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What is Cost of Goods Sold? (COGS)

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This content should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Always consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

This article was originally published on Feb. 22, 2016, and was updated on Jan. 20, 2022. 

Table of contents:

Managing cash flow is critical to the ongoing health of your small business. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs struggle to do so effectively.

Lending Tree reports that almost 30% of small businesses blame “running out of cash” as a major contributor to their startup failure. Almost 20% say they went under due to pricing or cost issues.

Calculating and understanding your cost of goods sold (COGS) will help you to better understand your small business cash flow, and set you up for long-term success.

In this post, we’ll explain what the cost of goods sold is, how to calculate it, and how to report it during tax season.

What is cost of goods sold (COGS)?

retail store

Your cost of goods sold includes the direct costs associated with the production of the products your small business sells.

Your direct costs are most often the inventory purchased to make or sell products to customers. But there are other purchased items and indirect costs (like overhead costs) that can be included in your COGS calculations, which we’ll get into shortly.

What counts under COGS?

If you own a donut franchise, for example, you’d include the following in your COGS calculation:

  • The direct inventory cost of manufacturing the donuts, including the regular purchase of baking soda, flour, sugar, and yeast.
  • Any tools you need to operate while making a donut — from pots and pans to fryers and stand mixers.
  • Indirect costs like employee wages to make the donuts, utility bills for things like water (if it’s in the recipe), or rent paid for a manufacturing facility.

What’s not included in COGS

If you are a small business owner who doesn’t manufacture your own products, your cost of goods sold typically would not factor in your indirect overhead costs (or operating expenses) incurred to run your business.

For example, when you purchase inventory from other vendors for resale, your indirect costs might include the monthly cost to rent your storefront or to keep the lights on.

Likewise, you do not need to include anything in your COGS calculations that goes into your cost of revenue, meaning the total amount you invest to sell products to customers. These costs include line items like your marketing and product distribution expenditures.

It’s always best to check with an accountant or tax expert to learn what direct and indirect costs should or shouldn’t be included in your COGS calculation.

Why service-based small businesses don’t use COGS

When doing COGS calculations, business owners must itemize the inventory they purchased (within a set time period) to manufacture or sell their products to customers.

That’s why most service-based businesses, like freelancers, consultants, and service-based software do not typically use COGS when preparing financial statements.

Of course, there are some exceptions, like a hairdresser who might sell items in-store such as shampoo, hairstyling products, and anything else that is part of their inventory as a good to be sold.

Why small businesses should care about COGS

From a tax perspective, you need to know your cost of goods sold — broken down into different line items on your business income tax form — so you can report it to the government. We’ll get into income tax reporting for COGS later in this post.

From an accounting and finance perspective, small business owners must also understand your break-even point and determine the lowest price you can set for your products to keep your business running smoothly.

COGS plays a crucial role in determining those factors, as well as in managing cash flow and finding cost savings.

For help with calculating your break-even point, read: “What is break-even analysis.” You might also want to learn more about cash flow forecasting for small businesses, and understand how to avoid cash flow problems.

How to calculate cost of goods sold

To calculate your cost of goods sold, you first need to understand the total amount of inventory and other relevant costs (if you’re a manufacturer) you regularly spend for the products you sell on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis.

The time period for calculating COGS depends on the type of business you run and how you do your accounting.

Likewise, there are different ways to do the COGS calculations, including:

  • First in, first out (FIFO)
  • Last in, first out (LIFO)
  • Average cost
  • Special ID method

It’s crucial to have all of this information ready for your accountant — or for a tax professional to help you understand what you need to do if you manage your own books.

COGS calculation formula

For each relevant COGS reporting time period, start with the total value of your beginning inventory (i.e. the materials you already have on-hand) before you make any new purchases. Then, add on the total value of any new materials you purchased over the same time period.

For simplicity, let’s say you want to measure COGS over one month, and your total value for existing inventory is 5,000 units at a cost of $1.00 each. Your beginning inventory is, therefore, worth $5,000.

