How to Find Circular References in Excel

how to find circular references in excel

Circular references are a common issue in Excel, and they occur when a formula refers to its own cell, directly or indirectly, creating an endless loop that can disrupt your calculations and potentially crash your spreadsheet. Detecting and resolving circular references is crucial for maintaining the integrity of your data and ensuring accurate results. In this article, we’ll explore how to find circular references in Excel, explain why they are problematic, and provide steps to deal with them effectively.

Understanding Circular References

Before diving into how to find circular references, it’s essential to understand what they are and why they can be problematic. A circular reference occurs when a formula directly or indirectly references the cell it’s located in, creating a self-referencing loop. This loop can cause your spreadsheet to calculate endlessly or lead to incorrect results.

Circular references can arise for various reasons, including

  • Copy-Paste Errors Accidentally copying and pasting cells containing formulas can create circular references.
  • Misinterpreted Formulas Complex or nested formulas might unintentionally reference a cell in the same calculation, leading to circular references.
  • Iterative Calculations Certain advanced Excel features, like iterative calculations, can intentionally create circular references for specific scenarios.

Detecting Circular References in Excel

Now, let’s explore how to detect circular references in Excel. The program provides two primary methods to identify circular references

Status Bar Indicator

   Excel can detect and display circular references through the status bar. When a circular reference exists, you will see a small green triangle in the lower-left corner of the cell in question.

   To find the exact location of the circular reference, double-click on the cell with the green triangle. Excel will prompt you with the “Circular Reference” dialog box, indicating which cell is involved in the circular reference.

Formulas Tab

If you want a more detailed overview of circular references, you can use the “Formulas” tab.

Go to the “Formulas” tab, and under the “Formula Auditing” group, select “Error Checking.”

Choose “Circular References,” and Excel will open a dialog box that shows a list of cells involved in circular references, along with a brief description of the issue.

Dealing with Circular References

Once you’ve identified circular references in your Excel spreadsheet, it’s important to resolve them to ensure accurate calculations. Here are the steps to deal with circular references effectively:

Understand the Circular Reference

   Carefully review the circular reference to understand why it exists and its purpose in your worksheet. Sometimes, circular references are intentionally created for iterative calculations, but in most cases, they are unintentional errors.

Adjust the Formulas

If the circular reference is unintentional, you’ll need to adjust the formulas causing the loop. Look for the cells and formulas involved and modify them to break the circular reference chain.

Use Iterative Calculations (if necessary)

In some scenarios, circular references are intentionally created, such as when solving iterative problems like depreciation or loan amortisation. In such cases, you can enable iterative calculations

  •      Go to “File” > “Options” > “Formulas.”
  •      Check the “Enable iterative calculation” box.
  •     Specify the maximum number of iterations and the desired level of precision.
  •     Excel will calculate iteratively and provide results when it reaches the specified precision or iteration limit.

Update the Workbook

After making the necessary adjustments, save your workbook to ensure that the changes are applied. Excel may display a warning when you close the workbook if circular references still exist.

Check Results

Double-check the results of your calculations to ensure they are accurate and make sense. Circular references can lead to incorrect outcomes, so validating your data is crucial.

Document Changes

It’s essential to document any changes made to your spreadsheet, especially when dealing with circular references. This documentation will help you and others understand the modifications and their impact on the calculations.

Monitor for Future Circular References

To prevent future circular references, be vigilant when creating or modifying formulas. Pay attention to copying and pasting formulas, and always double-check for self-references.


How do you find and get rid of circular references in Excel?

Another way to identify circular references is to use Excel’s “Circular References” option. This option can be found in the “Formulas” tab, under “Formula Auditing.” When you select this option, Excel will highlight any cells that contain circular references, making it easier for you to identify and fix them.

How do I remove a circular reference in access?

Circular references can be avoided by renaming any one of the fields having the same name in any one of the tables, or by using the qualify command on any one of the tables. if u use qualify command then it ll rename all the fields in that particular table.


Circular references in Excel can be a challenging issue, but with the right approach, you can easily detect and resolve them. Understanding the causes of circular references, using Excel’s built-in tools to identify them, and applying the appropriate corrective measures are key to maintaining the accuracy of your spreadsheets. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can ensure that your Excel workbooks are free from circular reference errors and produce reliable results.

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