What is Seller’s Discretionary Earnings (SDE) and Its Formula?

What is Seller's Discretionary Earnings (SDE) and Its Formula?

What is Seller’s Discretionary Earnings (SDE)?

Seller’s Discretionary Earnings (SDE) is a key financial metric used in business valuation. In simple terms, it represents the total benefits a business provides to its owner, considering various discretionary expenses. These discretionary expenses are costs that may not be directly tied to the day-to-day operations of the business and can be adjusted to reflect the true earning potential. SDE includes the owner’s salary, non-essential perks, one-time expenses, and any other discretionary costs. By calculating SDE, potential buyers or investors can better understand the actual profitability of a business and make informed decisions when evaluating its value.

Small business finances can seem complex, but SDE (Seller’s Discretionary Earnings) simplifies it. SDE includes different money aspects like the business’s profits, the owner’s pay, interest, and costs like wear and tear. It’s super important, especially when looking at small businesses or those with just one owner. It’s like a special tool that helps them understand their financial health.

SDE Formula

To calculate Seller’s Discretionary Earnings, you can use the following formula:

SDE = Net Income + Owner’s Salary + Interest + Depreciation + Amortization + Non-Essential Expenses

The non-essential expenses refer to discretionary items that the business owner benefits from, such as personal travel, company cars for personal use, and other perks. These are added back to the net income to provide a more accurate reflection of the business’s profitability.

Components of Seller’s Discretionary Earnings

  • Net Profit: The net profit is the core financial metric, representing the total earnings of the business after deducting all expenses, including taxes, operational costs, and interest.
  • Owner’s Salary: The owner’s salary is an integral part of SDE. It reflects the compensation that the owner takes from the business as a reward for their time and effort.
  • Owner’s Benefits: The owner’s benefits include any perks or benefits that the owner receives from the business, such as healthcare, retirement plans, or bonuses.
  • Non-essential Expenses: Non-essential expenses cover discretionary costs like travel, entertainment, or any other expenses not essential for the daily operation of the business.

Why is SDE Important for Small Business Owners?

1. Valuation of the Business

SDE, or Seller’s Discretionary Earnings, plays a crucial role in determining how valuable a small business is. Whether you’re considering purchasing or selling a small business, grasping its genuine profitability becomes incredibly significant for all parties involved. Prospective buyers aim to ensure they’re making a wise decision, while dedicated sellers aspire to receive a fair reward for their relentless efforts.

2. Evaluating Return on Investment (ROI)

Small business owners need to assess the returns they are getting from their investments. By calculating SDE, they can determine whether their business is delivering the expected profits and whether their investment has been worthwhile.

3. Obtaining Financing

When seeking loans or attracting investors, small business owners must provide a clear financial picture of their business. SDE offers a more comprehensive view of profitability, making it easier to secure financing.

4. Decision-Making

Small business owners often face critical decisions, such as expansion, investment in new equipment, or hiring more employees. SDE helps them make informed decisions by offering insights into available funds and overall profitability.

5. Tax Planning

SDE is also relevant for tax planning. Business owners can use it to minimize their tax liability legally by identifying expenses that can be deducted from their income.

What is Seller's Discretionary Earnings (SDE) and Its Formula

Areas of Disagreements Between Buyers and Sellers

Buyers and sellers of small businesses may sometimes have disagreements. These disagreements can arise due to various factors, including:

  1. Discretionary Expenses: Buyers may question the inclusion of certain discretionary expenses in the SDE calculation, leading to negotiations.
  2. Owner’s Compensation: Determining a fair owner’s salary can be a point of contention, as sellers may want to maximize their earnings.
  3. Non-Recurring Expenses: Buyers may challenge the treatment of non-recurring expenses, as they are, by nature, not expected to continue in the future.
  4. Depreciation and Amortization: The depreciation and amortization methods used can impact the SDE calculation and result in differing opinions.
  5. Tax Implications: Disagreements may also stem from differences in how taxes are handled within the SDE calculation.


