Once you've turned your tassel at graduation and then land that first job out of college, you may feel like a financially responsible adult. But starting your career is only half the battle -- you have to work at managing your money, too.
Free online financial calculators can help millennials keep their money under control.
"A calculator is just a really easy way to answer questions that you have come up, like, 'Should I rent or should I buy?'" says Alan Moore, a Certified Financial Planner professional and founder of Serenity Financial Consulting in Milwaukee.
"To be able to pull up a resource and make it as easy as possible to be able to give you all the information that you need is really great," Moore says.
Getting the most from calculators
Countless financial calculators exist online, whether you're looking for a game plan to pay off your student loan debt or wondering how to build up a decent emergency fund.
"It's the calculator tools that get into things that are more practical and near-term and finite that are most useful," says Michael Kitces, a partner and director of research at wealth management firm Pinnacle Advisory Group in Columbia, Maryland.
He advises millennials to choose calculators that can help with pressing financial goals. For example, use calculators at this stage of your life to figure how to pay down credit card debt faster, but maybe not to determine how much to save for retirement.
Be a bit skeptical when selecting a calculator, says Jonathan Fox, a professor and director of financial counseling at Iowa State University. Consider the website that's hosting it.
"What's most important is for a savvy consumer to say, 'Hey, if I jump onboard and I go to Insurance Company X and I do a life insurance needs calculation there, I'm going to probably get a higher estimated need for life insurance than if I hop onboard, let's say, MyMoney.gov,'" Fox says, referring to a financial literacy site maintained by the federal government.
Here are Bankrate's top financial calculator picks for young adults.
Budgeting and saving
Instead of blowing through the small financial windfall from your graduation money, use it as a foundation for savings. Bankrate's compound interest calculator allows you to see how that money can grow. You input:
- Your starting amount.
- The number of years you expect to save money.
- The rate of return -- or interest rate -- associated with your savings account.
- Any additional contributions you will make and the frequency of those contributions.
- Whether the interest is compounded yearly, daily, monthly or quarterly.
The calculator generates a detailed report showing how much your savings will be worth at the end of the specified number of years.
A general rule of thumb is to have three to six months' worth of living expenses saved in a rainy-day fund. The emergency fund calculator on Visa's Practical Money Skills website helps you figure out exactly how much cushion you'll need in case of a financial crunch.
You enter the amount of money you currently have available and how long you expect your emergency fund to last, then you either lump together your monthly living expenses or itemize them. The calculator gives an analysis of how much more you'll need to save each month to reach your emergency fund goal.
"The simpler the calculator, the better," says Fox, of Iowa State University. Mapping Your Future offers a very straightforward budget calculator that can help you come up with a monthly spending plan.
You input your earnings and various costs, such as housing, utilities and child care, then click to see how much money should be left each month for savings and other things. Fine-tuning your expenses shows how your discretionary income changes if you spend more or less.
Most lenders give you a six-month grace period after graduation before you're expected to start repaying your student loans. Once you're ready to start making good on that debt, student financial aid website FinAid.org has a calculator that estimates your monthly payment over the term of your loan and shows the total amount you'll repay, including interest.
You're also given an estimate of the annual salary you'll need so you can afford to pay off the loan.
Looking for a new set of wheels? You'll likely have to borrow money to ride around in style. Bankrate's auto loan calculator estimates your monthly car payment, depending on how much money you'll need and the interest rate you're likely to land. There also is an option to factor in any extra payments you may want to make and show how those payments would help pay off the car loan sooner.
Get an idea of how to tackle your credit card debt with this payoff calculator.
Start with your current balance and annual percentage rate. Then, type in the number of months in which you'd like to pay off your card to see the monthly payment necessary for meeting that goal.
Or, enter the monthly payment amount that's best for your budget and find out how long you'd need to make those payments in order to wipe out your balance.
This simple financial calculator shows how interest affects any type of loan. Input a loan's beginning balance, the most and least you'd be able to pay each month and the loan's annual percentage rate. The tool calculates the total amount of interest you'd pay over the life of the loan if you made either your minimum or maximum monthly payment.
Planning for living expenses
Can you afford to purchase a home right now? Bankrate's rent-or-buy calculator helps with that question after you answer a few others.
First, it asks whether you have access to money for a down payment. Based on your response, it either immediately recommends that you rent your next home or moves you to another section that asks about your credit rating, how much debt you have, how long you expect to live in your new home and other questions about your circumstances.
You are then presented with a detailed recommendation of whether you should pursue the American dream of homeownership or whether renting is the better choice for you.
One of the most important aspects of apartment hunting is determining just how much rent you can afford to pay each month.
This calculator, on an apartment-listing website for the Chicago area, has you input your annual income to receive estimates of three different monthly rent amounts: low end, middle-of-the-road and high end. You get an idea of price ranges to keep in mind during your housing search, depending on how much you'd like to stretch your monthly budget.
"A house is the largest purchase most of us will ever make," notes the intro to Bankrate's mortgage calculator. When the time comes for you to step into the world of homeownership, take the time to map out your mortgage payments.
Enter the amount of the loan, its term (in years or months), the interest rate and the start date of your mortgage, then get an estimate of your monthly payment amount. The "extra payments" shows how you might pay off your mortgage faster.
To learn more about how to take advantage of this tool, watch Bankrate's video on how to use the mortgage calculator.
You've been offered a great job, but it's in another city. Can you afford to live there?
With this calculator, you can see how far your current salary would go if you moved. Find out the price differences between your current and future cities for several expenses, including groceries, housing and transportation. The calculator also estimates a comparable salary for you in the city you may end up calling "home."
Did we leave your favorite calculator off our list? Be sure to let us know in the comments section.