15 Excel Formulas That Will Help You Solve Real Life Problems

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A lot of people view Microsoft Excel as a tool that’s only useful in business. Truth is, there are a lot of ways it can benefit you at home as well. The key to finding uses of Excel in daily life is picking the right formulas that solve problems.

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Whether you’re shopping for a new car loan, want to figure out which mutual fund investment is best for you, or if you’re just trying to make sense out of your bank account, Excel is a powerful tool that can help.

We picked out 15 formulas that are simple, powerful, and help you solve complex issues.

Financial Formulas

Shopping for a new home and confused by all the mortgage lingo? Looking for a new car and getting confused by the car loan terms the salesperson keeps throwing at you?

Excel Formula Review

Have no fear. Before you take out a loan, do your research with Excel by your side!

1. PMT—Payment

Whenever you’re comparing any loan terms and want to quickly figure out your actual monthly payment given different variations in terms, take advantage of the powerful (and simple) PMT formula.

PMT Excel Formula

Here’s what you need to use this formula:

  • The interest rate of the loan
  • The term of the loan (how many payments?)
  • The starting principle of the loan
  • Future value, if for some reason the loan will be considered paid off before it reaches zero (optional)
  • Type of loan—0 if payments due at the end of each month, or 1 if they’re due at the beginning (optional)

Here’s a cool way to quickly compare a variety of loans to see what your payments will look like. Create an Excel sheet that lists every potential loan and all available information about them. Then, create a “Payments” column and use the PMT formula.

PMT Excel Formula for Interest

Just grab the lower right corner of the PMT cell you just created, and drag it down so it calculates the payment total for all the loan terms listed in the sheet. The Excel autofill feature is one feature you will use a lot with these tricks.

Excel Table for Interest

Now you can compare monthly payments for different kinds of loans.

(A very big thank you to Mark Jones (@redtexture on Twitter) who pointed out that for PMT and FV formulas, you’ve got to be very careful about using the same period—in this case using monthly payments requires dividing the interest term by 12 months)

This is why our readers are so great. Thanks for helping with this fix Mark!

2. FV—Future Value

The next formula comes in handy when you are looking to invest some money into something like a Certificate of Deposit (CD), and you want to know what it will be worth at the end of the term.

Here’s what you need to know to use the FV formula:

  • The interest rate of the loan
  • Number of payments (or investment term in months)
  • The payment for each period (usually monthly)
  • Current starting balance (optional)
  • Type of loan—0 if payments due at the end of each month, or 1 if they’re due at the beginning (optional)

So let’s compare several CDs using the terms that you know from the information the banks have given you. In the example below, let’s say you have a $20,000 inheritance to invest in a CD.

FV Excel Formula

Interest rates are again represented in decimal format (take the interest rate the bank gave you and divide by 100). Payments are zero because CD’s are typically based on a starting value and a future value paid out.  Here’s what the comparison looks like when you use the FV formula for every CD you’re considering.

Future Value Formula for Excel

Without a doubt, the higher interest CD over a longer period of time pays out much more. The only drawback is that you can’t touch any of your money for three whole years, but that’s the nature of investing!

3-4. Logical Formulas—IF and AND

Most banks these days give you the ability to download nearly a year’s worth of bank transactions to a format like CSV. This is a perfect format to analyze your spending using Excel, but sometimes the data you receive from banks is very disorganized.

Using logical formulas are a great way to spot overspending.

Ideally, the bank either automatically categorizes your spending or you’ve set up your account so that things are placed into spending categories. For example, any restaurants we go to get labeled with the DiningOut label.

Spending Categories in Excel

This makes it easy to use a logical formula to identify whenever we’ve gone out to eat and spent over $20.

To do this, just create a logical formula in a new column looking for any value where the category column is “DiningOut” and the transaction column is larger than -$20

Note: The comparison below shows “<“, less than, because the values in column C are all negative.

Here’s what that looks like:

IF AND Formula for Excel

Using IF and AND together in one formula looks tricky, but it’s actually quite simple. The IF statement will output the dollar amount (C2) if the AND statement is true, or FALSE if it isn’t. The AND statement checks whether the category is “DiningOut” and the transaction is greater than $20.

Excel Table for Formula

There you have it! Without having to manually sift through all those transactions, you now know exactly those times when you’ve overspent in a certain category.

Making Sense of Lists

Lists are a big part of everyday life. If you’re managing a household, you’re using lists constantly. Excel has some pretty powerful tools for being productive with checklists How to Create a Checklist in Excel How to Create a Checklist in Excel A checklist is a good way to keep track of tasks or processes. We'll show you how to make a checklist in Excel, one simple step at a time. Read More , as well as other kinds of list formats.

5-6. COUNT and COUNTIF

Excel can help you quickly organize and sort values is a list.  Let’s take the PTC example. Here’s a list of donations from community members.

COUNT and COUNTIF Formula for Excel

We want to see how many times a person’s name shows up on the list. To do this, you can combine the COUNT formula with an IF formula. First, create a column to check if the person is Michelle or not. The formula will use an IF statement to fill the cell with a “1” if this is true.

IF Formula for Excel

Next, create another column that counts how many times you’ve found Michelle Johnson on the list.

COUNT Formula for Excel

This gives you the count of every place in Column E where there’s a 1 rather than a blank.

Excel Table Result CountIf Formula

So, this is the simplest way to do this kind of thing, but it does require two steps.

6-8. SUMIF, COUNTIF, AVERAGEIF

If you don’t mind using a slightly more advanced formula, you might consider using one of the many combined “IF” formulas like SUMIF, COUNTIF, or AVERAGEIF. These allow you to perform the formula (COUNT, SUM or AVERAGE) if the logical condition is true. Here’s how it works using the above example.

