done some of these calculations, you may discover that you want to make some changes, such as watching your spending more closely and/or putting more money into savings each month.

If so, SoFi Money® may be able to help. SoFi Money is a cash management account that makes it easy to track your weekly spending right in your dashboard in the app.

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Check out everything SoFi Money has to offer today.

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Source: sofi.com

Saving more and working longer: Two powerful ways to increase your retirement resources

The July 2018 issue of the AAII Journal — the monthly publication of the American Association of Individual Investors — includes an intersting article about how to “increase your retirement resources”. This plain English piece summarizes some of the findings from the authors’ research paper “The Power of Working Longer“.

According to the article, there are three primary factors that determine “the adequacy of retirement resources”. Those are:

  • When a person begins participating in an employer-sponsored saving plan,
  • What percentage of their earnings they save in such a plan (i.e., their saving rate), and
  • At what age they retire and begin taking Social Security benefits.

Until Elon Musk invents a time submarine, it’s impossible for a worker to go back to their youth and begin saving for retirement earlier. Because of this, the authors focused their research on the relative power of saving more and working longer.

Note: To simplify matters, the authors make some assumptions. For instance, instead of investing in the highly-variable stock market, they assume their hypothetical subjects invest in a vehicle with a fixed rate of return: an annuity. This is a little goofy, but helps them come up with more precise numbers than they’d otherwise be able to achieve. Just keep this in mind as we talk about the article’s conclusions.

The Power of Working Longer

First, the authors look at what happens when a person decides to delay retirement by a year — or more. Generally speaking, each extra year worked brings roughly a 7.5% increase to standard of living during retirement. And that’s assuming a real (inflation-adjusted) investment return of 0%!

When you consider that stocks produce a long-term annual real return of about 6.8%, working an extra year has an even greater impact on standard of living in retirement.

Here’s a table from the article that shows the potential increases in standard of living that come from delaying retirement. (All of these numbers assume 0% real returns.)

The Power of Working Longer

As you an see, if a 62-year-old opted to work an additional three years instead of retire, they’d enjoy an increased standard of living of nearly 24%. Working longer is a powerful way to increase your “retirement resources”.

The authors’ research found that while investment returns do have an effect on retirement standard of living, they’re not nearly as large as the effect of working longer. Assuming 0% real returns on investments, delaying retirement age from 66 to 67 leads to a 7.75% increase in standard of living. With a 7% real return (similar to average stock market returns), that one-year delay in retirement brings an increased standard of living of 9.56%. It’s a boost, yes, but not even a boost of two percentage points over assuming zero investment returns.

The bottom line? Each extra year you work past your target retirement age brings a boost of roughly 10% to your post-retirement standard of living. Not too shabby.

The Power of Saving

The real reason this article caught my eye was the authors’ discussion of saving. They dismiss saving rate as being less powerful than working longer, but I’m not sure that I agree. (Remember, I believe that your saving rate is the most important number in personal finance.)

Why are the authors dismissive of saving rate? Their research shows that for each bump of one percentage point in saving rate over thirty years, a person can expect a 2.16% increase in standard of living at retirement — assuming a 0% real return. This same increase could be achieved by working an extra 3.3 months past target retirement age.

But what if instead of assuming a 0% real return on investment, we assume a 7% real return on investment (which is close to the long-term return of stocks)? Then each increase of one percentage point in saving rate over thirty years leads to a 4.79% increase of standard of living during retirement. In this case, it would take six months of extra work to match a one percentage point jump in saving rate.

I think the authors are far too quick saving rate in favor of working longer. They’re working with tiny, tiny fractions. Instead of talking about increasing savings by one percentage point, why not talk about something meaningful, such as an increase to saving rate of ten or twenty percentage points?

Assuming average stock-market returns (instead of 0% returns) — where every one percentage point increase to savings is equivalent to six months of extra work — then we find that by boosting your saving rate for ten percentage points over thirty years means you can retire five years earlier. If you boost your saving rate by twenty percentage points, you can retire ten years earlier. These are significant amounts of time!

To summarize, this article gives us two new financial rules of thumb. First, for each year you work past standard retirement age, you’ll enjoy roughly a 10% increase to your post-retirement standard of living. Second, each percentage point bump to your saving rate is roughly equivalent of six months you don’t have to work.

What if You Start Late?

To me, there shouldn’t be an argument about whether it’s better to work longer or to save more. Both strategies produce notable increases to standard of living in retirement. If we save more now, we’ll have more later. And if we work a little longer, that’ll provide a boost to our standard of living too.

Last of all, I’d like to point out that the authors correctly conclude that the later you start saving, the less powerful saving actually is. If you don’t begin saving for retirement until age 56, there’s far less time for the power of compounding to grow your wealth snowball. As a result, for older folks each percentage point increase to saving rate is equivalent to about a month-and-a-half of extra work (as opposed to between three and six months).

Effects of a Saving Rate Bump

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t start saving in your forties and fifties. It just means that the power of saving is diminished. And it means that, realistically speaking, you’ll probably have to work beyond your desired retirement age.

[Increasing your retirement resources: The Power of working longer, AAII Journal]

Source: getrichslowly.org