How to Calculate Retained Earnings on Balance Sheet: Calculating Retaining Earnings

how to calculate retained earnings on balance sheet
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In the world of business finance, understanding the concept of retained earnings is fundamental. Retained earnings represent the net earnings a company has saved or reinvested since its inception, after distributing dividends to shareholders. Essentially, they are the cumulative profits that have been ‘retained’ within the business over time. This financial metric provides insight into a company’s profitability, and more importantly, its financial health. As a business owner, understanding how to calculate retained earnings on your company’s balance sheet is invaluable. Hence, this article aims to guide you through the steps required to calculate retained earnings, understand the results, and comprehend their impact on your business.

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Role of financial statements in business

Financial statements are critical tools for managing a business’s fiscal health, as they provide a comprehensive snapshot of a company’s financial performance and position, shaped by the foundational accounting equation. The key financial statements include the balance sheet, income statement (also known as an earnings statement), and cash flow statement. These documents allow business owners to make informed decisions regarding operations, investment, and potential expansion.

Introduction to the balance sheet

The balance sheet, one of the core financial statements, presents a company’s financial status at a particular point in time. It includes an overview of the company’s assets, liabilities, and shareholders’ equity, essential for industries like healthcare, necessitating specific expertise in accounting for medical practices.

Assets represent what the company owns or controls, liabilities show what the company owes, and shareholders’ equity informs about the net worth or retained earnings of the company. Understanding the balance sheet is crucial for business owners as it sheds light on the company’s financial stability and liquidity.

Explanation of the earnings statement

The earnings statement, also known as the income statement or profit and loss statement, is another crucial financial document. It provides a detailed report of a company’s revenues, costs, and expenses over a specific period. The bottom line of the earnings statement shows the company’s net income or loss for that period. This net income is a key component in the calculation of retained earnings, as it illustrates how much profit the company has generated that can potentially be re-invested back into the business or distributed as dividends.

Understanding cash flow statement

The cash flow statement is a key financial report that shows the cash entering and leaving a company during a specific period. It’s divided into three sections: operating activities (cash from primary business operations), investing activities (cash related to purchases and sales of long-term assets), and financing activities (cash related to issuing shares, debts, and dividend payments). 

This statement is vital for assessing a company’s liquidity, solvency, and its ability to alter cash flows in the future. Unlike the income statement which uses accrual accounting, the cash flow statement provides a real-time view of the company’s cash situation.

Preliminary concepts to calculate retained earnings

Before diving into the calculation of retained earnings, it’s crucial to grasp certain fundamental concepts that play a significant role in this process. This section provides a foundation for understanding key terms and principles related to retained earnings. 

Understanding these components will not only simplify the calculation process but also enable a more comprehensive interpretation of what retained earnings signify about your business’s financial health and performance. Let’s begin by illuminating these concepts.

The concept of ‘balance’ in financial accounting

In financial accounting and automated bookkeeping, the term ‘balance’ refers to the difference between the sum of debit entries and the sum of credit entries entered into an account during a financial period. In the context of retained earnings, the balance would refer to the accumulation of net income from the start of the business after deducting any dividends or distributions to the owners. This balance represents the net income that has been re-invested in the business and is a component of the company’s total equity.

Dividends paid: What it means and how it affects retained earnings

Dividends refer to the share of profits that a company distributes to its shareholders. Dividends are typically distributed from the company’s current or retained earnings. The amount of dividends paid out by a company directly impacts its retained earnings. When dividends are paid, they reduce the amount of retained earnings because that portion of earnings is being distributed to shareholders rather than being retained within the company for future growth or to cover future losses.

The Idea of returned earnings and its relationship with retained earnings

Returned earnings is a term often used to refer to the earnings that a company has generated over time and then reinvested back into the business. This is often synonymous with the concept of retained earnings. Retained or returned earnings provide a clear indicator of a company’s long-term profitability and the capacity to self-finance its operations and growth. An increase in returned earnings suggests that the company is growing its reserve of assets that can be used to weather future financial uncertainties or fund new opportunities.