COUNTIF Formula for Excel

This formula looks at column A, which contains all the donor names, and if the cell within the range matches the criteria in quotes, then it counts up by one. This gives you a count of all the times the donor name equals “Michelle Johnson” in a single step.

Excel Table for CountIF Formula

It’s much faster than using two columns, but is a little complex – so use the approach that works best for your situation.

The SUMIF and AVERAGEIF formulas work the very same way, just with different mathematical results. Using SUMIF in this example would give you the total donation dollars for Michelle Johnson if you use it instead.

9. LEN

Another formula that you can use creatively sometimes is the LEN formula. This formula is one of many Excel text formulas Saving Time with Text Operations in Excel Saving Time with Text Operations in Excel Excel can do magic with numbers and it can handle characters equally well. This manual demonstrates how to analyze, convert, replace, and edit text within spreadsheets. These basics will allow you to perform complex transformations. Read More that tells you how many characters are in a string of text.

One interesting way to use this in the example above would be to highlight donors who donated over $1,000 by counting the number of digits in the donation column. If the length of the number is 4 or greater, then they donated at least $1,000.

LEN Formula for Excel

Now you can add additional formatting to make it easier on the eyes.

To do this, you need to highlight all the cells in the Donation column, select the Home tab in the menu, and click on Conditional Formatting in the toolbar. Then select Use a formula to determine which cells to format.

Excel Conditional Formatting

Set the range under Format values where this formula is true: to the column/range where all your LEN formula outputs are displayed.

In this example, if you make the condition “>3”, then anything over $1,000 will receive the special formatting. Don’t forget to click the Format… button and choose what kind of special formatting you want for these.

Also, a quick note. You’ll notice my range is defined as “$E2:$E11”, not “$E$2:$E$11”. When you select the range, it defaults to the former, which won’t work. You need to use relative addressing as shown in the picture above. Then, your conditional formatting will work based on the condition of the second range.

Organizing Bank and Financial Downloads

Sometimes, when you download information from businesses—whether it’s your bank, or your health insurance company, the format of the incoming data doesn’t always match what you need it to be.

For example, let’s say that in the exported data from your bank and you’re given the date in the standard format.

Bank Information Excel

If you want to add a new column of your own with your own that’s prefaced by the year and includes the Payee information (for your own sorting purposes), extracting pieces of information from a column is really easy.

10-14. RIGHT, LEFT, TEXT, and CONCATENATE

You can pull the year out of the text in that column using the RIGHT formula.

CONCATENATE Formula for Excel

The formula above is telling Excel to take the text in column D and extract the four characters from the right side. The CONCATENATE formula pieces together those four digits, with the Payee text from column E.

Keep in mind that if you do want to extract text from a date, you will need to convert it to text format (instead of date) using the “=TEXT(D2,”mm/dd/yyyy”)” formula. Then you can use the RIGHT formula to pull out the year.

What if your information is on the left? Well, instead use the LEFT formula and you can pull text from left to right.

CONCATENATE really comes in handy when you have some text from a bunch of different columns that you want to piece together into one long string. There are also a few ways to separate text in Excel How to Separate First and Last Name in Excel How to Separate First and Last Name in Excel Working with names in Microsoft Excel? Here’s a helpful tutorial that shows you how to separate first and last names in Excel. Read More if you want to want to learn how to fully manipulate strings.

Picking Random Names from a Hat

15. RANDBETWEEN

One last fun formula is one you may use if you have to do something like pick some names out of a hat for a Christmas party. Put that hat and those scraps of paper away and instead pull out your laptop and launch Excel!

Using the formula RANDBETWEEN, you can have Excel randomly select a number between a range of numbers you specify.

RANDBETWEEN Formula for Excel

The two values you need to use are the lowest and highest numbers, which should be at the ends of the range of numbers you’ve applied to each person’s name.

Once you hit the Enter key, the formula will randomly select one of the numbers within the range.

RANDBETWEEN Formula for Excel

It’s about as random and tamper-proof as you can possibly get. So instead of picking a number from a hat, pick a number from Excel instead!

Using Excel for Everyday Problems

As you can see, Excel isn’t just for data-analysis gurus and business professionals. Anyone can benefit from the many formulas that you’ll find tucked away in Excel. Learn these formulas and you can start solving real-life problems in Excel.

Don’t stop learning Excel. There is a long list of Excel formulas and functions The Essential Microsoft Excel Formulas and Functions Cheat Sheet The Essential Microsoft Excel Formulas and Functions Cheat Sheet Download this Excel formulas cheat sheet to take a shortcut through the world's favorite spreadsheet program. Read More that you can learn to use, you might find some neat little tricks you never thought Excel could do.

Image credit: Goodluz via Shutterstock.com

Explore more about: Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Office 2016, Microsoft Office 2019, Microsoft Office 365, Spreadsheet.

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  1. Don
    April 12, 2018 at 10:24 pm

    Typo - it is principal not principle

  2. Luke
    January 21, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    I have a spreadsheet that continually changes. Using COUNTIF, is there a way to look for blank cells even if the cell range contains no data at all.

    In other words, I'll want to count blank cells in future data rows down the road but I don't want to have to change the formula every time I add more data.

    • Tyler
      April 19, 2018 at 1:10 pm

      Use the countblank formula. It will count any blank cells, even if they have a formula but return a blank cell

  3. Ethan
    November 25, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    For your FV – Future Value example you need to make sure you match the units of time in the interest periods (nper) with the unit used in your interest rate.

    In your example (I'm assuming) you have an annual interest rate but you use months as the unit of time. So when you plug the number of months in the formula you are actually telling it to calculate the future value for that many *years* since your interest rate is yearly.

    You can easily fix it by either dividing the interest by 12 (making it a monthly rate) or by dividing the number of months by 12 (giving the number of years).