There are few numbers more important in commercial real estate than the debt service coverage ratio.

It’s one of the first things and one of the last things that any commercial lender or broker will talk about. It’s first *and* last because it’s simply that important!

A lot of people toss this term around without explaining it while others are using it without fully understanding it. It’s a lot more than just a simple formula and when you understand the debt coverage ratio, you’ll be able to control it to get maximum financing.

Let’s dive into it.

## Why the DSCR is Important

Imagine finding a commercial property worth $400,000 and you need to put 25% down.

You think, “alright, I can afford that!” and move forward with the deal, expecting $300,000 in loan proceeds.

As you approach closing, your mortgage lender calls you to say “The maximum loan we can give you is $225,000 because the debt coverage ratio is too low.”

Now what do you do?

This is real and happens every day. To avoid a situation like this, you need to fully understand the debt service coverage ratio *before *you make offers.

The fact is that it’s regularly used by banks and loan officers to determine if a loan should be made and what the maximum loan should be. If you don’t have the extra money laying around, you won’t be able to close the deal and you’ll lose a lot of money.

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## Debt Service Coverage Ratio Defined

The debt coverage ratio is a simple ratio that tells a lender how much of your cash flow is use to cover the mortgage payment. It’s known as the debt service coverage ratio, debt coverage ratio, DSCR, or DCR.

## Debt Service Coverage Ratio Calculation

In general, it’s calculated as:

where:

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.

### How The Debt Ratio is Used

A Debt Coverage Ratio below 1 means the property does not generate enough revenue to cover the debt service while a debt ratio over 1 means the property should, in theory, generate enough revenue to pay all debts.

It’s very common for lenders to require a 1.2 DSCR, give or take.

If your debt coverage ratio is too low, the only way to make it work out better is to reduce the loan balance. Your NOI is the same but now your principal an interest decreases, making the ratio go up.

And that’s how you can get your loan proceeds cut dramatically.

### 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**

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.

Notice how a small change can suddenly change everything!

### The Bank Will Reduce Your Loan

In this situation, the bank probably won’t 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. We can plug in the variables we know to solve for the allowable debt service

1.2 = $5,200 / Max Debt Service

Max Debt Service = $5,200 / 1.2

So, the maximum debt service can be $4,333. Now they just need to figure out what loan balance that will be based on their interest rate and loan term.

…and you’ll be stuck trying to squeeze some quarters out of your couch to pay for the extra down payment.

### How the Debt Ratio Affects 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.

Let’s also say that 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.

Now, let’s calculate our cash on cash return. We know that it’s calculated as:

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

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

This means that for every $100 you invested, you get back $4.8 every year, cash in the bank. This is not to be confused with the overall return on investment.

But due to some fluke, the terms changed and now the debt service will increase. Let’s say that the interest rates increase so your $75,000 loan is at 4.5% now and your debt service goes up from $4,000 per year to roughly $4,560/year. You can see that the new debt service coverage ratio is well below the 1.2 minimum.

I’ll spare you the math, but when I punch it into a calculator I find that the maximum loan value is now roughly $71,000. This creates a yearly debt service of $4,320, bringing you back to 1.2

#### Comparing The Two Scenarios

Since you’re loan has gone down, you will need to invest an extra $4,000. You’ll also have a lower cash flow because of the higher debt service.

Cash Flow = $5,200 – $4,320 = 880.

Now let’s compare two scenarios. Imagine if you were still able to get 25% down, your cash on cash would look like:

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

Not very good, right? But, that’s because of the increased interest rates.

Now, let’s see how the change in the loan amount affects your return. Remember, your down payment is no longer $25k because it became $29k.

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

Even worse…

## Never Neglect the Debt Coverage Ratio

You can see how important this simple ratio is to banks. It can change your returns, your down payment requirements, and it can even kill your deal.