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How to Calculate Percentages in Excel

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A Comprehensive Guide

BY JASON MORRELL

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Many people can’t do percentages.

Can't get their head around them.

Can't do the maths.

So putting together an Excel percentage formula seems impossible!

Have you ever asked yourself any of these questions?

These are some of the most common questions and challenges that people have. I get asked so

Today I have simplified it and laid it all out in a post for you. You're welcome!

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The first thing to understand is the correlation between percentages and numbers. Think of it like this:

Imagine a scale that goes from 0 to 1, where **0 = 0%** (i.e. nothing) and **1 = 100%** (i.e. everything).

Now travel half way along that scale and you have **0.5** or **50%**.

Travel three quarters of the way along the scale and you have **0.75** or **75%**.

So the relationship can be expressed like this:

the percentage = the decimal number multiplied by 100,

with a % symbol added to the end.

Try this.

1. Enter 0.5 into a cell and press Enter.

2. Re-select the cell

3. Click the **%** icon in the **Number** group on the **Home** ribbon. This converts the decimal number to a percentage.

4. Click the **comma style** icon (next to the % button) to convert back to a number. The formatting defaults to 2 decimal places. You can adjust this by clicking the increase/decrease decimal places icons.

Formatting percentages rather than calculating percentages

Consider the following range of numbers:

This question is often asked:

What is the percentage of each number?

If you select the range of cells and click the % button mentioned above, you're in for a surprise!

Excel is doing exactly what it is supposed to to. It has multiplied each number by 100 and added the % symbol on the end.

The original question - ‘What is the percentage of each number?’ - doesn’t actually make sense.

The correct question is - ‘What percentage is each number of the total?’

Try this:

1. Select cells **A1:A5**, if necessary.

2. Click the comma style icon to change the formatting back to ordinary numbers.

3. Decrease the decimal places until you are showing whole numbers again.

4. Select cell **A6**.

5. Click the **AutoSum** button on the right side of the **Home** ribbon, to calculate a total.

6. In cell **B1**, type the formula: **=A1/A6**.

7. Before you press **Enter**, press the **F4** key to make the call reference absolute (**A6** becomes **$A$6** which means it is now a fixed reference).

8. Press **Enter**.

9. Re-select cell **B1**.

10. Grab the auto fill handle (the small block on the bottom right corner of the cell) and double-left-click. This will copy the formula down to cell B5. You now have 5 decimal results.

11. Select cells **B1:B5**, if necessary.

12. Click the **%** icon in the **Number** group on the **Home** tab, then increase the decimal places to show all figures to 1 decimal place.

13. Select cell **B6**.

14. Click the **AutoSum** icon. You will see that the total of all the percentages is 100%.

How to add 20% Sales Tax

Or, to put it another way - How to increase a figure by 20%.

Most countries have some form of sales tax. In the UK , its called VAT (Value Added Tax). In Australia it’s called GST (General Services Tax). In the US it’s just called Sales Tax.

Excel doesn’t care what you call it. It just sees a percentage!

So how do you add a percentage of sales tax to a base figure to reach a total?

Try this on a fresh sheet:

1. In cell **A1**, type your base figure (e.g. 1,000). NB. Don’t type currency symbols or commas, just the plain number.

2. In cell **B1**, type the sales tax percentage (e.g. 20%).

3. In cell **C1**, type the formula: **=A1*B1**. This calculates the amount of sales tax.

4. In cell **D1**, type the formula: **=SUM(A1, C1)**. This is your total.

To combine steps 3 and 4 into a single step:

In cell **E1**, type the formula:

Using percentages to remove sales tax from a total

Let’s say that you have a total figure of $1,200 which comprises $1,000 plus $200 sales tax. How do get back to the base figure of $1,000.

The maths goes like this: Divide the total figure by 120% (assuming a sales tax of 20%).

It’s bad practice to use fixed figures like 120% so here’s how to calculate it using a formula that makes use of the 20% cell.

**E1** is the total sales figure.

**B1** is the sales tax rate percentage.

The formula to remove the 20% sales tax from the total sales figure is ...

This equates to

Using percentages to calculate interest on a loan

If cell **A1** contains a loan amount, let’s say **200,000**,

cell **A2** contains an interest percentage, let’s say **5%** (per annum) ...

... you simply multiply one by the other to calculate the amount of interest due per annum, i.e.

I hope you’ve found this useful. It’s surprising how many people struggle with percentages and I hope I’ve simplified the process for you.

What do you think?

If this post helped, or you have a question, drop a quick comment below. I always love to hear from my readers. Here's to your learning and success. Enjoy the rest of your day.

About the author

Jason Morrell

Jason loves to simplify the hard stuff, cut the fluff and share what actually works. Things that make a difference. Things that slash hours from your daily work tasks. He runs a software training business in Queensland, Australia, lives on the Gold Coast with his wife and 4 kids and often talks about himself in the third person!

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