How to fix a circular reference in Microsoft Excel

Teodor Nechita
by Teodor Nechita
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  • Microsoft Excel is one of the most important spreadsheet tools in the world.
  • The article below will show you how to solve all circular reference errors that you may encounter in Excel.
  • If you need help with more general issues, visit our dedicated Microsoft Office Hub.
  • For more information on the topic, visit our Microsoft Excel page.
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Pretty much anyone that works in an office environment knows about Microsoft Office, and the three big names in its arsenal:

This article will be covering an issue that many users have reported on forums, regarding a particular Microsoft Excel issue:

I keep getting this error upon startup of a spreadsheet i made. I must have made an invalid formula somewhere but can’t seem to find it at all. Is there a way i can easily find the error and prevent this annoying message from popping up every time? Also, I notice this spreadsheet takes WAYYY too long to start up. Not sure if there’s a fix for that too.

For those of you that don’t know, a circular reference means that your formula is trying to calculate itself since you are referring to cells already included in the formula.

The full message reads as follows:

There are one or more circular references where a formula refers to its own cell either directly or indirectly. This might cause them to calculate incorrectly. Try removing or changing these references, or moving the formulas to different cells.

Further research revealed that this is a common error message, so we decided to make a list of the best ways you can overcome the circular reference error in Microsoft Excel.


How do I fix the circular reference error in Microsoft Excel?

1. Enable the Iterative calculation feature

  1. Open Microsoft Excel
  2. Select File and go to Options
  3. Select Formulas
  4. Check the box next to Enable iterative calculation

2. Find the cell causing the circular reference error

  1. Launch Microsoft Excel
  2. Trigger the error message
  3. Go to the Formulas tab
  4. Select Errors Checking
  5. Select the Circular Reference entry
  6. This will automatically fix any reference errors

3. Manually move the formula to another cell

If you have a simple calculation, for example, A1 + A2 + A3= A4, but you wanted to put the SUM formula on A1, A2, or A3 instead of A4, this will trigger the reference error.

That being the case, simply choose a different cell for your formula, without overlapping with the cells that already have numerical values inside of them.


By following the steps below, you should be able to fix any circular reference error and resume using Microsoft Excel accordingly.

Which one of the methods worked best for you? Let us know by leaving us a message in the comments section below.


FAQ: Learn more about Microsoft Excel

  • Can I use Microsoft Excel for large amounts of data?

Yes, since Excel works with spreadsheets, it goes without saying that handling large amounts of data is something it can do. For example, you can delete hundreds of rows at a time with just a few steps.

  • Can Excel open image files?

Yes, Microsoft Excel can open image files, since they can come in handy in spreadsheets. For more information on what file formats Excel can open, check out this detailed guide.

  • Why can’t I open a file in Excel?

If you can’t open a file in Excel, then maybe the format is unsupported, or there may be other underlying issues.


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