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Compounding Interest: Formulas and Examples

What Is Compounding?

Compounding is the process in which an asset’s earnings, from either capital gains or interest, are reinvested to generate additional earnings over time. This growth, calculated using exponential functions, occurs because the investment will generate earnings from both its initial principal and the accumulated earnings from preceding periods.

Compounding, therefore, differs from linear growth, where only the principal earns interest each period.

Compound Interest image

Key Takeaways

  • Compounding is the process whereby interest is credited to an existing principal amount as well as to interest already paid.
  • Compounding thus can be construed as interest on interest—the effect of which is to magnify returns to interest over time, the so-called “miracle of compounding.”
  • When banks or financial institutions credit compound interest, they will use a compounding period such as annual, monthly, or daily.
  • Compounding may occur on investment in which savings grow more quickly or on debt where the amount owed may grow even if payments are being made.
  • Compounding naturally occurs in savings accounts; some investments that yield dividends may also benefit from compounding.

Understanding Compounding

Compounding typically refers to the increasing value of an asset due to the interest earned on both a principal and accumulated interest. This phenomenon, which is a direct realization of the time value of money (TMV) concept, is also known as compound interest.

Compounding is crucial in finance, and the gains attributable to its effects are the motivation behind many investing strategies. For example, many corporations offer dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPs) that allow investors to reinvest their cash dividends to purchase additional shares of stock. Reinvesting in more of these dividend-paying shares compounds investor returns because the increased number of shares will consistently increase future income from dividend payouts, assuming steady dividends.

Investing in dividend growth stocks on top of reinvesting dividends adds another layer of compounding to this strategy that some investors refer to as double compounding. In this case, not only are dividends being reinvested to buy more shares, but these dividend growth stocks are also increasing their per-share payouts.

Formula for Compound Interest

The formula for the future value (FV) of a current asset relies on the concept of compound interest. It takes into account the present value of an asset, the annual interest rate, the frequency of compounding (or the number of compounding periods) per year, and the total number of years. The generalized formula for compound interest is:

Compound Interest image webp

This formula assumes that no additional changes outside of interest are made to the original principal balance.

Increased Compounding Periods

The effects of compounding strengthen as the frequency of compounding increases. Assume a one-year time period. The more compounding periods throughout this one year, the higher the future value of the investment, so naturally, two compounding periods per year are better than one, and four compounding periods per year are better than two.

To illustrate this effect, consider the following example given the above formula. Assume that an investment of $1 million earns 20% per year. The resulting future value, based on a varying number of compounding periods, is:

  • Annual compounding (n = 1): FV = $1,000,000 × [1 + (20%/1)] (1 x 1) = $1,200,000
  • Semi-annual compounding (n = 2): FV = $1,000,000 × [1 + (20%/2)] (2 x 1) = $1,210,000
  • Quarterly compounding (n = 4): FV = $1,000,000 × [1 + (20%/4)] (4 x 1) = $1,215,506
  • Monthly compounding (n = 12): FV = $1,000,000 × [1 + (20%/12)] (12 x 1) = $1,219,391
  • Weekly compounding (n = 52): FV = $1,000,000 × [1 + (20%/52)] (52 x 1) = $1,220,934
  • Daily compounding (n = 365): FV = $1,000,000 × [1 + (20%/365)] (365 x 1) = $1,221,336

As evident, the future value increases by a smaller margin even as the number of compounding periods per year increases significantly. The frequency of compounding over a set length of time has a limited effect on an investment’s growth. This limit, based on calculus, is known as continuous compounding and can be calculated using the formula:

In the above example, the future value with continuous compounding equals: FV = $1,000,000 × 2.7183 (0.2 x 1) = $1,221,403.


Compounding is an example of "the snowball effect" where a situation of small significance builds upon itself into a larger, more serious state.

Compounding on Investments and Debt

Compound interest works on both assets and liabilities. While compounding boosts the value of an asset more rapidly, it can also increase the amount of money owed on a loan, as interest accumulates on the unpaid principal and previous interest charges. Even if you make loan payments, compounding interest may result in the amount of money you owe being greater in future periods.

