SG&A: Selling, General, and Administrative Expenses

SG&A Expenses

Investopedia / Zoe Hansen

What Are Selling, General, and Administrative Expenses (SG&A)?

The category of selling, general, and administrative expenses (SG&A) in a company's income statement includes all general and administrative expenses (G&A) as well as the direct and indirect selling expenses of the business. This line item includes nearly all business costs not directly attributable to making a product or performing a service. SG&A includes the costs of managing the company and the expenses of delivering its products or services.

Key Takeaways

  • Selling, general, and administrative expenses (SG&A) are included in the expenses section of a company's income statement.
  • SG&A expenses are not assigned to a specific product, and therefore are not included in the cost of goods sold (COGS).
  • SG&A expenses are incurred in day-to-day business operations and may be required as part of operating any type of business.
  • Managers typically target SG&A for cost reductions because they do not directly affect the product or service.
  • SG&A expenses are closely related to operating expenses, though there are some small, technical differences.
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Selling, General & Administrative Expenses (SG&A)

Understanding Selling, General, and Administrative Expenses (SG&A)

SG&A plays a key role in a company's profitability and the calculation of its break-even point. SG&A is also one of the first places managers look to when reducing redundancies after mergers or acquisitions. That makes it an easy target for a management team looking to quickly boost profits.

Selling expenses can be broken down into direct and indirect costs. Direct selling expenses are incurred only when the product is sold. Indirect selling expenses occur throughout the manufacturing process and after the product is finished.

G&A expenses are the company's overhead. They are incurred in the day-to-day operations of a business and may not be directly tied to any specific function or department within the company. They are usually fixed costs that are incurred disregarding the amount of sales or production incurred during a certain period.

Many SG&A expenses are unavoidable. For example, companies are often required to maintain insurance and may find it impossible to operate without incurring a cost of maintain its headquarters.

Types of SG&A Expenses

Selling Expenses

Selling expenses are often related to the expenses necessary for the company to directly interface with customers. These types of expenses include:

  • Sales Expenses. This often includes salaries and wages of salespeople including commissions, payroll taxes, and benefits.
  • Marketing. This may encompass expenses directly related to a company's product line, services, brand, or image. A company may choose to aggregate marketing costs with advertising costs, though some companies may have enough reason to segregate these costs.
  • Advertising. This can be any form, and a company can choose to further refine the way it accounts for advertising by using many different general ledger codes.
  • Travel expenses. This is often related to in-person events or trade obligations such as trade shows or client meetings.

General Expenses

General expenses are often necessary to run a business. These costs would likely need to be incurred regardless of type of product or industry a company operates within. These types of expenses include:

  • Rent. This is most often the cost of renting an office or headquarter space but may encompass other items necessary for rent not related to the manufacturing process.
  • Utilities. This relates to electricity, water, sewer, or garbage expense not part of the manufacturing process.
  • Office equipment. This includes the cost to rent equipment or make one-time, non-material costs that do not meet capitalization requirements.
  • Supplies. This includes general office supplies necessary for administrative personnel to carry out their jobs.
  • Insurance. This is the broad coverage necessary for operating the business.

Administrative Expenses

Administrative expenses are largely related to the cost of personnel. These people may be internal staff or may be external parties providing services for a fee. These people often do not directly interface with the manufacturing or sale of goods. These types of expenses include:

  • Accounting payroll.
  • Information technology/IT payroll.
  • Human resources payroll.
  • Legal council. These may be in-house salaries or paid to external firms.
  • Consulting fees. These are often paid to external parties for administrative purposes.

General and administrative costs are rarely reported separately; it's fairly common to see these two costs reported together.

How to Calculate SG&A Expenses

Calculating SG&A expenses is straightforward once expenses have been classified into different categories. Several items to keep in mind when calculating SG&A costs include:

  • Assess whether expenses are directly related to the manufacturing of the product. Costs not included in the production of goods must be included in the SG&A calculation.
  • Be cognizant of "below the line" expenses. Costs such as interest and taxes are not included in SG&A as they are deducted from operating income.
  • Determine your reporting period. SG&A can be calculated for any period (i.e. any month, quarter, or year). Be mindful that nominal accounts such as expenses are closed at the end of the accounting year. This information is often readily available in historical financial reports.
  • Consider your accounting method. Cash basis accounting will only recognize SG&A costs that have been paid for. Meanwhile, accrual basis accounting will recognize more broad expenses that may have been incurred but not yet paid.

