5 Steps to Determine the Optimal Debt-to-Equity Ratio

Updated on December 21, 2023

At a Glance: The Debt-to-Income (DTI) ratio compares a fintech startup’s total debt to its income. It is a percentage indicating how much of the income goes toward debt repayment. A lower DTI ratio is preferred, showing a healthier financial position and lower risk. Factors influencing the optimal ratio include the startup’s stage, industry, growth projections, risk appetite, and cost/availability of capital. To determine the optimal ratio, analyze financial statements, assess risk and cash flow, benchmark against industry standards, seek expert advice, and consider alternative financing options.

Understanding the Debt-to-Income (DTI) ratio is crucial for fintech lending startups as it helps assess their financial health and borrowing capacity. This ratio compares a company’s total debt to its income, indicating the proportion of income allocated to debt repayment. Several key factors, such as the startup’s stage and capital availability, influence the optimal debt-to-equity ratio. To determine this ratio, there is a 5-step process founders can follow. 

In this blog, we’ll delve into the key factors and provide the step-by-step guide to determining the optimal debt-to-equity ratio for your fintech startup.

What is Debt-to-Income Ratio?

Before we jump into the steps,let’s quickly discuss DTI. It’s a financial metric that compares a company’s total debt to its income. For fintech startups, it’s calculated by dividing the total debt obligations by income. The DTI ratio is expressed as a percentage and indicates how much of the income goes toward debt repayment. A high DTI ratio suggests financial strain and risk. Acceptable DTI ratios vary by industry and business stage, but lower ratios are generally preferred as they indicate a healthier financial position and lower risk of default. Lenders and investors use DTI as one factor to assess creditworthiness and viability. However, it should be considered alongside other indicators for a comprehensive understanding of a fintech startup’s financial health and borrowing capacity.

5 Steps to Determine the Optimal Debt-to-Equity Ratio

By now, you should have a better idea what DTI ratio is, but how can founders like you determine your startup’s optimal DTI ratio? Below, we outline a 5-step process, including: 

  1. Analyze financial statements and projections
  2. Assess risk and evaluating cash flow capacity
  3. Benchmark against industry standards
  4. Seek expert advice and consulting professionals
  5. Consider alternative financing options

We’ll explore each of these steps in more depth below. 

1. Analyze Financial Statements And Projections

The first step is to review the current financial statements. Examine the startup’s balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement to understand its current financial position, debt levels, and cash flow capacity. 

You will also need to project future financials. Develop realistic financial projections considering revenue growth, expenses, and anticipated debt capital needs. This will help assess the impact of different debt-to-equity ratios on the startup’s financial health.

2. Assess Risk And Evaluating Cash Flow Capacity

The second step is to conduct risk analysis. Identify and evaluate the startup’s risks, such as market volatility, competition, or technological changes. Assess how different debt-to-equity ratios may impact the startup’s ability to handle these risks.

Follow risk analysis with a cash flow analysis. Evaluate the startup’s cash flow capacity to service debt obligations. Consider factors like revenue stability, operating expenses, and expected cash inflows. Calculate debt service coverage ratios to assess the startup’s ability to meet interest and principal payments.

3. Benchmark Against Industry Standards

The next step is to research industry benchmarks. Study industry-specific debt-to-equity ratio norms and averages to understand the common financing practices in the sector.

At this stage, you’ll also want to compare your company with similar startups. Compare your startup’s debt-to-equity ratio with similar-sized and stage startups in the industry to gain insights into what is considered optimal within the sector.

4. Seek Expert Advice And Consulting Professionals

Step four is to engage with financial advisors. Consult with experienced financial advisors, accountants, or consultants who can provide objective insights and guidance on determining the optimal debt-to-equity ratio.

Around this time, you’ll also want to network with industry experts. Seek advice from successful entrepreneurs, investors, or industry professionals who have expertise in startup financing. Their experiences and perspectives can help refine your decision-making process.

5. Consider Alternative Financing Options

The final step is to explore hybrid financing structures. Consider alternative financing models, such as convertible debt or mezzanine financing, which offer a blend of debt and equity characteristics. These options may provide flexibility in tailoring the debt-to-equity ratio to suit specific needs.

You should also assess non-traditional sources. Evaluate alternative funding sources like grants, crowdfunding, or strategic partnerships, which may alleviate the need for excessive debt or dilution of equity.

Factors Influencing Optimal Debt-to-Equity Ratio

Now, let’s take a look at some of the key factors that influence it. There are five areas that founders should focus on regarding DTI ratio:

  • Stage of the startup
  • Industry-specific considerations
  • Growth projections and revenue stability
  • Risk appetite and tolerance
  • Cost and availability of capital

Read on to learn more about each of these areas. 