The concept of compounding is especially problematic for credit card balances. Not only is the interest rate on credit card debt high, the interest charges may be added to the principal balance and incur interest assessments on itself in the future. For this reason, the concept of compounding is not necessarily "good" or "bad". The effects of compounding may work in favor of or against an investor depending on their specific financial situation.

Example of Compounding

To illustrate how compounding works, suppose $10,000 is held in an account that pays 5% interest annually. After the first year or compounding period, the total in the account has risen to $10,500, a simple reflection of $500 in interest being added to the $10,000 principal. In year two, the account realizes 5% growth on both the original principal and the $500 of first-year interest, resulting in a second-year gain of $525 and a balance of $11,025.

Example of Compounding
Compounding Period  Starting Balance Interest Ending Balance
$10,000.00 $500.00 $10,500.00
$10,500.00 $525.00 $11,025.00
$11,025.00 $551.25  $11,576.25
$11,576.25 $578.81  $12,155.06 
$12,155.06  $607.75  $12,762.82 
$12,762.82  $638.14  $13,400.96 
$13,400.96  $670.05  $14,071.00 
$14,071.00  $703.55  $14,774.55 
$14,774.55  $738.73  $15,513.28 
10  $15,513.28  $775.66  $16,288.95 
$10,000 Investment Earning 5% Compounded Interest

After 10 years, assuming no withdrawals and a steady 5% interest rate, the account would grow to $16,288.95. Without having added or removed anything from our principal balance except for interest, the impact of compounding has increased the change in balance from $500 in Period 1 to $775.66 in Period 10.

In addition, without having added new investment on our own, our investment has grown $6,288.95 in 10 years. Had the investment only paid simple interest (5% on the original investment only), annual interest would have only been $5,000 ($500 per year for 10 years).

What Is the Rule of 72?

The Rule of 72 is a heuristic used to estimate how long an investment or savings will double in value if there is compound interest (or compounding returns). The rule states that the number of years it will take to double is 72 divided by the interest rate. If the interest rate is 5% with compounding, it would take around 14 years and five months to double.

What Is the Difference Between Simple Interest and Compound Interest?

Simple interest pays interest only on the amount of principal invested or deposited. For instance, if $1,000 is deposited with 5% simple interest, it would earn $50 each year. Compound interest, however, pays “interest on interest,” so in the first year, you would receive $50, but in the second year, you would receive $52.5 ($1,050 × 0.05), and so on.


How does compounding affect interest?
Compounding is the process whereby interest is credited to an existing principal amount as well as to interest already paid. Compounding thus can be construed as interest on interest—the effect of which is to magnify returns to interest over time, the so-called “miracle of compounding.”
What are the limitations of compound interest?
What are the cons of compound interest?
  • It is only advantageous over the long-term. Compound interest works in your favour only when you give it a long period of time, say 10 or more years. ...
  • It can lead to significant financial burden. Compound interest on borrowings or on debt can be very dangerous.
Why is compound interest important in everyday life?
Compound interest causes your wealth to grow faster. It makes a sum of money grow at a faster rate than simple interest because you will earn returns on the money you invest, as well as on returns at the end of every compounding period. This means that you don't have to put away as much money to reach your goals!
When should you compound interest?
You can capitalize on compounding by investing for just a few years, but your gains will be higher if your returns compound for 20 years instead. That's why you're so often encouraged to start saving for retirement as early as possible. The earlier you start saving, the more time you have to compound.
What causes compound interest?
Compound interest is when you earn interest on the money you've saved and on the interest you earn along the way. Here's an example to help explain compound interest. Increasing the compounding frequency, finding a higher interest rate, and adding to your principal amount are ways to help your savings grow even faster.
Where is compound interest used?
Compound interest is when the interest you earn on a balance in a savings or investing account is reinvested, earning you more interest. As a wise man once said, “Money makes money. And the money that money makes, makes money.” Compound interest accelerates the growth of your savings and investments over time.

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