Websites help with financial choices

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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, 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.

The following calculators might come in handy as you weigh your financial decisions. They can't replace the personalized advice of a financial planner, and it's not an exhaustive list (just Google "online financial calculators"). 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, accounting for fees such as tuition and room and board, then subtract grants and scholarships.

Find a school's calculator by visiting www.collegecost.ed.gov/netpricecenter.asp..

The tools can give a sense of whether even a big-ticket college is financially within reach.

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 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 after graduation? Check out the Finaid.org loan payment calculator at www.finaid.org/calculators/loanpayments.phtml.

With this straightforward tool, just type in the loan's balance, interest rate and length of repayment. The standard is 10 years. In return, it offers monthly payment information, the total interest you'll pay over the life of the loan and an estimate of the salary you'll need to earn after graduation to comfortably repay the debt.

• 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, at www.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 can be adjusted, 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.

A lot of online tools will help determine how much home you can buy, but for a quick estimate, use the Realtor.com calculator (www.realtor.com/home-finance/financial-calculators, then click on "Home Affordability"). It offers the maximum purchase price you can afford based on your income, an estimated mortgage rate and your monthly debt payments.

• Retirement.

You don't need to be a member of AARP, an organization for people age 50 and older, to use its retirement calculator.

To find it, go to www.aarp.org/work/retirement-planning/retirement_calculator. After you input data such as age, retirement age, income and how much you have saved for retirement, it will let you know where you will likely stand in your retirement years.