Net Operating Loss

Updated on April 19, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Net Operating Loss (NOL) Meaning

Net operating loss (NOL) is a tax benefit offered to an enterprise with more allowable deductions than its gross earnings within an accounting year. It lessens the payable income of the company to usher tax remission. Moreover, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) permits corporations and individuals to carry forward or carry back the net operating loss deduction. 

Net Operating Loss (NOL) Meaning

An NOL year depicts the year during which the loss transpires. To calculate the tax benefit, the financier must subtract the tax deductions from the net income. The net operating loss deduction helps an organization reduce taxable income for future taxable years. It can also be carried forward multiple times until the loss is recovered.

Key Takeaways

  • Net operating loss signifies a tax incentive when business tax benefits exceed the annual net earnings. It is subject to many exceptions and limitations.
  • To calculate an NOL, investors must subtract the total allowable tax deductions of the company from its gross earnings. 
  • Investors can carry forward the net operating loss for individuals to lessen the preceding year’s losses from the revenues of the succeeding year. 
  • Simply put, companies or investors may also carry back the NOL to deduct the current year’s losses from the gains of the preceding year. 

Net Operating Loss Explained

Net operating loss deduction for individuals or companies arises when tax benefits surpass the taxable income during a fiscal year. Carrying it forward or back implements the loss to the previous or following income tax returns, respectively. Resultantly, it helps lessen tax liability.

The most general reason behind net operating loss for corporations or individuals is the loss occurring during business activities. Potential issues and economic factorsEconomic FactorsEconomic factors are external, environmental factors that influence business performance, such as interest rates, inflation, unemployment, and economic growth, among others.read more include natural disasters, material damages, robbery, trade expenses, rental property costs, and moving expenses. 

It is certainly a good and supportive thing for novice business owners without a significant income over the initial years. Under asset classificationAsset ClassificationAsset classification is a systematic process of assigning the assets to their respective class or group. Such grouping of the assets is done based on the common characteristics possessed by them. Like current assets and fixed assets are categorized as per the duration the company holds these assets.read more, investors and companies further categorize NOL as a Deferred tax assetDeferred Tax AssetsA deferred tax asset is an asset to the Company that usually arises when either the Company has overpaid taxes or paid advance tax. Such taxes are recorded as an asset on the balance sheet and are eventually paid back to the Company or deducted from future taxes.read more. More importantly, numerous enterprises choose firms with enormous NOLs for mergers and acquisitionsMergers And AcquisitionsMergers and acquisitions (M&A) are collaborations between two or more firms. In a merger, two or more companies functioning at the same level combine to create a new business entity. In an acquisition, a larger organization buys a smaller business entity for expansion.read more

The company accrues accounting net profit after subtracting general expenses like depreciationDepreciationDepreciation is a systematic allocation method used to account for the costs of any physical or tangible asset throughout its useful life. Its value indicates how much of an asset’s worth has been utilized. Depreciation enables companies to generate revenue from their assets while only charging a fraction of the cost of the asset in use each year. read more from business profits. Please note that deducting some operating expenses from the earnings is illegal. So, the net profit or loss differs from the normal profitsThe Normal ProfitsThe term "normal profit" is used when the profit is zero after accounting for both the implicit and explicit expenses, as well as the overall opportunity costs. It happens when all of the resources have been used to their full potential and cannot be put to better use.read more in the financial statementFinancial StatementFinancial statements are written reports prepared by a company's management to present the company's financial affairs over a given period (quarter, six monthly or yearly). These statements, which include the Balance Sheet, Income Statement, Cash Flows, and Shareholders Equity Statement, must be prepared in accordance with prescribed and standardized accounting standards to ensure uniformity in reporting at all levels.read more

To safeguard and use the net operating loss calculator, corporations certainly go for an approach labeled as a poison pillPoison PillPoison pill is a psychologically based defensive strategy that protects minority shareholders from an unprecedented takeover or hostile management change by increasing the cost of acquisition to a very high level and creating disincentives if a takeover or management changes happen in order to alter the decision maker’s mind.read more and restrict the accumulation of stakes by revising their articles of associationArticles Of AssociationArticles of association is a legally binding document that states the corporate rules, regulations, and purpose. It serves as a user's guide for executing the organizational tasks, directors' appointment and recording the financial information.read more. It prevents both a hostile takeoverHostile TakeoversA hostile takeover is a process where a company acquires another company against the will of its management.read more and a friendly takeoverFriendly TakeoversA friendly takeover occurs when the target company peacefully accepts the acquisition offer. The takeover is subject to the approval of the target company's shareholders as well as regulatory approval to ensure that the acquisition complies with antitrust laws.read more

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Net Operating Loss (NOL) Explained in Video



Please note that the firm may carry forward the NOL and apply it to the succeeding net wages. It lets companies reduce the previous year’s losses from the following year’s revenues. Therefore, it charges firms on average profitability, making the fiscal code more neutral. 