Next, you buy an additional 5,000 units at the same cost. You now have $10,000 worth of inventory ($5,000 + $5,000) to sell.

Over the course of that month, you sell 7,500 units. At the end of the month, you’re now left with 2,500 units in your inventory (at a cost of $1.00 each = $2,500).

Here’s the formula you’d use to calculate your cost of goods sold for the month:

Beginning inventory = $5,000

  • Purchases = $5,000

– Ending inventory = $2,500

________________________

Cost of goods sold = $7,500 for one month

As your business grows, and as you start to measure your cost of goods sold over longer periods, you might use more sophisticated ways to calculate these numbers.

Let’s assume you’re looking at your COGS on a quarterly basis, and the cost to purchase your inventory changes each month. The first month, the cost per unit is $1.00, the second month it goes up to $1.50, and in the third month, it costs $1.25 per unit.

First in, First Out (FIFO) method

This COGS accounting method assumes you’ll sell the inventory worth $1.00 per unit first, before selling items sold in later months. Let’s assume that over the 2nd quarter of 2022, you sell a total of 325 units. In April, you had 100 units left in stock (worth $1.00 each) and you sold all of them.

In May, you purchased an additional 200 units at $1.50 each and sold all of them. Finally, you purchased another 200 in June and sold only 25.

Let’s do the COGS calculation, starting with the cost per unit sold each month.

  • April = $1.00 x 100 units = $100
  • May = $1.50 x 200 units = $300
  • June = $2.00 x 200 units = $400

Your cost per goods sold is, therefore:

$100 (for the existing inventory in April)
+ Purchases in May and June worth $700 ($300 + $400)

– Ending inventory of 175 units (@ $2.00 each) = $350

________________________________

$450 is your quarterly FIFO COGS ($100 + $700 – $350)

Last in, Last Out (LIFO) method

In this scenario, you calculate COGS by using the value of your inventory in the last month of the quarter first.

Some businesses use this method to get a tax break when their cost per unit goes up significantly over a set time period.

Using the numbers illustrated above in the FIFO COGS calculation, you’d use the value of your goods purchased in June as your starting point. Let’s say you sold a total of 300 units in the quarter. You’d take the value of the 200 units sold in June (at $400), add 100 units at the May rate (100 x $1.50 = $150), and calculate your COGS like this:

$400 (for all units bought in June)
+ $400 (for units purchased in April and May)

– $250 (inventory left from April and May = 100 @ $1.50 + 100 @ $1.00)

____________________

$550 is your quarterly LIFO COGS ($400 + $400 – $250)

Keep in mind that using the LIFO method for COGS will eat into your profits. Therefore, you need to weigh the value of reporting losses for tax breaks versus reporting higher revenue, which might raise concerns with your bank when you need financing, or if you have any business investors or shareholders (as your business grows).

Average cost method

This is a simple COGS method that uses the average cost of the inventory purchased over a three-month or annual reporting period in the COGS calculation.

Using the example above, you’d add all three unit prices up and apply the average cost against all units sold during that time period. You may want to start out using the average cost method to manage cash flow, especially if you don’t manufacture your own products.

Special ID method

This COGS method is used when you sell multiple products that vary in manufacturing costs over a set time period. For example, an automobile manufacturer will sell different car models with different product identification numbers. In this instance, it would be wise to work with an accountant to properly calculate your COGS.

What do I need to know about COGS and taxes?

Regardless of whether you calculate your COGS monthly or quarterly, you’ll need to do so during tax season. Your COGS calculations must be completed in Part III (Schedule C) of your small business income tax statement.

You can use the cost of goods sold worksheet on lines 35 to 42 of page two.

This content should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Always consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation. Check the IRS website for up-to-date instructions and requirements.

Cogs taxes calculation

Cogs taxes calculation

Let’s take a closer look at each of the line items that go into the COGS calculation.

