Internal Rate Return (IRR) Simplified

Internal rate return

Internal Rate of Return (IRR): Unraveling the True Rate of Return

The internal rate of return (IRR) is a capital budgeting technique that measures the discount rate at which the NPV of a project or investment is equal to zero. It is the rate of return that the project or investment is expected to generate.


The process involves finding the discount rate that makes the NPV equal to zero by trial and error.

What Does It Mean?
  • Higher IRR: A higher IRR suggests the investment might make more money. It’s like saying, “Hey, this investment could give a better return!”
  • Lower IRR: A lower IRR might mean the investment won’t make as much money. It’s like a warning sign, saying, “Hmm, this investment might not be that great.”

IRR is a useful capital budgeting method for comparing projects or investments with different initial investment costs. It is also useful for evaluating the sensitivity of a project to changes in the discount rate.

How to calculate IRR | Internal Rate of Return Simplified

Let’s Crunch Numbers!

Calculation Example 1:

Assume a project has the following cash flows:

Year | Cash Flow
0: -$100,000
1: $30,000
2: $40,000
3: $50,000

Using a financial calculator or an iterative method, the IRR for this project is approximately 13.2%.


A higher IRR indicates that the project is expected to generate a higher rate of return.
A lower IRR indicates that the project is expected to generate a lower rate of return.

Calculation Example 2:

For an investment generating cash flows of $50,000 annually for five years with an initial investment of $200,000:


Scenario 3: An investment of $80,000 brings returns of $20,000 for three years and $50,000 in the fourth year. Let’s calculate the IRR.
  • Cash Flows: -$80,000, $20,000, $20,000, $20,000, $50,000
  • IRR: Approximately 14.3%

This means the investment might yield around 14.3% returns.

Scenario 4: An investment of $150,000 generates $30,000 annually for seven years. Let’s calculate the IRR.
  • Cash Flows: -$150,000, $30,000, $30,000, $30,000, $30,000, $30,000, $30,000, $30,000
  • IRR: Approximately 10.9%

This suggests an IRR of about 10.9% for this investment.

Scenario 5: An initial investment of $200,000 yields $25,000 in the first year, $30,000 in the second year, and $35,000 in the third year. Calculate the IRR.
  • Cash Flows: -$200,000, $25,000, $30,000, $35,000
  • IRR: Approximately 10.4%

This investment seems to offer an IRR around 10.4%.

Advantages and Limitations of Internal Rate Return

IRR offers several advantages:
  • True Rate of Return: IRR provides a direct measure of the project’s expected rate of return, making it easy to interpret and compare projects.
  • Consideration of Timing: IRR incorporates the timing of cash flows, providing a more comprehensive assessment of profitability than traditional methods.
  • Sensitivity Analysis: IRR can be used to assess the project’s sensitivity to changes in the discount rate.
However, IRR also has limitations:
  • Multiple IRRs: Certain projects may have multiple IRRs, making it difficult to interpret the results.
  • Reinvestment Assumption: IRR assumes that intermediate cash flows are reinvested at the IRR, which may not be realistic.
  • Ignores Other Factors: IRR solely focuses on profitability and does not consider other factors such as strategic fit, market competition, and technological advancements.


The Internal Rate of Return (IRR) serves as a valuable tool for businesses to evaluate the true rate of return of long-term investments. By providing a direct measure of profitability and considering the timing of cash flows, IRR empowers businesses to make informed investment decisions that align with their financial goals. However, it is crucial to acknowledge the limitations of IRR and utilize it in conjunction with other decision-making tools for a comprehensive evaluation.

Photo credit: AlLes via Pixabay

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