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What is Day Sales Outstanding?

What is Day Sales Outstanding?

Day Sales Outstanding (DSO) Definition

Day Sales Outstanding (DSO) represents the average number of days it takes a company to collect payment after a sale. It's a crucial metric used in accounts receivable management, providing insight into the effectiveness of a company's credit and collection policies. Essentially, DSO measures the liquidity or cash flow of a company's accounts receivables.

Why is DSO Important?

DSO is crucial for understanding and managing the cash conversion cycle of a business, assessing the effectiveness of credit policies, evaluating financial health, and benchmarking performance. It's a vital tool for businesses to maintain healthy cash flows and to make informed decisions about credit and collection policies. Here are some reasons why tracking this metric is crucial for businesses:

  • Liquidity Measurement: DSO serves as a primary gauge of a company's liquidity. By understanding how long it takes to convert sales into cash, businesses can better manage their cash flow and liquidity position.
  • Operational Efficiency: DSO reflects the efficiency of a company's accounts receivable process. A lower DSO indicates a more efficient collection process, suggesting that the company is effective in its credit and collection policies.
  • Financial Health Indicator: DSO is often used by analysts and investors as an indicator of a company’s financial health. Consistently high DSO can be a warning sign of financial distress, potentially leading to cash flow problems.
  • Credit Policy Evaluation: DSO helps in evaluating the effectiveness of a company’s credit policies. It indicates whether the credit terms offered to customers are reasonable and if they align with the company's overall business strategy.
  • Customer Payment Behavior Analysis: It provides insight into customer payment behavior. A high DSO could indicate that customers are struggling to pay, suggesting the need for a review of the customer's creditworthiness.
  • Benchmarking and Competitive Analysis: Comparing DSO with industry averages allows businesses to benchmark their performance against competitors. This comparison can lead to strategic decisions to improve processes or revise credit policies.
  • Decision-Making for Credit Extensions: Businesses use DSO to decide whether to tighten or relax credit terms. Understanding DSO trends helps in making informed decisions about extending credit to customers.
  • Cash Flow Predictions: DSO is a valuable tool for predicting cash flow, which is crucial for budgeting, financial planning, and ensuring the business can meet its obligations.

How Does DSO Affect Business?

Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) has a significant impact on a business in various ways. Here's how:

Cash Flow

DSO directly influences a company's cash flow. High DSO means it takes longer to collect revenue from sales, potentially leading to cash shortages. This can affect a company's ability to pay for its operational expenses, like salaries, rent, and inventory purchases. Conversely, a low DSO indicates that the company is collecting its receivables quickly, improving its cash flow.

Working Capital Management

Working capital is the capital used in a company's day-to-day trading operations. DSO is a critical component in managing working capital efficiently. A higher DSO can tie up a company's working capital in accounts receivable, which may require the business to seek additional financing to cover its short-term needs.

Credit Policy and Customer Relationships

DSO can reflect the effectiveness of a company's credit policy. A high DSO might indicate that a company's credit terms are too lenient, potentially putting the company at risk of bad debts. However, tightening credit terms to reduce DSO might impact customer relationships and sales, as customers might prefer more flexible credit terms.

Financial Health and Profitability

Prolonged high DSO can be a warning sign of underlying issues, such as poor credit management or customer dissatisfaction. It can also lead to increased borrowing and interest costs, reducing overall profitability. Companies with high DSO might need to write off bad debts more frequently, which directly impacts the bottom line.

Investment and Growth Opportunities

Efficient cash flow management, indicated by a lower DSO, provides a company with more opportunities to invest in growth. Companies can use the readily available cash to invest in new projects, research and development, marketing efforts, or expansion plans without relying on external financing.

Risk Management

A high DSO represents a higher credit risk, as extending credit for longer periods increases the likelihood of defaults. This necessitates a more robust risk management strategy to mitigate potential bad debts.

Benchmarking and Competitive Advantage

Companies often compare their DSO with industry averages to assess their performance. A lower DSO can provide a competitive advantage in industries where cash flow is a critical factor. It demonstrates efficient operations and effective management, which can be appealing to investors and stakeholders.

Difference Between High DSO and Low DSO

High DSO implies that a company takes longer to collect on its receivables. This can signal poor credit management, inefficient collection processes, or customers' financial difficulties. Low DSO suggests a quick collection of receivables, indicating effective credit management and healthy cash flow. 

