Calculators help with financial planning

Posted Jan. 08, 2012, at 11:38 a.m.

One of the handy tools built into most computers is a calculator. However, it is limited to basic math functions. They’re a bit unwieldy for doing anything more than simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Oh, yeah, and those square roots we always need to figure out.

There are some devices available online that can help consumers with a variety of tasks. We came across one really good site on the recommendation of Kim Komando, who writes a daily newsletter about all manner of computer-related issues at www.komando.com.

Last week, Kim featured a website called CalcMoolator at www.calcmoolator.com. It was launched 18 months ago, offering consumers 30 calculators to help perform a range of tasks; the list now totals more than 50.

Not surprisingly, most visitors to the site are looking for help with figuring the payments on auto and home loans. Developers of the site say they’ve worked hard to keep complicated financial jargon out of their equations. Using those calculators can help a consumer determine whether it’s better for them to buy or lease a car or to rent or buy a home, for a couple of examples.

The calculators also offer real-world information on a variety of topics, including:

• Estimated total cost of auto loans

• Mortgage payments

• Debt consolidation strategies

• Retirement planning

• Estimated lifetime earnings

There’s even a calculator to determine the costs of caring for a child or pet.

Many consumers are carrying more credit card debt than they’d like. One calculator shows that a process called optimizing could save money in interest payments. CalcMoolator’s example goes like this: the total owed on two credit cards is $8,000. Your current payments will pay that off in 11 years, six months with total interest of $4,768.07. An optimized plan cuts the total interest to $4,632.22, although it will take 12 years, eight months to pay off under the new arrangement.

If your financial position allows you to pay more than you are currently, a calculator can help figure the benefits. Another can weigh the pros and cons of holding down one full-time job vs. two or more part-time occupations.

Consumers can run a number of calculations for free. You can see answers at once, if you’re working on a desktop or laptop computer, or email the results to yourself. There are downloads available for iPad, iPhone and Android devices (again, the free “lite” version includes six of the most popular calculators; $9.99 lets you download the applications and use all the calculators).

The people who keep their eyes on such things seem impressed. In December 2010, PC World called CalcMoolator one of the 20 “best productivity” sites on the web. In listing the site as one of the 100 best of 2010, PCMag urged readers to “spend some time figuring out your finances for a better tomorrow.”

At the very least, the next time someone says, “Go figure,” you’ll have a place to turn.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or go to necontact.wordpress.com, or email atcontacexdir@live.com.

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