Days Sales Outstanding (DSO)

Accounting concept related to the amount of time it takes for a company to collect the money owed to it by its clients

Author: Christopher Haynes
Christopher Haynes
Christopher Haynes
Asset Management | Investment Banking

Chris currently works as an investment associate with Ascension Ventures, a strategic healthcare venture fund that invests on behalf of thirteen of the nation's leading health systems with $88 billion in combined operating revenue. Previously, Chris served as an investment analyst with New Holland Capital, a hedge fund-of-funds asset management firm with $20 billion under management, and as an investment banking analyst in SunTrust Robinson Humphrey's Financial Sponsor Group.

Chris graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and earned a Master of Finance (MSF) from the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis.

Reviewed By: David Bickerton
David Bickerton
David Bickerton
Asset Management | Financial Analysis

Previously a Portfolio Manager for MDH Investment Management, David has been with the firm for nearly a decade, serving as President since 2015. He has extensive experience in wealth management, investments and portfolio management.

David holds a BS from Miami University in Finance.

Last Updated:August 24, 2023

Days Sales Outstanding (DSO), also called Accounts Receivable Days, is an accounting concept related to Accounts Receivable. Accounts receivable refers to the amount of money owed to the company by its clients. This is money that the company has the right to receive at a later date as the company has already provided the service to the client.

Accounts receivable days refers to the length of time an invoice takes to clear all Accounts Receivable or how long it takes to receive the money for goods a company sells. This is useful for determining how efficient the company is at receiving whatever short-term payments it is owed.

While accounts receivable days can vary from industry to industry, you are generally looking for a balance between giving your client enough time to get the money and collecting the money after the service as quickly as possible.

While calculating accounts receivable days gives valuable insight into the effectiveness of a company’s collection process, it is an account-focused approach.

This calculation does not take into consideration the client behind the account. To supplement this shortfall, it is recommended to use other calculations, such as accounts receivable aging, to get a more complete picture of a company's collection process. Hotel accounting for example deals with different payment terms relative to SaaS accounting (software as a service) but the fundamental concept of accounts receivable days are exactly the same."

Key Takeaways

  • Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) is a measure of the average time it takes for a company to collect payments from its clients for goods or services provided.
  • DSO is calculated by dividing the accounts receivable by the revenue and multiplying it by the number of days in a year.
  • Companies aim for a balance between giving clients enough time to pay while collecting payments as quickly as possible to maintain cash flow.
  • DSO alone does not provide a complete picture of a company's collection process, so it is recommended to use additional calculations, such as accounts receivable aging.

How do we calculate the Days Sales Outstanding (DSO)?

The formula for Days Sales Outstanding or the Accounts Receivable Days is:

  • Accounts Receivable Days = (Accounts Receivable / Revenue) x Number of Days In Year

For the purpose of this calculation, it is usually assumed that there are 360 days in the year (4 quarters of 90 days). Accounts Receivable Days are often found on a financial statement projection model.

Interestingly, a report on the technology company Apple recently stated that Apple gets paid for its products before it actually has to pay for them.

In practice, this means that Apple's Accounts Receivable (AR) Days are lower than its Accounts Payable (AP) Days.

This ratio is important because it means Apple can effectively ramp up production to the very maximum level of consumer demand and will never be limited by cash flow (not that it would be anyway with $100bn in the bank).

Most companies are not in this situation, so in order to avoid having production constrained by free cash, it is desirable to minimize the difference between AR Days and AP days.

In Apple's case, consumers pay for their products within 18 days, but Apple does not have to pay suppliers for 83 days which implies they have money coming in roughly 4.5x faster than going out (this would be if they sold products for what it cost to purchase which they do not, in reality, their income flow would be 9x faster or greater than their expenditure).

This concept can be slightly counterintuitive at times, so an example is provided below to illustrate the principles.

Examples of Accounts Receivable Days

Here’s a simple example of an Accounts Receivable Days calculation using the formula we listed above:

Company ABC currently has $100 in its accounts receivable, and its revenue is $700. We can then use the Accounts Receivable Days formula to calculate the effectiveness of Company ABC’s accounts receivable process.

Accounts Receivable Days = (Accounts Receivable / Revenue) x Number of Days In Year
Accounts Receivable Days = ($100 [Accounts Receivable] / $700 [Revenue]) * 360 [Number of Days in a Year]
Accounts Receivable Days = 0.14286 * 360
Accounts Receivable Days = 51.42857

Typically companies give their clients about 30 days to pay their invoices. Using the Accounts Receivable Days ratio of ~51.43 that we found earlier, we can then compare it to the 30-day company standard.

When compared, it reveals that Company ABC is giving their clients nearly double their standard invoice time. Based on this, Company ABC should improve its collection process.

Here’s a more complex example:

Imagine there is a company that only sells chairs and has $100 in the bank. Each chair costs $10 to produce and retails for $20.

The company has a contract with its suppliers saying it will pay for materials 15 days after delivery, but on average, its customers do not pay for products until 30 days (1-month free credit deal or similar) after purchase. So what does this imply?

Again for simplicity, we assume that the company receives the materials, converts them into a chair, and sells the chair all within 1 day. So on day 1, the company takes delivery of materials for 10 chairs and sells all 10 to consumers and still has $100 in the bank.

On day 16, it has to pay the supplier this $100 and will have $0 in the bank until day 31 when it receives $200 for the parts. This means that from day 16 until day 31, the company has no money and cannot produce, so the maximum profit per month is $100.

If the company were to reduce the time that consumers had to pay to less than the time in which it had to pay the supplier, it would get paid before it had to pay up, meaning it could produce endlessly and never run out of cash.

Now no company uses its entire cash reserves to order stock so the idea falls down a bit here, but the principal still applies.

Learn more about Days Sales Outstanding (DSO)

The following video provides a good explanation of days sales in receivables or days sales outstanding.

Free Resources

To continue learning and advancing your career, check out these additional helpful WSO resources: