The Discounted Payback Period Explained: What It Is, How to Calculate, and Examples


The discounted payback period serves as a critical financial metric used in capital budgeting to assess a project’s viability and profitability. Unlike the conventional payback period, it accounts for the time value of money by discounting future cash flows. This duration signifies the time required to recover the initial investment, aiding in evaluating project feasibility and facilitating better decision-making processes for businesses and investors.

Understanding the discounted payback period

When contemplating investments or projects, understanding the timeline required to recover the initial investment is pivotal. The discounted payback period estimates the duration for the present value of projected cash flows to equal the initial investment cost. This metric acts as a guide, pinpointing the breakeven point and delineating when an investment begins to yield positive cash flows. It proves particularly beneficial when choosing among multiple projects or investment options.

The calculation process

The process involves predicting future cash flows of a project and discounting them to their present value. By comparing this to the initial capital outlay, the period required for the present value of future cash flows to equal the initial investment is determined. The goal is to identify the breakeven point when the project starts generating positive cash flows after recovering the initial cost.

Benefits of a shorter period

A shorter discounted payback period implies a quicker generation of cash flows, which is advantageous for a project. Companies often set a target period and consider projects that meet or exceed this timeframe. Comparing a project’s anticipated breakeven with the company’s desired breakeven date helps in making informed decisions on project approval or rejection.

Calculating the discounted payback period

The initial step involves estimating the periodic cash flows and computing their present value. Utilizing spreadsheets or tables, future cash flows are discounted against the initial investment outlay. Applying the discounted payback period analysis to each period’s cash inflow reveals the point at which inflows equal outflows, signifying the initial cost payoff.

Payback period vs. discounted payback period

While the standard payback period calculates the time required to break even in nominal cash collections, the discounted payback period considers not just the timing of cash flows but also the prevailing market rate of return. The discounted payback period often yields a different timeframe due to the discounting of cash flows, especially in scenarios where projects generate higher cash flows toward the end of their life.

Example of the discounted payback period

Illustrating this with a scenario: Company A invests $3,000, anticipating $1,000 returns per period over five periods at a 4% discount rate. By discounting these cash flows, the payback period is calculated, and after the fourth payment, a positive balance is achieved, indicating that the discounted payback period occurs sometime within the fourth period.


Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Considers the time value of money
  • Assists in making comparative investment decisions
  • Provides a clearer picture of cash flow timelines
  • Complex to calculate and interpret
  • Relies on accurate future cash flow estimations
  • Subject to market rate fluctuations

Factors influencing the discounted payback period

Several elements affect the accuracy and interpretation of the discounted payback period.

Discount rate and cash flow timing

The discount rate used to bring future cash flows to their present value significantly influences the final calculation. Additionally, the timing of cash flows, particularly higher inflows towards the end of a project’s life, can impact the resulting payback period.

Reliability of cash flow projections

The validity of the discounted payback period heavily relies on accurate estimation of future cash flows. Any inaccuracies in these projections could significantly affect the outcome and render the calculation less reliable.

Application of the discounted payback period

Businesses and investors employ the discounted payback period for various purposes.

Project prioritization

Comparing the discounted payback periods of multiple projects helps in prioritizing them based on their payback periods. This assists in determining which projects are likely to yield returns more quickly, aiding in resource allocation and decision-making.

Investment decision-making

For investors, the discounted payback period provides valuable insights into the viability of an investment. It helps in assessing the speed of recovery of the initial investment and whether it aligns with their investment goals and timeframe.

Frequently asked questions

What kind of projects benefit most from using the discounted payback period?

The discounted payback period is particularly beneficial for projects with longer-term cash flows or when the timing of cash inflows significantly impacts the project’s profitability. It helps in assessing projects with complex cash flow structures and longer durations.

Does the discounted payback period consider risk and uncertainties in project evaluation?

The discounted payback period does not explicitly consider risk or uncertainties in project evaluations. It focuses primarily on the time required for an investment to recoup its initial outlay without directly factoring in risk elements.

Can the discounted payback period be used as the sole criterion for investment decision-making?

While the discounted payback period is a useful metric, it should not be the only criterion for making investment decisions. Investors and businesses often use multiple metrics and considerations to make well-informed investment choices.

What happens if a project has an indefinite discounted payback period?

An indefinite discounted payback period implies that the project might never recoup its initial investment. In such cases, it might not be a suitable or feasible investment choice for the company or investors.

Key takeaways

  • The discounted payback period considers the time value of money, providing a clearer assessment of project profitability.
  • A shorter period indicates quicker cash flow generation, favoring project feasibility.
  • Accurate estimation of cash flows is crucial for the validity of the calculation.
View article sources
  1. Discounted Payback Period – University of Mississippi
  2. Payback Period Analysis – The Pennsylvania State University
  3. Effects of the size and cost reduction on a discounted payback period and levelized cost of energy of a zero-export photovoltaic system with green hydrogen storage – National Library of Medicine
  4. NPV, IRR, and Discounted payback period – Temple University