Ever wonder how much home you can afford, if there's room in your budget for a new car or how big of a nest egg you need to retire?
The answers to these questions are rarely exact, but an abundance of online financial calculators promises to help you get an estimate.
And crunching the numbers can be beneficial.
The annual Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, published in March, for example, found that 25 percent of workers who've done a retirement-savings-needs calculation feel very confident about being able to afford a comfortable retirement. Among workers who didn't do a calculation, only 13 percent felt the same way.
Below are calculators that may come in handy as you weigh your financial decisions. They can't replace the personalized advice that a financial planner would offer, and it's not an exhaustive list (just Google "online financial calculators" and you'll see what I mean).
But these will help you get started.
College. Because of a federal law that took effect in 2011, most colleges and universities must provide a net price calculator, which shows what it costs to attend a school once you account for fees such as tuition and room and board, then subtract grants and scholarships.
You can find a school's calculator by going to collegecost.ed.gov/netpricecenter.aspx.
The tools can help give you a sense of whether even a big-ticket college is financially within reach.
Just keep in mind that results are only estimates, and the calculators are not perfect. For one, calculations are based on what students paid in recent years, not current tuition prices. What's more, calculators can vary in terms of the questions asked and results produced.
Thinking of taking out student loans? Or do you have student loans and wonder what your monthly payment will be once you graduate?
Check out the Finaid.org loan payment calculator (finaid.org/calculators/loanpayments.phtml).
With this straightforward tool, all you have to do is type in the loan's balance, interest rate and length of repayment (the standard is 10 years).
In return, you'll see what your monthly payment will be, the total interest you'll pay over the life of the loan and an estimate of the salary you'll need to earn out of school to repay the debt comfortably.
Car. Need a new set of wheels but not sure how much car you can afford? Try the calculator at Edmunds.com, an online automotive resource (edmunds.com/calculators/affordability.html).
There, you can key in your down payment and the monthly car bill your budget will allow. It estimates an interest rate (which you can adjust) and lets you pick the loan term (three to six years). Based on those inputs, you'll see the range of sticker prices you should shop at the dealership and the maximum market value you can afford.
Home. Lots of tools online will help you figure out how much home you can buy, but for a quick estimate, use the calculator at Realtor.com (realtor.com/home-finance/financial-calculators, then click on "Home Affordability").
With this calculator, you'll see the maximum purchase price you can afford based on your income, an estimated mortgage rate and your monthly debt payments (say, for student loans).
Retirement. It may be a long time before you can join AARP, a membership organization for individuals age 50 and older.
But you can use the group's retirement tool — it's one of the easiest around —to see if you're on track in saving for a comfortable retirement.
To find it, go to aarp.org/work/retirement-planning/retirement_calculator.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Carolyn Bigda writes Getting Started for the Chicago Tribune. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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