Introduction to the retained earnings calculation formula

Calculating retained earnings is a straightforward process, thanks to the retained earnings formula. The formula is integral to understanding how much profit a company has decided to reinvest in the business or to keep on reserve for future use. 

The basic formula is as follows:

Retained Earnings = Beginning Retained Earnings + Net Income/Loss – Dividends Paid

Components of the retained earnings formula

The retained earnings formula comprises three key components:

  • Beginning Retained Earnings: This is the amount of retained earnings at the start of the financial period, which can be found on the prior period’s balance sheet.
  • Net Income/Loss: This is the net profit or loss made by the company during the current financial period, which can be found on the current period’s earnings statement.
  • Dividends Paid: This is the total amount of dividends paid out to shareholders during the financial period. This information is typically disclosed in the company’s cash flow statement or notes to the financial statements.
how to calculate retained earnings on balance sheet

To calculate retained earnings, follow these steps:

  1. Locate the beginning retained earnings on your previous period’s balance sheet.
  2. Next, find the net income or loss for the current period on your earnings statement.
  3. Find the total dividends paid to shareholders during the current period.
  4. Insert these figures into the retained earnings formula and solve.

Remember, a positive result indicates an increase in retained earnings, implying that the company has generated surplus profits during the period. Conversely, a negative result indicates a decrease in retained earnings, which could be due to losses or higher dividends payout.

Interpretation of calculated retained earnings

The calculated retained earnings represent the net amount of your business’s profits that have been reinvested or held back for future use. A positive retained earnings figure indicates that the business has accumulated profits over time, signifying healthy business performance. On the contrary, negative retained earnings may signify accumulated losses over time, which could be a sign of concern.

Impact of retained earnings on the balance sheet

Retained earnings are a critical component of a company’s balance sheet as they are part of the shareholder’s equity. An increase in retained earnings increases the total shareholders’ equity and thereby the total assets (given that total assets = liabilities + shareholders’ equity). This enhancement of equity denotes a healthier financial position for the business. Alternatively, a decrease in retained earnings, due to losses or higher dividend payouts, could indicate a potential reduction in the company’s total equity.

Applying the retained earnings formula: A detailed example

It’s always good to see how financial metrics translate to the business world. So we will now look at an example for clarity.

Suppose the beginning retained earnings for Company X were $50,000. During the current financial period, the company made a net income of $30,000. The company declared and paid dividends worth $10,000 during the same period.

Inserting these values into the formula would look like this:

Retained Earnings = $50,000 (Beginning Retained Earnings) + $30,000 (Net Income) – $10,000 (Dividends Paid)

So, the retained earnings for Company X for the current financial period would be:

Retained Earnings = $70,000

This indicates that after paying dividends to its shareholders, Company X has $70,000 of earnings retained in the business for reinvestment or to cover future losses. The company can use these earnings to invest in new projects, purchase assets, and reduce liabilities, or they may choose to keep them as a safety net against future financial uncertainties.

How retained earnings reflect business performance and financial health

As shown, retained earnings are a powerful reflection of a company’s long-term profitability and its ability to generate value for shareholders. A trend of increasing retained earnings typically indicates that the company is generating consistent profits and possibly choosing to reinvest those earnings to fuel growth. It demonstrates that the company can finance its operations or growth organically, which is a positive sign for investors and creditors.

On the other hand, a decrease or negative retained earnings can be a red flag, suggesting the company is not generating enough profits, potentially operating at a loss, or distributing too much profit as dividends without sufficient reinvestment in the business. However, context is important. For instance, a strategic decision to invest heavily in expansion could also lead to a short-term decrease in retained earnings but may result in higher profits in the future.


As we’ve seen, calculating retained earnings is an integral part of understanding a company’s financial health. It not only provides insights into how much of the company’s earnings are being reinvested back into the business but also indicates how much buffer the company has to sustain financial shocks.

While the calculation might seem complex at first, by breaking it down into steps and understanding the various components, it becomes a manageable task. As a business owner, your ability to calculate and interpret retained earnings can provide you with a powerful tool for making informed business decisions and planning for the future. 

Remember, a business that consistently retains a positive amount of earnings is generally on a successful trajectory, providing value to its shareholders and positioning itself well for future growth.

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