  • A lower DSO indicates that the company is collecting its receivables more quickly.
  • A higher DSO suggests slower collection and potential issues in credit policies or customer payment behaviors.

What is a Good DSO Ratio?

A "good" DSO ratio varies by industry and business model. Generally, a DSO that is close to or lower than the industry average is considered good. It's essential to compare a company's DSO with industry benchmarks for an accurate assessment. However, there are some general principles to consider when evaluating what constitutes a good DSO:

Industry Standards

Different industries have varying standard payment terms and business practices, which can greatly affect what is considered a good DSO. For instance, industries with longer manufacturing and sales cycles might naturally have a higher DSO compared to those with quicker turnover.

Comparison with Average Payment Terms

Ideally, a company's DSO should be close to its standard payment terms. For example, if a company's standard payment terms are 30 days, a DSO near 30 is generally good. A DSO significantly higher than the payment terms can indicate issues with collections or credit policies.

Benchmarking Against Peers

Comparing a company's DSO with the industry average or with key competitors can provide insight into its relative performance. A DSO that is lower or in line with industry averages is typically seen as favorable.

Trends Over Time

A DSO, which is stable or decreasing over time can indicate improvements in collection processes or credit management. Conversely, an increasing DSO might signal potential issues in these areas.

Company's Credit Policy

The company's credit policy should also be considered while calculating DSO. A higher DSO might be acceptable and even strategic if a company intentionally offers longer credit terms to penetrate a market or support key customers.

Impact on Cash Flow

A good DSO aligns with the company's cash flow requirements. It is acceptable if a company can comfortably operate with a higher DSO without impacting its operational efficiency or financial obligations.

Economic and Market Conditions

External factors such as economic downturns or market changes can temporarily impact DSO. A good DSO can be evaluated as per the current economic environment.

How to Calculate DSO

The formula to calculate Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) is relatively straightforward, but it can vary slightly depending on the specific approach or the data available. Here are the common formulas used:

Standard DSO Formula

The standard formula for DSO calculation is:

DSO = (Total Accounts Receivable / Total Credit Sales) × Number of Days in Period


  • Total Accounts Receivable is the total amount of money owed by customers.
  • Total Credit Sales are the sales made on credit (excluding cash sales) during the period.
  • Number of Days in Period is the number of days in the period being analyzed (e.g., 30 days for a month, 90 days for a quarter, 365 days for a year).

Average DSO Formula

If you want to calculate the average DSO over a longer period, such as a year, to account for seasonal variations, you can use the following formula:

Average DSO = ∑ (DSO per period) Number of Periods)

Daily Sales Calculation

If you don't have the total credit sales for the period but you have annual sales figures, you can modify the formula to:

DSO = ( Total Accounts Receivable / Annual Sales) × Number of Days in Year


DSO = ( Total Accounts Receivable / Daily Sales)

Daily Sales = Total Annual Sales / Number of Days in Year (365 or 366 for a leap year).

Some industries might have specific ways of calculating DSO to better reflect their business practices.
Here's a step-by-step guide on how to calculate it:

  • Determine the Period: First, choose the period for which you want to calculate DSO. This could be a month, a quarter, or a year, depending on your analysis needs.
  • Calculate Total Accounts Receivable: Total Accounts Receivable is the total amount of money owed to the company by its customers for goods or services delivered on credit. This is usually found on the company's balance sheet at the end of the period.
  • Calculate Total Credit Sales: Total Credit Sales are the sales made on credit during the same period. It's important to exclude cash sales since these don't contribute to accounts receivable.
  • Number of Days in the Period: This is the total number of days in the period you are analyzing. For example, if you're calculating DSO for a month, this number would be the number of days in that month (e.g., 30 or 31). For a year, it would be 365 (or 366 in a leap year).
  • Apply the Formula: Divide the Total Accounts Receivable by the Total Credit Sales and multiply by the Number of Days in the period.

Understanding and effectively managing Day Sales Outstanding is crucial for maintaining healthy cash flow and operational efficiency. By regularly monitoring DSO and comparing it with industry standards, businesses can make informed decisions about credit policies and collection practices, ensuring long-term financial stability and growth.

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