Why Every Real Estate Pro Needs a Financial Calculator

Let’s talk about the most important tool in your toolbox: The Financial Calculator. If you are serious about learning real estate investments, particularly as a CRE investor, a real estate agent, a mortgage lender, or any other role as a professional, you need to know how to use a financial calculator. If not, you will be at a disadvantage compared to those who do, because you’ll be reliant on spreadsheets or software to give you answers that you cannot calculate yourself, such as IRR, cash-on-cash return, or loan payments.

I’m not saying that spreadsheets are bad, because they’re absolutely necessary, but even if you are primarily working on spreadsheets, the only way to know if the information you’re getting out of your spreadsheet is correct is by being able to analyze numbers manually, and that requires knowing how to use a financial calculator.

If you are getting into commercial real estate, you will likely look at hundreds of deals, if not thousands, over the coming years. And each one will have its information presented in a different and unique way. So in order to really know what you’re doing, you need to understand the concepts behind the numbers, and be able to analyze those numbers without being dependent on a spreadsheet or some proprietary company software program.

 Financial calculators are those that specifically have the five Time Value of Money functions:

  • N - Number of Periods
  • I - Interest Rate or Rate of Growth
  • PV - Present Value
  • PMT - Payment or Cash Flows
  • FV - Future Value

Another thing I strongly recommend is getting a financial calculator that uses RPN (Reverse Polish Notation.) You might hate it, at first, because it’s a slightly different type of input it takes a few minutes to get used to, but once you understand it, you’ll never want to go back to the old way because RPN calculators allow you to do algebra without having to stop in the middle of an equation to record your answer.

My personal favorite financial calculator is the Hewlett-Packard HP 12c. (No, I’m not paid to promote this. I’ve just been using it for over 20 years.) The HP12c is readily available as a traditional handheld unit, or you can download a FREE app on most smartphones. If you prefer to use a physical calculator instead of an app on your phone, they're pretty easy to find online or at most office supply retail stores. And if you don’t want to pay full retail price for a new one, many of my students have found them used online for as little as $5 or $10.

Do you want to build your skills and learn to use a Financial Calculator? Check out our HP12c Financial Calculator and Analysis Crash Course for just $197 Pay What You Want, check out our Real Estate Investor Masterclass program, or see our list of individual courses here.


Trevor T. Calton, MBA is the founder of Real Estate Finance Academy and President of Evergreen Capital Advisors. Since 1997, he has analyzed, acquired, or sold more than $5 billion of commercial real estate assets, financed over 500 commercial investment properties, and overseen the asset management of over 6000 units of multifamily housing.

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