An average collection period shows the average number of days necessary to convert business receivables into cash. The degree to which this is useful for a business depends on the business's relative reliance on credit sales to generate revenue; a high balance in accounts receivable can be a major liability.

In terms of business management, the average collection period is an extension of operating efficiency. Much like the receivables turnover ratio, the average collection period can be used in conjunction with liquidity ratios to highlight problems in cash flow or solvency.

Calculating the Average Collection Period

The standard formula for calculating average collection period is the number of working days divided by the debtor receivables turnover ratio. For an annual average collection period, the number of working days is set to 365.

Clearly, the receivables turnover ratio is a major determinant of collection period efficiency. The following formula can be used to find receivables turnover: (annual credit sales) / ((balance of starting receivables + balance of ending receivables) / 2)

Properly Using the Average Collection Period

Accounting ratios only rearrange business data; they are mostly insignificant by themselves. The interpretations and uses of the average collection period vary between businesses and industries.

For example, suppose it takes a company an average of 25 days to turn receivables into cash. Whether this is good or bad depends on the credit terms, cash flow, relative industry standards and a host of other factors.

What time period should be examined for an average collection period? A company that sells and rents expensive skiing equipment might be best suited by adjusting its analysis for seasonal factors. Good proxies for effective time intervals should be apparent by reviewing industry standards.

It is common for a company to aim for an average collection period that is at least one-third lower than the expressed credit terms. If a credit agreement stipulates that the borrower has 45 days to pay, this would mean that the seller wants to collect within 30 days.

There could be meaningful differences within a single company. The data must be collected, arranged and presented in a way that tells a useful story.

Significance and Interpretation

Effective accounts receivable management practices lead to timely customer collection. Tight credit policies have spill-over effects for the rest of a company's operations. For example, improved cash flow numbers or liquidity ratios can make it easier for the company to obtain a low-interest commercial loan or attract new investors.

On the other hand, credit policies that are too tight tend to limit sales. A car dealer cannot have unreasonable credit terms, or else customers will choose competitors with more reasonable expectations.

Most companies aim for an average collection period that is lower than a marketable credit policy. They want to be able to offer accommodating terms to attract customers, and they want to be able to collect efficiently as well.

  1. How is cash flow affected by Average Collection Period?

    See how reducing a company's average collection period can help cash flow, and learn why collections practices are so important ... Read Answer >>
  2. In which industries is Average Collection Period most important?

    Find out which industries are most concerned with average collection period, and how different types of companies interact ... Read Answer >>
  3. How can a creditor improve its Average Collection Period?

    Read about some of the ways that a business can improve its accounts receivable management practices to shorten its average ... Read Answer >>
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