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What Are Retained Earnings?

Triston Martin

Nov 15, 2023

Are you a business owner struggling to make sense of your finances? Are terms like "retained earnings" confusing and undefined for you? Don't worry – understanding retained earnings can be simple!

This blog post'll provide a comprehensive overview of everything you need to know about how retained earnings work. We'll define the term, discuss their importance in financial statements, and layout common strategies for handling them. By the end of this article, you will understand exactly what retained earnings are and why they matter to businesses.

Defining Retained Earnings - An Overview

Retained earnings are a company's net or profits not paid to shareholders as dividends. Instead, these profits remain in the business and become part of its equity capital. Retained earnings can be accumulated over time, with their total amount shown on the balance sheet as an asset.

Retained earnings play an important role in measuring a company’s financial performance.

These funds provide businesses with a cushion against unexpected expenses or losses, allowing them to meet their obligations without incurring additional debt. Furthermore, retained earnings also fund future investments and growth opportunities that can help increase profitability and enable businesses to achieve long-term success.

Calculating retained earnings, you must subtract all dividend payments from total net income or profit. It's also important to note that retained earnings are affected by net income, capital gains and losses, treasury stock transactions, and prior period adjustments.

Formula and Calculation

Retained Earnings = Beginning Balance + Net Income – Dividends Paid

You can make better financial decisions by understanding how retained earnings are calculated and what they mean for your business. With a clearer picture of your company's current financial position, you can anticipate future expenses and develop more realistic strategies that will help ensure ongoing success.

What Is the Difference Between Retained Earnings and Dividends?

The primary difference between retained earnings and dividends is that retained earnings are profits kept within the business, while dividends are those paid to shareholders. Company policies usually determine dividends and may be either cash payments or shares of stock.

Though businesses must pay their shareholders a fair return on their investments, keeping some portion of profits as retained earnings can also help strengthen their balance sheets.

By understanding retained earnings and how they work, you'll have an easier time managing your finances and deciding how to distribute profits. With this knowledge, you'll be better positioned to succeed long-term.

Reasons for Retaining Earnings

  • Fund future investments and growth opportunities.
  • Improve financial performance and strengthen the balance sheet.
  • Cushion against unexpected expenses or losses.
  • Facilitate better decision-making regarding profit distributions.
  • Increase profitability over time and ensure long-term success.

Accounting Methods Used to Calculate Retained Earnings

Accounting methods for calculating retained earnings can vary depending on the nature of your business and the type of financial statements you need to create. Generally speaking, most businesses use either the accrual or cash basis method.

Under the accrual basis method, revenues and expenses are recorded when earned, rather than when payments are received or sent out. This allows businesses to more accurately portray their current financial position in their records instead of waiting until payments have been made.

This method determines retained earnings by adding net income from a period to any prior period adjustments and subtracting any dividends declared during that period.

What Are the Limitations of Retained Earnings?

While retained earnings can be an important asset for businesses, they have certain limitations that are important to consider. One of the main drawbacks is that retained earnings are not liquid assets as a form of equity capital and cannot easily be converted into cash flow.

In addition, companies must pay taxes on any profits they retain, so these funds do not necessarily increase net income.

Finally, retaining too much of your company’s profits can lead to fewer investor returns and a weaker balance sheet. This could reduce potential future investments or make it difficult for businesses to finance their operations.

Benefits of Retaining Earnings

Strengthen the balance sheet

Keeping some of your profits as retained earnings can help increase total equity capital and strengthen your balance sheet.

Cushion against unexpected expenses

Retained earnings provide a cushion for businesses to cover unexpected costs or losses. This helps prevent additional debt from being incurred.

Provide funds for future investments and growth opportunities

With a reserve of funds available, businesses can finance new projects or invest in innovative technologies that could increase profitability and long-term success.

Improve decision-making regarding dividends

Understanding the importance of retained earnings can help guide decisions on how much profit should be paid out as dividends versus keeping it within the business.

Increase profitability over time

Retained earnings can be reinvested into the business or used to finance future investments that could increase profits over time. This can help ensure long-term success for businesses.

Ways to Invest Retained Earnings

Build or upgrade infrastructure

Retained earnings can be used to fund the construction of new facilities, such as warehouses and offices, or to upgrade existing ones.

Expand product lines

Businesses can use retained earnings to invest in research and development for new products that could increase their competitive advantage in the market.

Increase advertising campaigns

Investing funds into marketing efforts can help businesses boost their brand awareness and expand their customer base.

Purchase new equipment or technology

Companies can use retained earnings to purchase equipment that will enable them to streamline processes or adopt innovative technologies, which may result in increased efficiency and cost savings.

Potential Risks of Retaining Earnings

Although retaining earnings can benefit businesses, it’s important to consider the potential risks associated with this practice. Excessively high retained earnings can weaken the balance sheet and discourage investors from investing in your business. It’s also important to note that retained earnings are not liquid assets and cannot easily be converted into cash flow.

Additionally, companies must pay taxes on any profits they retain, so these funds do not necessarily increase net income. Finally, if the company cannot generate meaningful returns from its investments, or fails to make wise decisions about distributing profits, its operating performance could suffer.


Q: What Is The Purpose Of Retained Earnings?

A: Retained earnings are important for several reasons. For one, they help inform the amount available to pay dividends and other forms of distributions to shareholders. Additionally, retained earnings can be a source of funds for investments in new products or services and are used to borrow money from creditors.

By considering the net income earned throughout the period, companies can understand their financial health and make more informed decisions about how to use profits for long-term growth.

Q: How Are Retained Earnings Calculated?

A: The calculation of retained earnings is relatively simple. It starts with the beginning balance for a period’s retained earnings, adds in any net income earned during that time, and subtracts out any dividends paid to shareholders. This formula can be expressed as such:

Retained Earnings = Beginning Balance + Net Income - Dividends Paid

Q: What Are Examples Of Retained Earnings?

A: An example of retained earnings is a company that has been in business for five years and earns a net income of $250,000. In this case, the beginning balance is zero since it’s a new business. If no dividends are paid out during the five years, the retained earnings will total $1.25 million ($250,000 x 5).


Retained earnings are a company’s net income that has been reinvested into the business, and they can provide valuable insight into a company's financial health. By understanding how to calculate retained earnings and recognizing their importance in financial statements, businesses will be better equipped to make decisions for future growth.

We hope this article has provided you with all the necessary information on retained earnings to make informed decisions about your business finances.

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