Line 35: Inventory at the beginning of the year

If you’re an online or physical retailer, and simply re-sell the inventory you purchase from someone else, the amount on this line is the cost of the merchandise you had on hand at the beginning of the year.

It’s different if you manufacture your own products. The amount on this line would be the cost of any items you produced, plus the cost of the supplies you purchased in the reporting tax year and still have on hand to make products you’ll sell in the future.

Note: If there is any difference between the previous year’s ending inventory and this year’s beginning inventory, you will need to explain why.

Line 36: Purchases less cost of items withdrawn for personal use

For re-sellers, the amount you input on this line should be the inventory you bought during the tax year.

If you manufacture your own items to sell, the amount should include the materials and parts you purchased during the year from vendors (including any discounts they gave you).

Always be sure to remove the cost of any items you returned, as well as any items you pulled out of your inventory for your own personal use.

Line 37: Cost of labor (minus your own paid labor)

Your cost of labor consists of three elements:

  1. Direct labor: Wages you paid to employees who made the products to be sold.
  2. Indirect labor: What you paid to employees who performed general factory functions, such as a foreman, and whose work does not have a direct connection with the making of the product.
  3. Other labor: Wages for selling or administrative personnel.

If you run a manufacturing business, the labor costs you input on line 37 for COGS should be relevant to each product produced during the period. A tax account should be able to help you identify which costs to use in your COGS calculation.

Re-sellers won’t likely have many labor costs, and you must not include your own paid labor (as the business owner) in your cost of goods sold.

Line 38: Materials and supplies

The number inputted on this line for COGS should include the cost of the items that are separate from the main materials used in the manufacturing of your product — but are still an important part of producing it.

For example, these materials might include glue or buttons that a fashion retailer sews onto their garments.

Line 39: Other costs

Additional costs can be added to your cost of goods sold, depending on the type of business your run.

Manufacturers can use this line to record any additional costs of creating your product — such as packaging and shipping costs to bring in supplies and materials — as well as the overhead costs for running your factory (but not the costs to sell or distribute products).

Line 40: Cost of goods available for sale

On this line, you should add up the amounts on lines 35 through 39 to get the total cost of goods available for sale.

Line 41: Inventory at end of the year

On this line, you should include the value of the items you have in your inventory that have not yet been sold as of year-end.

Like most businesses, you may need to do a physical inventory count of what you have in stock on December 31, and determine the cost to produce the items in that count.

When placing a value on your end-of-year inventory, be sure to use the cost to produce the items in your COGS calculation and not the price you charged customers for these items.

Now you have everything you need to calculate your cost of goods sold for the tax year. On line 42, subtract the amount on line 41 from line 40. You’ll input this final number on line 4 of page 1 of Schedule C – Cost of Goods Sold.

For additional help when completing your small business taxes, read: How to organize your financial statements to make tax season smooth sailing.

Planning for long-term growth with COGS

charts showing growth

charts showing growth

Once you calculate your cost of goods sold, you’ll gain a better understanding of your monthly, quarterly, and annual cash flow.

Your COGS calculations can also help you to price your products accordingly, complete your business income taxes, and plan for the long-term growth and success of your small business.

Keep in mind, the above content provides a general explanation, and how you calculate COGS will depend on many factors. For example, manufacturing businesses will have more sophisticated requirements for tracking inventory and calculating the cost of goods sold.

Always consult an accountant or tax professional for specific COGS reporting or tax requirements for your small business.

This article includes content originally published on the GoDaddy Blog by Chris Peden.



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Banking

How to Get a Loan to Buy a Business

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Not everyone wants to take on the challenge of building a business from the ground up. An attractive alternative can be to step into a business that’s already up and running by purchasing it from the current owner. Some advantages of buying a business may include easier financing, an established customer base and an existing cash flow.

Buying a business is different from buying a franchise. Franchises have a set business model that’s proven to work. However, when you buy an independently operated business, it’s important to show the lender that you, your previous business experience and the business you want to buy are a winning combination.