How to Report SG&A Expenses

SG&A has a very specific place on a company's income statement. Net revenue is always reported at the top, then COGS is deducted to arrive at the gross margin. SG&A and any other expenses are listed below the gross margin.

When these expenses are deducted from the gross margin, the result is operating profit. It's important to note that not all expenses have been recorded when calculating operating expenses. Some expenses such as interest expense or tax expense are reported below operating income.

A company may report SG&A in a number of different ways. Companies may aggregate all of these expenses in a single SG&A line, or it may segregate selling costs from general and administrative costs.

SG&A expenses as a percent of revenue are generally high for healthcare and telecommunications businesses but relatively low for real estate and energy.

SG&A Expenses vs. Operating Expenses

In many instances, SG&A expenses and operating expenses are one and the same. Both encompass the expenses necessary to operate a business independent of the costs to manufacture goods.

There are several subtle differences between SG&A expenses and operating expenses. Larger companies often separate these types of costs into smaller, specific SG&A categories as this is often easier for companies to track and monitor costs in these groups. Management often has discretion how many of these costs are reported on the income statement in respects to how to group these types of costs.

There are also a few specific accounts that may warrant specific accounting treatment that exclude them from SG&A. For example, research and development costs are often not to be included in SG&A. In addition, depreciation costs are often reported in this section of the income statement but excluded from SG&A as well.

Real-World Examples of SG&A Expenses

As part of its Q3 2022 financial reporting, Apple reported $12.809 billion of operating expenses for the quarter. Of this, $6.797 billion was research and development, while $6.012 billion was selling, general, and administrative. Although the company does state that increases to SG&A from prior periods relates to headcount, advertising, and professional services, there is little more transparency beyond these notes.

Apple, Income Statement
Apple, Q3 2022 Income Statement (Select Accounts).

A more in-depth example is provided by Amazon. In the three months ending June 30, 2022, Amazon reported $10.086 billion of sales and marketing expenses in addition to $2.903 billion of general and administrative expenses. Both figures represent at least a 30% increase from the same period from the year prior.

Amazon Income Statement
Amazon, Q2 2022 Income Statement (Select Accounts).

Amazon also provides guidance via the notes to its financial statements to explain what comprises the sales and marketing category in addition to the general and administrative category.

Amazon, Sales and Marketing Expenses
Amazon, Sales and Marketing Expenses.
Amazon, General & Administrative Expenses
Amazon, General & Administrative Expenses.

What Is the Difference Between COGS and SG&A?

SG&A includes almost every business expense that isn't included in the cost of goods sold (COGS). COGS includes the expenses necessary to manufacture a product including the labor, materials, and overhead expenses. SG&A costs are the residual expenses necessary to run the organization and incur costs less specifically tied to the cost of making the product.

What Are Selling Expenses?

Selling expenses include both indirect and direct business costs.

  • Indirect selling expenses include advertising and marketing costs, the company's telephone bills and travel costs, and the salaries of its sales personnel. Such expenses occur throughout the manufacturing process and even after the product is finished.
  • Direct selling expenses are incurred only when the product is sold and are related to the fulfillment of orders. They include the costs of shipping and shipping supplies, delivery charges, and the payment of sales commissions.


What Are General and Administrative (G&A) Expenses?

The G&A of SG&A may be called overhead expenses. A business has many expenses that are not directly related to making or selling a product. Office rent, utilities, and insurance all are costs of doing business. Departments like human resources and information technology support the business but do not take a direct role in product creation.

How Can SG&A Be Useful to a Business Manager?

SG&A is both critical to the success of a business and vulnerable to cost-cutting. Cutting the cost of goods sold (COGS) can be tough to do without damaging the quality of the product. Cutting operating expenses can be less damaging to the core business. SG&A costs are typically reduced after a company merger or acquisition makes it possible to reduce redundancies.

Does SG&A Include Salary?

It depends. The cost to directly manufacture products is included in COGS. This includes salaries such as manufacturing line supervisors. Other salaries such as accounting staff are included in SG&A.

The Bottom Line

A company must incur many different types of costs to run a business, and many of those expenses are not directly tied to making specific products. These broad costs are classified as selling, general, and administrative costs. Reported separately from COGS, these expenses are deducted from gross margin to determine a company's net income.

Article Sources
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  1. Schonfeld & Associates. "SG&A Benchmarks."

  2. Apple, Inc. "Form 10-Q (Q3 2022)."

  3. Amazon. "Form 10-Q."