written by | April 20, 2022

What Are Retained Earnings?

What are Retained EarningsRetained earnings are the portion of a company's net income that remains after dividends or other distributions have been paid to shareholders, and the corporation retains the remainder.  

If a company has excess retained earnings, it may put it to good use by donating it to organisations that will help it expand. Retained earnings are sometimes known as "unallocated profit earnings surplus" or "aggregated profits." 

Retained earnings can also be used to establish whether or not a company is profitable. End retained earnings are a measure of a company's actual worth since they are what persists after all commitments have been satisfied.

If the firm has kept its positive earnings, it does have a surplus of money that it may utilise to reinvest in itself. Negative profit implies that the firm has incurred a loss and owes more funds in credit than it has generated. 

Did you know?

A growth-focused company is less likely to pay out large dividends as it will use its retained earnings for expansion.

How to Calculate Retained Earnings?

The following is the retained earnings formula

Retained earnings (RE) = Initial RE + Net income (or loss) - Dividends 

A corporation, for instance, may start a financial month with ₹7,000 in retained earnings. These are all the retained earnings from the preceding financial statement that have been carried forward. The firm then earns ₹5,000 in net revenue and pays out ₹2,000 as dividends. 

Retained earnings are calculated as 7,000 + 5,000 - 2,000 = 10,000. 

It signifies that the corporation has ₹10,000 in retained earnings for this financial quarter.

A business's retained earnings grow over time and transfer into each subsequent accounting cycle or year. If a corporation is profitable, its retained earnings will most likely rise with each accounting period, based on how the business decides to spend its retained earnings.

How to Interpret the Results of Retained Earnings Calculations?

A firm's retained earnings represent its profit after all dividends and other commitments have been satisfied. If a corporation's retained earnings are positive, it suggests the business is profitable. If a company has negative retained earnings, it has amassed more debt than it has earned. 

When analysing retained earnings, it's critical to keep the company's entire status into consideration. For instance, negative retained earnings might be predicted if a firm is in its early stages. It is relevant if the firm depended significantly on investors or borrowed the money to get started. 

Nonetheless, if a firm has been in operation for several years, negative retained earnings might indicate that the firm is not lucrative enough and requires financial support. 

The following are the considerations when analysing a company's retained earnings – 

Also Read: Know about Balance Sheet - Definition & Examples

Age of the Company

Senior enterprises will have had much more time accumulating retained profits and hence should also have a larger retained earnings amount. 

Dividend Policy

If a company has agreed to pay out dividends regularly, its retained earnings may be smaller. Numerous publicly traded corporations pay out greater dividends than privately-owned companies. 


The larger a company's retained earnings are, the more profitable it is. 


Corporations might have to preserve retained earnings in successful seasons in industries where activity is very seasonal, such as retailing. As a result, a corporation may have accounting periods with significant retained earnings along with financial statements with low or negative retained earnings.

Management and Retained Earnings

  • Whether to withhold revenues or distribute them to shareholders is often left to the top management. Nonetheless, because stockholders are the true owners of the corporation, they can dispute it with a majority vote. 
  • Management and stockholders may desire the firm to keep its earnings. With a greater understanding of the market and the company's operations, management may have identified a high-growth project that they believe has the potential to provide significant profits in the future. 
  • In the long term, such activities may result in higher benefits for firm owners than dividend distributions. Rather than dividend payments, management and shareholders may elect to pay down high-interest debt. 
  • When a firm creates a cash surplus, a fraction of its long-term shareholders may anticipate some monthly income in dividends as a return for investing in the business. Traders seeking short-term returns could also choose dividend payments that provide immediate benefits. 
  • Most of the time, the company's management adopts a holistic approach. It entails giving out a small number of dividends while keeping a large share of the revenues, which is a win-win situation. 

Retained Earnings vs Dividends

  • Dividends can be paid in cash or equity, and both types of distribution diminish the amount of money that may be kept. Dividend payments in cash result in a cash outflow reported in the accounting records as net reductions. As the corporation loses control of its liquid funds in the form of cash dividend payout, the capital value on the balance sheet decreases, affecting retained earnings. 
  • On the other side, stock dividends do not result in a cash outflow; rather, the shares payout transfers a portion of the retained earnings to common shares. For example, if a corporation distributes one share as a dividend for every share held by investors, the value of the shares will fall by half since the number of shares would practically double. 
  • Since declaring a stock dividend does not generate any actual value for the firm, the per-share market price is changed according to the fraction of the stock dividend. 
  • Although this increase in the number of shares does not affect the company's balance sheet since the market rate is immediately updated, it lowers the per-share worth, which is shown in capital accounting and affects the retained earnings.
  • A growth-oriented corporation may not pay dividends or only pay extremely tiny sums since it would rather utilise the retained earnings to fund R&D, branding, operational expenses, capital expenditures, and acquisitions to pursue more growth. Over time, such businesses have a high level of retained earnings. 
  • A mature firm does not have many alternatives or high-return ventures to utilise its excess capital on, and it could prefer to pay out dividends. Such businesses often have lower retained earnings. 

Also Read: Accounting Cycle: Definition and Steps in the Accounting Cycle Process

Limitations of Retained Earnings

The absolute quantity of retained earnings for a specific quarter or even a year might not always give relevant insight to an analyst. Analysing that over time (for example, five years) shows how much revenue a corporation adds to retained earnings. 

As a shareholder, one would like to know more about the return on retained earnings and if those surpass any other investment. Furthermore, investors may prefer higher dividends to big yearly gains in retained earnings. 


The management and shareholders may have opposing opinions on the holding and use of revenues. Dividends are a type of yearly return on investment that shareholders may want. Alternatively, there could be a section of shareholders that want to reinvest and develop the company's operations to increase the stock price of shares in the future. 

As a result, management is likely to take a comprehensive approach, paying out a portion of profits as a dividend and preserving the remainder as retained earnings. 
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Q: What does it mean for a company to have high retained earnings?


On one extreme, large retained earnings may suggest financial health since they show a proven history of prosperity in past years. On the other extreme, it might indicate that a corporation should consider increasing dividend payments to its shareholders. However, this depends on whether the firm has pursued viable expansion prospects.

Q: Where can retained earnings be found on a balance sheet?


Retained earnings may be seen on a company's balance sheet under the stakeholders' equity column. This value could be updated and reported quarterly, but it must be computed and published on an annual basis.

Q: Are retained earnings reserves?


Reserve and retained earnings sometimes appear to be the same thing, but they are normally two separate accounts. While retained earnings are the cumulative profits produced by a firm that has yet to be spent or paid out as dividends, reserves represent revenues transferred into one or more specialised accounts and allocated for specific future reasons such as unforeseen costs. In other terms, reserves may be considered a subset of retained earnings.

Q: Are retained earnings an asset or a type of equity?


Retained earnings aren't classified as an asset, even though they are frequently used to acquire assets like machinery or commodities. Retained earnings are a sort of equity that appears on a company's financial accounts in the shareholders' equity column.

Q: Can a company have negative retained earnings?


If a firm's losses during a given time surpass the amount in its retained earnings fund, the balance might go below zero, indicating financial danger in more mature enterprises. Negative retained earnings are relatively unusual in the early stages of a startup or a younger business's growth.

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