The corporation plans to trace its aggregate losses to decrease gains in coming years till the Carry forward of tax lossCarry Forward Of Tax LossTax Loss Carry forward is a provision which permits an individual to take forward or carry over the tax loss to the next year to set off the future profit. Any taxpayer can claim it to lower the tax payments in the future.read more balance is zero. Both carryforward and carryback services comfort the industries against an adverse business cycleBusiness CycleThe business cycle refers to the alternating phases of economic growth and decline.read more. Often, financial modeling utilizes the schedule for NOL carryforward.

The current surplus business loss amount is an NOL to discover the net operating loss deduction for subsequent financial years. The establishment must keep documents for any year producing an NOL for three years after using the carryforward or carryback. Or, it may keep the documentation for three years after the NOL carryforward terminates. 


Let us understand the formula to before any organization can file for net operating loss deductions through the discussion below. It will help us understand the concepts surrounding this function of business better.

The formula for calculation is:

NOL = Adjusted gross taxable income – itemized deductions

How To Calculate?

Once the accounting period, usually a financial year-end, the company calculated its total income against its total expenditures before filing for returns for that year.

Once the total taxable income of the company from different sources of income is finalized, they account for all the deductions. As a result, after the deductions, if the calculation results in a negative figure, the company can choose to carry its net operating loss deductions to a future year until the loss is covered.


Let us understand how to use the net operating loss calculator and understand the results with the help of a few examples. These examples will help us understand the intricacies of the concept in detail.   

Example #1

Suppose a company XYZ Co. has tax deductions of $900,000, a net income of $600,000, and a 20% tax rate.

Moreover, its NOL is,  

NOL = Net income – Tax deductions

         = $600,000 – $900,000. 

Thus, NOL = -$300,000.

So, XYZ Co. won’t give any taxes for the fiscal year since it does not have net income. 

Let’s contemplate the NOL carryforward feature. 

Say XYZ Co. makes money next year with a net income of $300,000.

If the firm taxes it at the aforesaid tax rate, it will need to pay off the below-mentioned tax amount, 

$300,000* 20% = $60,000.

Simply put, the enterprise can utilize its NOL obtained last year to reduce the current invoice somewhat. 

Example #2

The Duos Technologies Group, Inc. announced financial results for Q3 2022, which concluded on September 30, 2022. Moreover, it supplies artificial intelligence and machine vision to examine fast-moving trucks and trains. Here are its NOL details. The enterprise has an NOL of $1.87 million for Q3 2022. It is less than the one in Q3 2021, i.e., $2.45 million. The decline was due to increased revenues noted in the quarter. 


Let us understand carryback concept that comes to light after using the net operating loss calculator in detail. This helps companies gain a second chance to recover their losses as these deductions can be settled at a future date, depending on when the loss is recovered.

To clarify, organizations carry back or carry over the net operating loss deduction to acquire reimbursement on the prior year’s tax liability. It results in an instant repayment of taxes formerly rendered by minimizing the tax liabilities for the preceding year. 

They may file Form 1040-X physically or virtually to claim for the carryback because of unused credit or a loss. Most taxpayers cannot certainly carry back an NOL anymore and can only carry it forward if accrued in financial years ending after 2020. Normally, the two-year carryback ruling does not apply to NOLs emerging in calendar years after December 31, 2017.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) act offered a unique five-year carryback for calendar years starting in 2018, 2019, and 2020. NOLs of insurance firms apart from a life insurance company and some farming losses are exceptions.

Furthermore, the carryback makes it look like the enterprise had overpaid the taxes for that calendar year. It is also non-compulsory for corporations or individuals to utilize their net operating loss carryover.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Is Net Operating Loss?

Net operating loss for individuals or corporations is a loss discovered in a calendar year during which the enterprise’s tax deductions surpass the taxable earnings. Please note that it is subject to several exceptions and limitations. Investors and corporations must take their tax advisors’ suggestions before any decision.

Can Net Operating Losses Offset Capital Gains?

Yes, net operating losses can certainly offset capital gains with specified limits and the investors may also carryover the NOL. Investors initially use the investment losses to offset the same type of capital gains. First, short-term losses are deducted from short-term gains; the same goes for long-term losses.

How To Calculate Net Operating Loss?

To calculate the net operating loss, the investors must subtract the corporation’s tax deductions for the calendar year from the net income. The corporation can carry forward or carry back the loss to the preceding or succeeding tax returns to diminish the tax liability.

This article has been a guide to Net Operating Loss and its Meaning. Here we explain net operating loss’ carryforward, carryback, formula, and how to calculate. You may also find some useful articles here:

Reader Interactions


  1. Damian Wouters says

    Excellent Blog! In this blog you have also mentioned a lil bit about mergers and Acquisition, well I wanted to know more about mergers and acquisition like you know how they work in investment banking and all. I would be glad if you post something on it.

  2. Micah Goossens says

    Thanks for this complete guide on Net Operating Loss. Was really very helpful.