In assessing a business’s financial well-being, it’s crucial to grasp the significance of SDE (Seller’s Discretionary Earnings) and EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization). Picture SDE as the complete view, factoring in the owner’s perks and salary providing you with a holistic understanding of a small business’s profitability. Understanding these metrics is like having a backstage pass to a business’s financial fitness.

On the flip side, EBITDA zooms in on operational performance, excluding certain financial bits. If you’re dealing with a small business, SDE is your go-to, while EBITDA takes the spotlight in larger corporate setups. Both metrics spill the beans on a business, but the choice boils down to size and the financial aspects you’re eyeballing.

In the realm of business evaluation, understanding the differences between SDE and EBITDA is crucial. SDE considers the owner’s benefits, offering a holistic view of small business profitability, while EBITDA concentrates on operational performance by excluding specific financial elements. The choice between SDE and EBITDA depends on the business’s size and the financial aspects under scrutiny. These metrics, though distinct, collectively contribute to a comprehensive assessment of a company’s financial standing.

Small Business SDE Calculation Example

Let’s embark on a real-world journey to uncover the secrets of calculating Seller’s Discretionary Earnings (SDE). Picture yourself as the owner of a charming boutique retail store. Now, let’s dive into how you, as a small business owner, can effortlessly compute your SDE.

  1. Start with your net income: of $100,000.
  2. Add your salary as the owner: $40,000.
  3. Include the interest paid on loans for the business: $5,000.
  4. Add depreciation and amortization: $10,000.
  5. Include non-essential expenses, such as personal travel and company car expenses: $15,000.

Now, let’s calculate SDE using the formula:

SDE = $100,000 + $40,000 + $5,000 + $10,000 + $15,000 = $170,000

So, your Seller’s Discretionary Earnings for your boutique retail store would be $170,000.

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In conclusion, understanding Seller’s Discretionary Earnings (SDE) is a game-changer for small business folks. This financial metric gives you the full lowdown on how profitable your venture is, factoring in both the cool perks you enjoy and those not-so-essential expenses. Getting a grip on SDE is key for figuring out your business’s value, checking out the return on your investment, snagging some financing, making savvy decisions, and getting your ducks in a row for taxes. Unlike its counterpart EBITDA, SDE takes a closer look at the perks the owner pockets. Crunching the numbers with SDE lets small business owners like you make smarter financial moves and navigate your business journey with a sturdy dose of confidence.

Important Note: While I’m here to share insights, remember: this isn’t financial advice. Always consult a qualified financial advisor before diving into investments. They’ll give personalized guidance, tailored to your unique finances, for a secure financial future.


How is Seller’s Discretionary Earnings Calculated?

To calculate Seller’s Discretionary Earnings (SDE), you typically start with the business’s net profit or income. Then, you add back certain expenses that the current owner may have taken from the business for personal use, such as the owner’s salary, benefits, depreciation, and other non-essential expenses. The formula for SDE is Net Profit + Owner’s Salary + Owner’s Benefits + Depreciation + Non-Essential Expenses = SDE.

Why is Seller’s Discretionary Earnings Important for Business Valuation?

Seller’s Discretionary Earnings is important for business valuation because it helps both buyers and sellers understand the true financial performance of the business. By considering the owner’s discretionary expenses, SDE provides a more accurate reflection of how much money the business can potentially generate for a new owner. This information is crucial for setting a fair selling price or making an informed buying decision.

How Can I Find the Required Information for SDE Calculation?

To calculate Seller’s Discretionary Earnings, you’ll need access to the business’s financial statements, including the income statement (profit and loss statement) and balance sheet. You’ll also need to gather information about the owner’s salary, benefits, and any non-essential expenses that can be adjusted. It’s essential to have accurate financial records to calculate SDE correctly.

Can SDE Vary from Business to Business?

Yes, the Seller’s Discretionary Earnings can vary from one business to another. It depends on the specific financial practices of the current owner and the industry in which the business operates. Some businesses may have higher or lower SDE based on their unique circumstances. It’s crucial to consider these differences when valuing or buying a business to make well-informed decisions.

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