Stage of the Startup

  • Early-stage startups – In the initial stages, startups often rely more on equity financing due to limited assets and track records. They may have a higher debt-to-equity ratio to secure necessary funding.
  • Growth-stage startups – As startups grow and generate revenue, they may opt for a balanced debt-to-equity ratio to leverage debt for expansion while minimizing dilution of ownership.
  • Mature startups Established startups with stable cash flows and a proven business model may prefer lower debt-to-equity ratios to reduce financial risk and maintain financial stability.

Industry-specific Considerations

  • Capital-intensive industries – Industries such as manufacturing or technology may require significant upfront investments in equipment, R&D, or infrastructure. Consequently, they may have higher debt-to-equity ratios to fund these capital expenditures.
  • Service-based industries – Industries with low capital requirements, such as consulting or software development, may have lower debt-to-equity ratios as they rely more on intellectual capital and human resources.

Growth Projections and Revenue Stability

  • High-growth startups – Startups with aggressive growth targets and high revenue growth potential may tolerate higher debt levels to fuel expansion plans. However, they should carefully assess the sustainability of revenue projections to avoid overleveraging.
  • Stable revenue startups – Startups with predictable and stable revenue streams may opt for lower debt-to-equity ratios to maintain financial stability and reduce the risk of default.

Risk Appetite and Tolerance

  • Conservative approach – Founders who prioritize financial stability and minimize risk may choose lower debt-to-equity ratios to ensure greater control over the company’s finances and avoid excessive interest expenses.
  • Risk-tolerant approach – Founders with a higher risk appetite may be more inclined to take on debt to accelerate growth or seize market opportunities. However, they should assess the potential risks and ensure sufficient cash flow to service debt obligations.

Cost and Availability of Capital

  • Interest rates – The prevailing interest rates impact the cost of debt. Startups should consider the interest rates and compare them against potential returns on equity to determine if debt financing is a viable option.
  • Investor interest – The availability of equity financing and investor appetite can influence the optimal debt-to-equity ratio. If equity financing is readily accessible and favorable, startups may lean more towards equity financing.

Final Thoughts

By now, it should be clear just how important understanding the Debt-to-Income ratio is for fintech startups to assess their financial health and borrowing capacity. By calculating the DTI ratio and considering factors such as the startup’s stage, industry, growth projections, risk appetite, and capital availability, founders can determine the optimal debt-to-equity ratio for their specific circumstances. This involves analyzing financial statements, assessing risk and cash flow capacity, benchmarking against industry standards, seeking expert advice, and exploring alternative financing options. By following these steps, fintech startups can make informed decisions regarding their debt-to-equity ratio and lay a solid foundation for their financial success.

Debt-to-Income Ratio FAQ for Credit Startups

Below, we take a look at some of the questions credit startup founders often have about DTI ratios.

Why is the DTI ratio important for my startup?

The DTI ratio is important because it provides insights into your startup’s financial health and borrowing capacity. Lenders and investors use the DTI ratio to assess your creditworthiness and determine your ability to manage debt repayment. A healthy DTI ratio indicates a lower risk of default and enhances your chances of obtaining favorable financing terms.

What is considered a good DTI ratio for a fintech startup?

While the ideal DTI ratio can vary depending on factors such as industry and stage of the startup, a generally lower DTI ratio is preferred. It signifies a healthier financial position, with a smaller portion of your income allocated to debt repayment. However, what constitutes a good DTI ratio can also depend on the specific requirements of lenders or investors you are dealing with.

How can I improve my startup’s DTI ratio?

To improve your startup’s DTI ratio, you can take several steps. First, focus on increasing your income by expanding your customer base, improving sales and revenue streams, and exploring new business opportunities. Additionally, consider reducing your debt by refinancing at lower interest rates, negotiating better loan terms, or paying off existing debt as efficiently as possible.

Are there any industry-specific considerations for the DTI ratio?

Yes, industry-specific considerations can influence the optimal DTI ratio for your fintech startup. Industries with high capital requirements, such as manufacturing or technology, may have higher debt-to-equity ratios due to significant upfront investments. Conversely, service-based industries with lower capital requirements may have lower DTI ratios as they rely more on intellectual capital and human resources.

How does the DTI ratio affect my ability to secure financing?

The DTI ratio plays a crucial role in your ability to secure financing. Lenders and investors assess the DTI ratio to evaluate your capacity to service debt and manage financial obligations. A higher DTI ratio may indicate financial strain and increase the perceived risk, which can make it more challenging to obtain financing or result in less favorable terms. On the other hand, a lower DTI ratio can enhance your creditworthiness and improve your chances of securing financing on favorable terms.


Frank Gogol

A seasoned SEO expert, Frank has a long history of working with and for startups. Starting in mid-2018, Frank served as the SEO Strategist for Stilt, a fintech startup that provided fair loans for immigrants in the US and other underserved markets. While with the company, he scaled site traffic from zero to more than 1.5 million unique visits per month, driving the bulk of the company’s lead generation until it was acquired by J.G. Wentworth in December 2022. As employee #5 at Stilt, Frank was witness to, and part of, the successful building and sale of a fintech company, uniquely positioning him to create content for founders about all things startups.