Present Value vs. Net Present Value: What's the Difference?

Present Value vs. Net Present Value: An Overview

Present value (PV) is the current value of a future sum of money or stream of cash flow given a specified rate of return. Meanwhile, net present value (NPV) is the difference between the present value of cash inflows and the present value of cash outflows over a period of time.

Present value tells you what you'd need in today's dollars to earn a specific amount in the future. Net present value is used to determine how profitable a project or investment may be. Both can be important to an individual's or company's decision-making concerning investments or capital budgeting.

While PV and NPV both use a form of discounted cash flows to estimate the current value of future income, these calculations differ in an important way. The NPV formula also accounts for the initial capital outlay required to fund a project, making it a net figure. That makes it a more comprehensive indicator of potential profitability.

Since the value of revenue earned today is higher than that of revenue earned down the road, businesses discount future income by the investment's expected rate of return. This rate, called the hurdle rate, is the minimum rate of return a project must generate for the business to consider investing in it.

Key Takeaways

  • Present value is the current value of a future sum of money that's discounted by a rate of return.
  • It tells you the amount you'd need to invest today in order to earn a specific amount in the future.
  • Net present value is the difference between the present value of cash inflows and cash outflows over a period of time.
  • Both present value and net present value use discounted cash flows to estimate the current value of income.
  • However, net present value also accounts for the initial outlay required to fund a project.
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How to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV)

Present Value

The PV calculation takes a future amount of cash and discounts it back to the present day. The formula for this is:

Present Value = FV/(1 + r)n

where FV is the future value, r is the required rate of return, and n is the number of time periods.

Net Present Value

The NPV calculation takes the current value of future cash inflows and subtracts from it the current value of cash outflows. The formula for this is:

Net Present Value = cash flow/(1+i)t − initial investment

where i is the required rate of return and t is number of time periods.

Key Differences

  Present Value  Net Present Value
Defined Is the current value of a future sum of money discounted by a specified rate of return Is the difference between the present value of cash inflows and the present value of cash outflows over time
Focus Only accounts for cash inflows
Accounts for cash inflows and cash outflows that fund a project
Used By Individuals and companies Used mainly by companies
Importance Helps investors understand whether an investment or expenditure is sensible
Helps companies determine the potential profitability of projects; essential for capital budgeting

Examples

Present Value

Say that you can either receive $3,200 today and invest it at a rate of 4% or take a lump sum of $3,500 in a year. Calculating the PV of $3,500 can help you make a choice.

Present value = FV/(1 + r)n

Present value = $3,500/(1 + .04)1

Present value = $3,365.38

That means you'd need to invest $3,365.38 today at 4% to get $3,500 a year later. The $3,200 today will result in a smaller return. Based on that, you may feel that the lump sum in a year looks more attractive.

Net Present Value

Say that a company is considering investing in a potential project. It requires an investment of $10,000 and offers future cash flow of $14,000 in a year. The required rate of return is 6%. We'll calculate the NPV using a simplified version of the formula shown previously.

Net present value = today's value of expected cash flows - today's value of cash invested

Net present value = $13,208 (the present value) - $10,000

Net present value = $3,208

The NPV is $3,208 and indicates project profitability. Based on that and other metrics, the company may decide to pursue the project.

What Does Net Present Value Indicate?

Net present value indicates the potential profit that could be generated by a project or investment. A positive net present value means that a project is earning more than the discount rate and may be financially viable.

Is a Higher Net Present Value Better?

A project or investment with a higher net present value is typically considered more attractive than one with a lower NPV or a negative NPV. Bear in mind, though, that companies normally look at other metrics as well before a final decision on a go-ahead is made.

Is PV or NPV More Important for Capital Budgeting?

NPV is. That's because it accounts for the PV and the costs required to fund a project. So it can provide a more informed view of project feasibility. That, in turn, informs capital budgeting.

The Bottom Line

While the PV value is useful, the NPV calculation is invaluable to capital budgeting. A project with a high PV figure may actually have a much less impressive NPV if a large amount of capital is required to fund it. As a business expands, it looks to finance only those projects or investments that yield the greatest returns, which in turn enables additional growth. Given a number of potential options, the project or investment with the highest NPV is generally pursued.

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