When it comes to things that literally changed the world, the internet ranks right up there with the wheel, the light bulb, vaccines, the airplane and the computer, to name a few.
Anyone who uses the internet knows just how valuable it can be. For those who grew up before the internet was in widespread use, it's sometimes difficult to remember how the world managed to function without it.
And anyone who's ever used the internet also knows about some of the pitfalls associated with it, such as information overload, the anonymous spread of hatred and other social ills, and even the increasingly recognized internet addiction.
Another problem associated with the internet is the proliferation (knowingly or otherwise) of false or misleading information.
That leads us to the topic of the day: online loan calculators. In short, they can be problematic.
Good Intentions, Suspect Results
Online calculators were not designed to be scams. When used as one tool in your decision making process, they actually can be quite helpful. But alone, they may be trouble. That's because those loan calculators have a default setting that may not be right for you.
The Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Finance published a study in June 2019 that concluded that depending on the calculator's settings, calculators could unconsciously manipulate would-be borrowers into choosing a more expensive loan than necessary.
For example, the study showed that it was nearly twice as likely for a borrower to choose a longer-term loan if the default settings were for a five-year or longer than if the default setting was just one year.
Researchers had two theories as to why study participants acted the way they did. One theory was that the default setting served as a starting point for comparison. The other theory was that participants somehow considered the default setting as a social norm (a most popular choice) or the prescriptive norm (recommended choice).
Use Them With Other Tools
Don't get me wrong, online calculators have some value, especially as a starting point. Using a calculator can at least get you into the ballpark of what you might afford (calculators, of course, can't incorporate your unique financial circumstances).
But if you're going to use a calculator, be sure to try numerous settings other than the default. Even better, use a calculator from a website that doesn't repopulate information into its calculator.
Once a calculator gives you a rough idea of what kind of loan might be right for you, you have more work to do.
Talk to friends from affinity groups, fellow entrepreneurs, mentors and anyone else who might have valuable insight into financing.
Do some non-calculator internet research of your own.
Crunch some numbers yourself, taking into consideration your stomach for risk and realistic expectations for your business, including best - and worst-case scenarios.
The point is that when it's time to talk to a lender, you should be fully prepared for what's likely to come next. Gordon Gekko's priority was skewed in "Wall Street," but he was correct when he said, "information is power."