What lenders look at when you want to buy a business

Because lenders can view the performance record of an existing business, it’s typically easier to get a loan to purchase an existing business compared with startup funding. However, your personal credit history, experience and details about the acquisition business still matter.

Your personal credit and experience

Through credit reports and credit scores, lenders are able to assess how you’ve managed debt in the past and potentially gain insights into how you will handle it in the future. Your education and experience will also be evaluated.

Solid credit history: Lenders look to see if you have a history of paying your debts. Foreclosures, bankruptcies, repossessions, charge-offs and other situations where you haven’t paid off the full amount will be noted.

Business experience: Having worked in the same industry as the business you want to purchase is helpful. Related education can also be viewed as a positive.

Other businesses you’ve owned

Having a track record of operating other successful businesses can have a positive influence on lenders when it comes to buying a new operation.

Record of generating revenue: Business financial statements can help a lender document that your current or past businesses were well-managed and turned a profit.

Positive credit record: Lenders review business credit scores and reports to verify creditworthiness and to identify liens, foreclosures, bankruptcies and late payments associated with your other businesses.

The business you want to buy

Just because a business is operating doesn’t mean it’s a good investment. Lenders will ask for documentation, often provided by the current owner, to assess the health of the operation.

Value of the business: Like you, your lender will want to ensure that you’re buying a business that has value and that you’re paying a fair price.

Past-due debts: Lenders will be interested in the business’s past-due debts, which may include liens, various types of taxes, utility bills and collection accounts.

Documentation

Most lenders will let you know what they want included in the loan application package, but there are some personal documents that are typically requested, as well as ones related to the business you want to purchase.

Personal documents

The following documents are used to evaluate your personal finances, business history and plans for operating the business after its purchase:

  • Personal tax returns.

  • Personal bank statements.

  • Financial statements for any of your other businesses.

  • Letter of intent.

Business documents

Documents from the current business owner will also be evaluated. Some common ones requested by lenders include:

  • Business tax returns.

  • Profit and loss, or P&L, statements.

  • Business balance sheet.

  • Proposed bill of sale.

  • Asking price for inventory, machinery, equipment, furniture and other items included in the sale.

Where to get a loan to buy a business

Compared with finding a loan to start a business, getting funding to buy an existing business may be easier. Here are three popular funding options to check into for a business loan:

Bank loans

Banks generally offer the lowest interest rates and best terms for business loans. To qualify for this type of loan, you’ll typically need a strong credit history, plus the existing business will need to be in operation for a certain minimum of years and generate a minimum annual revenue amount set by the lender.

SBA loans

If borrowers don’t qualify for a traditional bank loan, then SBA loans, ones partially guaranteed by the Small Business Administration, may be the next option to explore. Because there is less risk to the lender, these loans can be easier to qualify for. Banks and credit unions frequently offer SBA loans in addition to traditional bank loans.

Online business loans

Another option to consider is online business loans. Online business loans may offer more flexibility when it comes to qualification, compared with bank and SBA loans. Minimum credit score requirements can be as low as 600, and in a few cases lower. Generally, interest rates are higher than what’s available with a traditional bank loan.

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Accounts Receivable Financing: Best Options, How It Works

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Accounts receivable financing, also known as invoice financing, allows businesses to borrow capital against the value of their accounts receivable — in other words, their unpaid invoices. A lender advances a portion of the business’s outstanding invoices, in the form of a loan or line of credit, and the invoices serve as collateral on the financing.

Accounts receivable, or AR, financing can be a good option if you need funding fast for situations such as covering cash flow gaps or paying for short-term expenses. Because AR financing is self-securing, it can also be a good choice if you can’t qualify for other small-business loans.

Here’s what you need to know about how accounts receivable financing works and some of the best options for small businesses.

How Much Do You Need?

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How does accounts receivable financing work?

With accounts receivable financing, a lender advances you a percentage of the value of your receivables, potentially as much as 90%. When a customer pays their invoice, you receive the remaining percentage, minus the lender’s fees.

