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Today, I'm going to blaze through a few things you need to know about percentages in Excel. Of all topics, why percentages? Well, because whenever I review search data on Office.com, I frequently see search terms such as "percentages" and "percent increase" and "percent difference." Now, maybe you're confused by how Excel handles number formatting. Or maybe you simply fell asleep in math class and need help creating the necessary formulas for calculating percentages. Or maybe I'm projecting. :-) Whatever the case, I hope this quick review helps.
While Excel can do a lot of things, it can't really teach you math. If you need a quick refresher on percentages, I recommend starting with a few excellent videos from The Khan Academy:
To show a number as a percent in Excel, you need to apply the percentage number format. To apply this format, select the cells that need formatting, and then click the Percent Style button in the Number group on the ribbon's Home tab.
Of course, it's even faster to use the keyboard shortcut for applying the format, which is Ctrl + Shift + %.
In Excel, the underlying value is always stored in decimal form. So, even if you've used number formatting to display something as a percentage (10%), that's just what it is — formatting, or a symbolic representation of the underlying value. Excel always performs calculations on that underlying value, which is a decimal (0.1). To double-check the underlying value, select the cell, press Ctrl + 1, and look in the Sample box on the General category.
Percentage formatting can be (*ahem*) interesting. There's a method to the madness, but you need to consider the following:
If you're still confused, I recommend that you watch Mike Girvin explain the percentage number format. Mike does a fine job describing the gotchas associated with this format.
As with any formula in Excel, you need to start by typing an equal sign (=) in the cell where you want your result, followed by the rest of the formula. So, I hear your next question in my head — which formula do I use to get the result I desire? Well, that depends. The basic formula for calculating a percentage is part/total = percentage, which might look something like this:
Now, let's say that you want to reduce a particular amount by 25%, like when you're trying to apply a discount. Here's a formula that would get you that result. (Think of the 1 in the formula below as a stand-in for 100%.)
To increase the amount by 25%, replace the minus sign in the formula above with a plus sign.
The next example is slightly more complicated. Say the earnings for your department are $2,342 in November and $2,500 in December. What is the percentage change in earnings between these two months? To find the answer, divide the difference between December and November earnings ($158) by the value of the November earning ($2,342). Then, format the difference as a percentage with two decimal places.
You can find these and other examples in the Display numbers as percentages article on Office.com.
If you create formulas in Excel, you know that coming up with the right formula is often more art than science. The examples above are pretty simple. They're meant to serve only as a jumping off point for creating your own formulas. If you need a more sophisticated formula for solving a percentage problem, or if you want troubleshooting advice, the best thing to do is ask a question in the Excel forum on the Microsoft Answers site.
You might also review the following videos, which cover common scenarios and formulas in more detail:
Do you have other tips or formulas to share? If so, leave a comment. We'd love to hear from you.
-- Anneliese Wirth
More info on percentages in Excel:
Display numbers as percentages
Rather than Ctrl+1 then click Percentage, it's much faster to just click Ctrl+Shift+5 to quickly format as percent with no decimals
Indeed. Thanks for pointing that out, Moshe. While we're on the topic, another good shortcut to memorize is Ctrl+Shift+~, which applies the General number format to the cell. This is useful when you want to remove the Percent number format or double-check the cell's underlying value.
Hi Anneliese -
Very good explanation - clear and concise. I like it!
When you have a chance check out my more than 200 free Excel Video Tutorials at my website:
Hi Danny -
Thanks for stopping by, and for providing a link to your videos. I always like to see what people out in the community are doing. Takes a village, right?
Just to emphasize a point Mike made in his video tutorials, I always use the following format for a percentage change:
End-point/Starting-point - 1
It's slightly (and I mean Micro) more efficient, but more importantly, it involves less keystrokes. I find it easier to audit functions in large Workbook Applications where the Worksheet functions are shorter, thus making them more transparent, faster to audit to the eye!
Hi Nate --
Thanks a million for pointing out the shorter version of the percentage change formula. Fewer keystrokes? Formulas that are easier to read? Yes, please.
Would love to see more of these tips. Keep 'em coming.
Being a novice to excel and reading soo much it's just going over my head trying to absorb soo much for probably such a simple formula that i cannot formulate.Having a price list for example and 100's of numbers down a page a formula for eg is needed of such as; $80+5%+10%+60%. where the $ will of course change regualrly but not the %'s. Could u please help as to how to do this on excel 2007.
Thank you for your time
Thanks for the link to the Khan Academy. And thanks for the above.
Hi Novice: Looks like Gary addressed your question on this post: blogs.office.com/.../use-excel-as-your-calculator.aspx. Check it out and see if it helps.
claskowski -- Glad you found the information helpful. I'm a big fan of Sal Khan!
I have a with prices from two different companies and i want to show the difference in prices as a percentage, which i have done, however i would like to formulate the percentage to go green for being cheaper and red for being more expensive, how do i do this, what do i need to add to the formula =(G2-C2)/C2 to make this happen