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Return on Investment (ROI) Definition, Formula & Calculation

Updated: February 27, 2023

It can be common for both individuals and businesses to have investment goals. You might have a personal investment to help your financial situation or have investment strategies to help increase your annual return. Some investments pay off while others don’t. That’s why it’s important to understand what return on investment (ROI) means. 

ROI can be important for a business owner and it can help with future financial plans. This article will discuss return on investment in detail. You’ll learn what it means, ROI calculation, and much more.

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    • Return on investment (ROI) is a measure of the profitability of an investment.
    • ROI does not always account for the time value of money.
    • There are a few alternatives to ROI. Net present value and internal rate of return are examples.
    • When making business decisions, ROI can be used to compare the profitability of different options.

    What Is Return on Investment (ROI)?

    Return on investment (ROI) is a specific type of performance measure that’s used to help evaluate an initial investment and any additional investments. It determines the overall efficiency and profitability and it can also compare different types of investments. 

    Simply put, ROI attempts to directly measure the total amount of return on a specific investment compared to the original investment cost. One of the great things about ROI is that it’s fairly simple to do and is also versatile. 

    You can use it as a basic gauge to find out investment profit or determine future investment amounts. For example, you might want to find the ROI on a recent stock investment or the ROI that could get generated in a real estate transaction. This allows you to find out details such as the common measure of return and an assessment for risk can come in handy. 

    If you calculate ROI and its net positive, it means that the investment is most likely a good one. On the flip side, avoiding negative ROIs can be important as you would only see a net loss. Basically, ROI is an effective investment analysis.

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    Interpreting ROI

    ROI can get expressed in several ways but the most common way is as a percentage. Basically, this relates to the gain or loss divided by the original investment.

    For example, if you invest $100 and make a profit of $10, your ROI would be 10%.

    When it comes to ROI, having a higher percentage means the investment has worked well. This means that for every dollar you invest, you’re getting back more of it. However, a higher percentage can also mean that the investment is riskier. 

    Investments that have higher risk tend to offer better returns since they have a higher likelihood of failing. The safest investments, like bank interest, offer less than 1% in most cases. These investments have almost no risk but the rewards are also very limited.

    Calculating ROI

    Return on Investment Formula

    To calculate your return on investment, you’ll need to know two things. You need the gain or loss and the original investment amount.

    Tracking these numbers can be different depending on the type of investment. The original investment is just the capital that was put in and it can be done one time or multiple times. If an investment requires more than one influx of cash, be sure to track each of these as the original investment.

    The gain and loss can also be a one-time event or an ongoing return. Take real estate investment opportunities, for example. Your original investment would be the downpayment or purchase price of the property is paid in cash. You could also include any upgrade costs to make the property rentable. 

    Your gain and loss would be fluid throughout your holding period and you can avoid unnecessary investment fees. Each month you may have different expenses or tenants may come and go. You’ll need to track all of your income and expenses to be able to determine your actual return on investment over time.

    A stock purchase, for example, can work a little differently. This is likely a one-time purchase that finalizes with a sale. You would use your purchase amount as the original investment then you would use the difference between your sale amount and the original investment to determine your gain or loss.

    Limitations of ROI

    There are some limitations to be aware of when using ROI as a measure of profitability. These can include:

    • It doesn’t take into account the time value of money. This means that money received in the future is worth less than money received today.
    • It doesn’t account for the risk of loss. A risky investment may have a higher potential for gain and it might also result in a loss.
    • It can be difficult to calculate ROI for certain investment types. Some investments, like real estate, have many different factors to consider. Be sure to always analyze all expenses, income, and possibilities when calculating ROI.

    Developments in ROI

    Over the years, there have been some developments in the way ROI is calculated. One of the most popular methods is called net present value.

    This method takes into account the time value of money and it also accounts for certain risks. This makes it a more accurate measure of profitability than ROI on its own.

    There are also software programs that can help you calculate your ROI. These programs can make it easier to determine the profitability of investments. Even a simple spreadsheet can help you track your numbers and calculate ROI.

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    Maximizing Your ROI

    Several different investments offer different levels of ROI. It’s important to understand what these investments are and how to make the most of them.

    One of the simplest ways to get a predictable ROI is to invest in a company that offers dividends. A dividend is a payment that a company gives to its shareholders and it’s usually a percentage of the company’s earnings. The amount of the dividend can vary from year to year.

    Another way to get a higher ROI is to invest in stocks that are undervalued. This means that the stock is selling for less than it is worth. When you invest in these stocks, you’re anticipating that the stock will go up in value. If it does, you’ll make a profit.

    There are a few things you can do to maximize your ROI:

    • Invest in high-quality investments. Higher quality projects and investments typically offer safer yields. With that said, safer projects often have lower rates of return due to limited risk.
    • Be patient. Many investments take time to mature and offer a return on investment. Don’t be tempted to invest in something that doesn’t have a good long-term outlook.
    • Consider all expenses. When calculating your ROI, it’s important to consider all expenses associated with the investment. This includes initial costs and ongoing costs.
    • Don’t ignore opportunity costs. This is the potential gain you could have made if you invested your money differently. Missing out on another opportunity could result in a larger loss.
    • Think about the future. Projects that offer a return on investment in the future are often less desirable than those that offer a more immediate return.

    Alternatives to ROI

    There are a few alternatives to using ROI to calculate how well a current or previous investment has done. These include:

    Net Present Value

    This is a measure of the value of an investment at a given point in time. It takes into account the time value of money and risk.

    Internal Rate of Return

    This measures the profitability of an investment over a specific period. It takes into account the amount of money invested, the amount of money returned, and the dates associated with each.

    Comparing Investments and Annualized ROI

    When you’re considering different investments, it’s important to compare them. One way to do this is by looking at their annualized ROI. Comparing ROI allows an investor to analyze which option may result in the best profits. 

    Annualized ROI takes into account the time value of money which makes it a more accurate representation of the profits an investment will generate. It’s important to note that annualized ROI may not be the best way to compare short-term investments with long-term investments. 

    ROI and Business Decisions

    For businesses, ROI can be used to make business decisions. Businesses will often compare the expected ROI of buying different equipment or software. They may also use it to decide whether or not to expand their business.

    ROI is also a critical measurement in business marketing. By calculating the ROI of a marketing campaign, a business can determine whether or not it was successful. This may be the deciding factor about continuing an advertising avenue.


    You can use ROI to help evaluate any investments that you’ve made and it can help determine the efficiency and profitability. As well, ROI can get used to compare multiple types of investments to see which might be best. 

    It’s an effective way to measure the total return of an investment compared to the initial cost that was invested. Plus, it’s fairly simple to calculate ROI and it offers some versatility by increasing your risk tolerance.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    Should Small Businesses Use ROI?

    Small businesses should definitely use ROI when making investments. It’s a great way to measure the profitability of different ventures.

    What Is the Difference Between ROI and Net Profit?

    Net profit is the amount of money earned after all expenses have been paid. ROI is expressed as a percentage. It is the net profit divided by the amount of money invested.

    What is a good rate of return?

    There are multiple factors to consider when determining a good ROI, including the type of investment, your financial requirements, and more. An ROI of 7% to 10% is usually considered good.


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