Accounts receivable financing fees are typically charged as a flat percentage of the invoice value, and generally range from 1% to 5%. The amount you pay in fees is based on how long it takes your customer to pay their invoice.

Here’s a breakdown of how the process works:

  1. You apply for and receive financing. Say you decide to finance a $50,000 invoice with 60-day repayment terms. You apply for accounts receivable financing and the lender approves you for an advance of 80% ($40,000).

  2. You use the funds and the lender charges fees. After receiving the financing, you use it to pay for business expenses. During this time, the lender charges a 3% fee for each week it takes your customer to pay the invoice.

  3. You collect payment from your customer. Your customer pays their invoice after three weeks. You owe the lender a $4,500 fee: 3% of the total invoice amount of $50,000 ($1,500) for each week.

  4. You repay the lender. Now that your customer has paid you, you’ll keep $5,500 and repay the lender the original advance amount, plus fees, $44,500. You paid a total of $4,500 in fees, which calculates to an approximate annual percentage rate of 65.7%.

Because accounts receivable financing companies don’t charge traditional interest, it’s important to calculate your fees into an APR to understand the true cost of borrowing. APRs on accounts receivable financing can reach as high as 79%.

Accounts receivable financing vs. factoring

Accounts receivable financing is often confused with accounts receivable factoring, which is also referred to as invoice factoring. Although AR financing and factoring are similar, there are differences.

With invoice factoring, you sell your outstanding receivables to a factoring company at a discount. The factoring company pays you a percentage of the invoice’s value, then collects payment directly from your customer. When your customer pays, the factoring company gives you the rest of the money you’re owed, minus its fees.

With accounts receivable financing, on the other hand, your invoices serve as collateral on your financing. You retain control of your receivables at all times and collect repayment from your customers. After your customer has paid their invoice, you repay what you borrowed from the lender, plus the agreed-upon fees.

Invoice factoring can be a good financing option if you don’t mind giving up control of your invoices and you can trust a factoring company to professionally collect customer payments. If you’d rather maintain control of your invoices and work directly with your customers, AR financing is likely a better option.

Best accounts receivable financing options

Accounts receivable financing is usually offered by online lenders and fintech companies, many of which specialize in this type of business funding. Certain banks offer AR financing as well.

If you’re looking for a place to start your search, here are a few of the best accounts receivable financing companies to consider.

altLINE

A division of the Southern Bank Company, altLINE is a lender that specializes in AR financing. AltLINE offers both accounts receivable financing and invoice factoring, working with small businesses in a variety of industries, including startups and those that can’t qualify for traditional loans.

AltLINE offers advances of up to 90% of the value of your invoices with fees starting at 0.50%. To get a free quote from altLINE, call a representative or fill out a brief application on the lender’s website. If you apply online, a representative will contact you within 24 hours.

AltLINE’s website also contains a range of articles for small-business owners, covering AR and invoice financing, payroll funding, cash flow management and more. AltLINE is accredited by the Better Business Bureau and is rated 4.7 out of 5 stars on Trustpilot.

1st Commercial Credit

1st Commercial Credit offers accounts receivable financing in addition to other forms of asset-based lending, such as invoice factoring, equipment financing and purchase order financing. The company works with small and medium-sized businesses, including startups and businesses with bad credit.

With 1st Commercial Credit, you can finance $10,000 to $10 million in receivables with fees ranging from 0.69% to 1.59%. You can start the application process by calling a sales representative or filling out a free quote form on the company’s website. After your application is approved, it typically takes three to five business days to set up your account, then you can receive funds within 24 hours.

1st Commercial Credit is accredited by the Better Business Bureau and has an A+ rating.

Porter Capital

Porter Capital is an alternative lender specializing in invoice factoring and accounts receivable financing. The company also has a special division, Porter Freight Funding, which is dedicated to working with businesses in the transportation industry.

With Porter Capital, you can receive an advance of 70% to 90% of your receivables and work with an account manager to customize a financing agreement that’s unique to your business. Porter funds startups and established businesses, offering fees as low as 0.75% monthly.

