When you’re trying to take stock of your financial picture, do you ever utilize financial calculators? I’m a big fan of these tools as they can help you with the math you need to do in order to understand certain elements of your finances. While I still suggest knowing your budget as a starting point to help make sense of all the pieces together, here are five of my favorite financial calculators.
If you’re in debt and wondering how long it will take you to get out, this is the calculator for you. There are two methods to attack your debt and pay it down. The first is the high interest method where you pay down the credit cards or loans you have outstanding with the highest interest rates first. Mathematically, this will save you the most money in interest payments, however, it can often make it harder to stay motivated because it takes longer to see results if you’re making small payments on a big loan. The other method, the debt snowball, is designed to help with that issue. You pay down your smallest debt first, and then roll the payments you were making towards that first loan into the second smallest debt. This continues down the line until you’re debt free. While you may pay a little more in interest, the motivational factor of seeing a whole loan or credit card paid off is often enough to keep you motivated.
If you choose the debt snowball method, this calculator can make a huge difference. With just the total payoff balance, the interest rate, and the monthly payment amount, you can calculate exactly how long it will take to pay off all of your debt and how much interest you will pay in the process. Additionally, it allows you to add additional payments to the minimum and see what a difference it would make to the interest paid and time it would take to pay it off. This can be really motivating, so if you have debt and don’t know where to start, run this calculation today!
Do you know how much you need to save for retirement? If the answer is no, it might be time to check out this calculator. It’s a little tricky because you have to give some thought to how much you will need annually to enjoy your retirement. Once you have that figured out, you can factor in how much you have saved now, and how much you are contributing regularly to determine how much you will have saved by your ideal retirement age. It will show you how much you need and you can play with additional contribution amounts or change your retirement age to view different scenarios and what might work for you. Note that this calculator won’t include pensions, annuities and social security payments, so you will need to adjust for those separately. One way you can do that is to lower the annual amount of money you will need by the amount you expect to collect from those sources.
I love this calculator. It’s a super simple one just comparing the cost of buying lunch to the cost of packing lunch, but it can be an eye opening one, especially if you’re not keeping up with a monthly budget. By entering the average cost of packing your lunch and buying lunch, as well as how often you pack and buy lunch, you can see how much you spend on lunch weekly, monthly, and yearly. The calculation is based on a seven day week and not just a work week, so that yearly number can be quite a shock! It’s a good check to see if this is an area in your budget that you could be trimming down.
There are many mortgage calculators out there, and many are missing important monthly cost. This calculator is one of the better ones I’ve seen as it includes Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) that is required if your down payment is less than 20% of the homes total cost. It also includes taxes and home insurance costs. As with any mortgage calculator, it is imperative that you have the best numbers available to you in order to populate it. Get pre-approved for a mortgage before you even start looking for homes and that interest rate and PMI cost will be estimated for you by the mortgage broker. You may need to update these amounts again when you go to make an offer on a home since the mortgage details are typically only available for a set period of time before they can be updated. Your property taxes should be based off of the past property tax amounts associated with the home you’re buying, however, property taxes have a tendency to rise over time, so make sure there is money left in your budget to cover these future costs.
Another thing that I love about this specific calculator is that is shows you the difference between making monthly mortgage payments and bi-weekly payments. That little change means that you are still paying the same amount towards your mortgage monthly, but the interest that compounds is lower and therefore it’s paid off quicker and faster than if you make the payments monthly. It’s a great change to make that will save you money in the long run without costing you more now.
This college savings planner from Vanguard is the best one I’ve ever seen. I love that it gives you suggested college pricing for public and private schools and adjusts them for cost inflation. It also lets you factor in multiple children and change your monthly contributions to see how much you might be able to afford to save. You can even print out a full report for your planning reference. It’s a great tool to play with to try to get the most that you can out of as little as possible. Remember that when it comes to saving for college, planning ahead is great, but funding your retirement should take priority over saving for college.
Written By: Lindsay Dell Cook
Lindsay Dell Cook is a CPA, finance writer, and founder of Budget Babble. She lives in Philadelphia with her uber supportive husband and adorable daughter. When she's not working, she enjoys spending time with her family, taking their lovable mutt for walks, or reading a good book while buried under a pile of cats.