by Mara Strom
Unless your last name is Rockefeller, you’ll need to think long and hard about the expense of your college education. Even though more than 90% of college grads say their degree was “worth it,” the cost can still be staggering. If you’re in college — or planning to attend — here are five online calculators that can help you get a handle on your higher education finances.
#1. Budget Calculator
You got into the college of your dreams! Congratulations! But… can you afford it? The first step to figuring out whether Dream U is in the cards is to determine your total college-related expenses and estimate your (and your parents) available income to cover those expenses. This handy budget calculator from the U.S. Department of Education helps you think through all those expenses — tuition, room, board, and cost of living — and balance them against all possible income sources.
#2. The Fafsa4Caster Calculator
Now that you know how much college is going to cost you, it’s time to figure out where the money is coming from. If you’re thinking federal financial aid, then you’ll need to complete the FAFSA (aka the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is the document your school uses to calculate your eligibility for assistance). To get a sense of what you’re in for, try running your numbers on a financial aid calculator. While the Fafsa4Caster is not the only such calculator online, it is definitely one of the most thorough. This free tool from the U.S Department of Education lets you know how much federal aid you’re eligible to receive. To use the calculator, you should first gather all your information — including last year’s tax return, your social security number, and any asset statements — and then work your way through the calculator. Set aside 30-45 minutes from start to finish (I told you it was thorough). One of the nicest features of this calculator is that you can run multiple scenarios, so if you’re wondering how certain asset distributions may affect your EFC, this calculator can tell you.
#3. College Board’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Calculator
If you’ve got ten minutes, not 30, to spend on running some EFC numbers, then CollegeBoard’s Expected Family Contribution Calculator is a good place to start.
#4. Student Loan Interest Rate Calculator
If you’re contemplating loans for college — or if you’ve already taken that plunge to the tune of $40,000 — this student loan interest rate calculator from the U.S. Department of Education’s Direct Loan Program can help you figure out just how much your education loan is going to cost you … and for how long.
By plugging in the total amount of your loan and your interest rate, you can see how much you’ll eventually pay back on the standard, extended and graduated plans.
#5. Consolidated Loan Calculator
You might be finished with your college courses, but at this rate, you’ll be paying back that degree for the next 50 years. If you’re wondering whether consolidation can make the cost of your monthly payments a bit more manageable, then check out this loan consolidation calculator. In two minutes or less, you can know how consolidation will impact your monthly payments, as well as the total amount you will have to pay back — and how many months it will take you. The only information you will need is your loan statement(s) with the type of loan, balance remaining and current interest rate.