You can provide basic information about your business to get a free quote and receive funding in as little as 24 hours. Although Porter Capital isn’t accredited by the Better Business Bureau, it does have an A+ rating; the company also has 3.7 out of 5 stars on Trustpilot.

Additional options

Although AR financing and factoring are distinct, many companies blur the lines between the two. As you compare options, make sure you understand the type of financing a lender offers.

If you decide that invoice factoring may be a fit for your business, you might consider companies like FundThrough, Triumph Business Capital or RTS Financial.

Find and compare small-business loans

If accounts receivable financing isn’t right for you, check out NerdWallet’s list of the best small-business loans for business owners.

Our recommendations are based on the market scope and track record of lenders, the needs of business owners, and an analysis of rates and other factors, so you can make the right financing decision.

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Finance & Accounting

SBA Loan Collateral vs. Guarantee: What’s the Difference?

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Personal guarantees and collateral are both ways of promising a lender that you’ll make good on your debt. You may have to offer both to get an SBA loan.

Collateral ties a loan to a specific asset, like your business’s inventory or your home, which the lender can seize if your business can’t repay the loan. A personal guarantee promises the lender that you will repay the debt using your personal assets, but may not specify how.

In general, SBA lenders require anyone who owns 20% or more of a business to provide a personal guarantee. SBA loans larger than $25,000 usually require collateral, too.

Do SBA loans require a personal guarantee?

SBA loans usually require unlimited personal guarantees from anyone who owns more than 20% of a business. Lenders may ask for limited or unlimited personal guarantees from other business owners, too.

Unlimited personal guarantee: This is a promise that the guarantor (the business owner) will pay back the loan in full if the business is unable to. The lender doesn’t have to seize collateral or seek payment from any other source before going straight to the loan applicant for loan repayment.

Limited personal guarantee: If you own less than 20% of a business, you may have the option to sign a limited personal guarantee instead. The limited personal guarantee caps the amount you’ll have to pay the lender, either as a dollar limit or a percentage of the debt.

Limited personal guarantees can be secured by collateral, which means the lender will seize those assets when they recoup payment instead of asking you to pay back a certain dollar amount.

Who has to personally guarantee an SBA loan?

The SBA requires personal guarantees from:

  • Individuals who own more than 20% of a business.

  • Spouses who own 5% more of the business, if their combined ownership interest is 20% or more.

  • Trusts, if the trust owns 20% or more of the business.

  • Trustors, if a revocable trust owns 20% or more of the business.

SBA lenders may require additional personal guarantees.

Do SBA loans require collateral?

For SBA 7(a) loans of between $25,000 and $350,000, SBA lenders have to follow collateral policies that are similar to the procedures they’ve established for non-SBA loans. Banks and credit unions are usually the intermediary lenders for SBA 7(a) loans.

If you use an SBA loan to finance specific assets, like an equipment purchase, the lender will take a lien on those assets as collateral. The lender may also use your business’s other fixed assets as collateral, and you may have to offer personal assets, too.

For SBA 7(a) loans larger than $350,000, SBA lenders need collateral worth as much as the loan. The lender will start with your business assets. If they need more collateral, the SBA requires them to turn to the real estate you own personally, as long as you have at least 25% equity in the property.

Live Oak Bank is the largest SBA 7(a) lender in the U.S. by volume. Its loans may require collateral in the form of:

  • Personal residences.

  • Retirement accounts.

  • Commercial real estate.

  • Equipment.

  • Commercial vehicles.

  • Accounts receivable.

  • Inventory.

What if I can’t provide collateral or a personal guarantee?

If you’re seeking any type of SBA loan, there’s a good chance you’ll have to provide both collateral and a personal guarantee. Even SBA microloans usually require collateral and a personal guarantee. Without them, you’ll have trouble getting an SBA loan.

Some online lenders offer unsecured business loans, which don’t require collateral. But you may still have to sign a personal guarantee.

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