What is DE and EBDITA

Discretionary Earnings or DE and EBITDA are common earnings terms used frequently in business sales, but what exactly do these figures mean and how are they calculated?  

For additional information on using Earnings Multiples to value a business see our Blog “How to Value a Business Using Earnings Multiples”. 

 Discretionary Earnings Calculation

Start with Net Profit shown on Federal Tax Return then add Interest, Depreciation and Amortization plus owner’s benefits and expense as shown below.  

Net Profit (Federal Tax Return) 

  • + Interest Expense
  •  + Depreciation
  • + Amortization 
  • + Owner’s compensation (from tax return) 
  • + Owner’s benefits such as auto, health insurance, travel/entertainment, other expense (non business essential and must be an expense on the tax return) 
  • + One Time – Non Recurring or Unusual Expenses.  These are added back if they are a one time extraordinary expense.  

= Discretionary Earnings, aka DE and sometimes SDE, Seller’s Discretionary Earnings

What’s the Difference Between EBITDA and DE?

EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation & Amortization) is a common term for earnings typically used for very large companies and Publicly Traded companies.  When earnings are reported on the news for large corporations they are typically referring to EBITDA and simply call it “earnings” for simplicity.  EBITDA is used to measure earnings because it adds back non cash expenses such as Depreciation and Amortization and also adds back Interest and Taxes to arrive at a normalized cash flow for the company.  

EBITDA is also used for privately held mid sized companies but it requires some adjustments to reflect the actual EBITDA.  Most privately held companies have owners compensation and benefits included in the company expenses. If one calculates EBITDA by simply adding back Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization the owner’s expenses have not been adjusted out of the expenses.  For privately held companies a Normalized or Adjusted EBITDA is used (see below) where the owner’s benefits and expenses are added back and then a replacement salary for the owner is subtracted. Normalized EBITDA reflects the earnings of the company with a professional manager (eg a GM or President) operating the company.  Normalized EBITDA is most commonly used for businesses with at least $5 million to $10 million in sales and above. 

For businesses under $5 million in sales Discretionary Earnings (DE) is the most common earnings metric used.  DE is very similar to EBITDA except that with DE the owner’s salary and expenses are added back to reflect the total economic benefit the owner derives from the company.  DE assumes the company is operated and run by the owner. The DE calculation adds back owner’s benefits and expenses that are not business essential or are an economic benefit to the owner which is another form of compensation. 

Normalized EBITDA Calculation 

The simplest way to calculate Normalized EBITDA is to start with DE (Discretionary Earnings) and subtract the market value replacement salary for a manager to run the business.  Normalized EBITDA is essentially the earnings of the business under an absentee owner business model.  

To calculate Normalized EBITDA from scratch you would do the following: 

Net Profit (Federal Tax Return) 

  • + Interest Expense
  • + Depreciation
  • + Amortization 
  • + Owner’s compensation (from tax return) 
  • + Owner’s benefits such as auto, health insurance, travel/entertainment, other expense (non business essential and must be an expense on the tax return) 
  • + One Time – Non Recurring or Unusual Expenses.  These are added back if they are a one time extraordinary expense.  
  • – Replacement Salary at market value for a Manager to replace the owner. 

= Normalized EBITDA

INFORMATION ON BUYING-SELLING A BUSINESS