Debt Service Coverage Ratio: What is it and Why it's Important - Ideal REI

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Debt Service Coverage Ratio: What is it and Why it’s Important

One of the first things any commercial lender or broker talks about is the debt service coverage ratio. Sometimes real estate pros don’t realize that they are throwing around numbers and terms that newer investors may not know.

It’s also true that many investors may understand the term but not understand the intricacies of how to manipulate the numbers to make the deal work.

Let’s dive into it.

Debt service coverage ratio definition

The debt coverage ratio (also known as the debt service coverage ratio, DCR, or DSCR) is a simple ratio that tells a lender how much of your cash flow is eaten up by the mortgage payment.

Debt service coverage ratio calculation

In general, it’s calculated as:

Debt Service Coverage Ratio


Net Operating Income = Gross Income – Total Operating Costs

Debt Service = Principal + Interest

To calculate the debt coverage ratio of a property, first, you need to calculate the NOI. To do this, take the total income, subtract any vacancy, and also deduct all operating costs.

Remember, operating costs do not include debt service (principal and interest), or capital expenditures. Insurance and taxes are operating costs, so don’t forget to include them.

Next, take the Net Operating Income and divide it by the annual debt service, which is the sum of all principal and interest payments during the year.

To do this you must take the entity’s total income and deduct any vacancy amounts and all operating expenses. Then take the net operating income and divide it by the property’s annual debt service, which is the total amount of all interest and principal paid on all of the property’s loans throughout the year.

Why the DSCR is important

It’s regularly used by banks and loan officers to determine if a loan should be made and what the maximum loan should be. It’s very common for lenders to require a 1.2 DSCR (1.15 – 1.35 is the most common range).

A Debt Coverage Ratio below 1 means the property does not generate enough revenue to cover the debt service while a DCR over 1 means the property should, in theory, generate enough revenue to pay all debts. The requirement for a 1.2 allows for economic downturns, vacancy, etc to give a buffer for the owner and bank.

Debt coverage ratio example

Let’s say there is a property that generates $10,000 in revenue, has total operating costs of $4,800, and yearly debt service of $4,000

NOI = $10,000 – $4,800 = $5,200

Debt Coverage Ratio

In this example, the debt coverage ratio is above 1.2, so this would be a good risk for the bank and they’d likely give the loan.

Let’s say that interest rates change and the bank gives a slightly higher rate, causing a new debt service of $4,500.

DSCR - debt service coverage ratio

Notice how a small change can suddenly change everything!

DSCR Example continued

In this situation, the bank generally won’t simply reject the loan. Instead, they will reduce the loan balance until the payment comes in line with their minimum DSCR requirements.

In this situation, the lender will simply reverse the formula and determine what the maximum debt service can be.

1.2 = $5,200 / Max Debt Service

Max Debt Service = $5,200 / 1.2 = $4,333

So, the lender would just reduce the loan balance until the yearly debt service was $4,333 or less. You’ll have to come up with a bigger down payment to cover the difference.

How the coverage ratio can affect your returns

In the example above I showed how a loan can be adjusted down before the lender will give the loan. This can significantly reduce your cash on cash returns.

Let’s say you are buying a property in the example above costs $100,000 and requires a down payment of $25,000 It generates $10,000 in cash each year and has an NOI of $5,200. Originally the debt service was supposed to be $4,000 per year, leaving $1,200 in total cash flow.

Cash on Cash Return =  Total Cash Flow / Total Cash Invested

CoC = $1,200 / $25,000 = 4.8%

But due to some fluke, the terms changed and now the debt service will increase. Let’s say that the terms are now a $75,000 loan at 4.5% interest is roughly $4,560/year in debt service, well below the 1.2 minimum.

Punching it into a calculator, the maximum loan value is now $71,000. to create a yearly debt service of $4,320.

This requires an extra $4,000 investment and also will provide less cash flow.

Cash Flow = $5,200 – $4,320 = 880.

If they gave the loan with the old down payment of $25,000:

CoC = $880 / $25,000 = 3.5%

Not very good, right? But, your down payment is no longer $25k, it became $29k.

CoC = $880 / $29,000 = 3.03%

Even worse…

About the Author Eric Bowlin

Eric is an investor that achieved financial independence at the age of 30. He started in 2009 with the purchase of his first triplex and now owns over 470 units. He spends his time with his family, growing his businesses, diversifying his income, and teaching others how to achieve financial independence through real estate. Eric has been seen on Forbes, Trulia, WiseBread, TheStreet, and other financial publications.

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  • Tristan Chua says:

    Learning a lot more from real estate thanks to all your articles and of course this site as well. Interested to learn more and looking forward to more of your informative articles in the future! Keep up the great work!

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