I was destined to meet Hugh
Personal FinancePhoto/Courtesy of Hugh Chou Hugh Chou - a software engineer, system administrator and "general purpose academic geek" at Washington University in St. Louis - has created a number a handy personal-finance calculators and put them on his Web site.
A lot of people think refinancing their mortgage will save their life because all of the sudden instead of paying $400 a month, they'll pay $300 a month.
... - Hugh Chou,software engineer, system administrator and computer support specialist
...Online: Hugh Chou
All of the things financial I've ever wondered about - how much of my mortgage payment chips away at principal, how much money I'd save by brown-bagging my lunches, how my net worth stacks up to everyone else's - Hugh
has wondered about too.
The difference between us is that, fortunately, Hugh
has the ability to formulate calculations and turn them into Internet programs that answer all those questions.Hugh Chou is a software engineer, system administrator and computer support specialist at Washington University in St. Louis or, as he puts it, "a general purpose academic geek."
I found Hugh
a few years ago after a Google search for "amortization table" brought me to his
Web site.I've been using his
calculators to track my mortgage payments and make re-financing decisions ever since.Hugh
has a unique skill set and low fee schedule for those seeking calculator construction services or personalized assistance.But his
popularity likely rests on the witty commentary that accompanies his
understands what many people don't: Financial calculators aren't just about math.
"You can always skew the numbers however you want them to look," Hugh
calculations back that up, giving great insight into how numbers can be manipulated.
calculator for how much house you can afford.A lot of people would think about their income, and maybe their monthly debt payments, and come up with a number.Hugh's calculation includes such factors as property tax, home insurance and the down payment.
The more you delve into Hugh's world, the more you realize assumptions are 90% of the challenge.
calculator for making the decision about whether to refinance or not.
"A lot of people think refinancing their mortgage will save their life because all of the sudden instead of paying $400 a month, they'll pay $300 a month," Hugh
But refinancing isn't always the best deal.If you're close to paying off your mortgage, for example, you probably shouldn't refinance, Hugh
understands that too.
That's why you get his
quips with his
calculators.For example, Hugh points out up front the faults of his
Wealth Percentile Score calculator, which helps you compare how your net worth stacks up to others in your age range.
"The interpolation shouldn't really be linear, but hey, I'm just doing this for fun.So, tada, here is my new calculator.Enjoy," he
T-shirts and charitiesHugh
started making his
Internet calculators in 1995 when his
department at Washington University
wanted some content to use for testing its new Web site.That effort snowballed and, fueled by suggestions from Internet surfers, Hugh
now has on his
Web site 45 calculators, along with a description of how to calculate mortgage amortizations by hand.
For your mortgage, you can find calculators for figuring out a loan refinancing comparison, the after-tax interest rate of your mortgage, balloon mortgage and bi-weekly mortgage payments, and mortgage duration, so you can determine how long a mortgage will last with a certain payment.
I didn't trust Hugh
when I first found him.But I entered my mortgage information into his
calculator and tracked it against my mortgage statements for several years.He
was always on target.
I also wondered why - if Hugh
is so money savvy - he
spends valuable free time making calculators for the Internet without much financial benefit."I've always had an interest in personal finance, and I'm a computer geek by trade," Hugh
says."I like doing a little more real world stuff."Hugh
, as much as anyone, knows there's no such thing as a free lunch.He's
developed all kinds of compensation arrangements for his
Internet hobby.For a while, he
asked grateful users to send T-shirts and sweat shirts but stopped once he
had 43.Now he
asks for money, which he
then channels to his
And then there was the serendipitous Bundt cake, which was delivered to Hugh
's home as a one-time payment from a woman Hugh helped with her
spends three to four hours a week answering the questions people send him via e-mail."Over the years I've heard a lot about what people need so I've tried to tweak things," he
asks "customers" to send him a donation, which he
gives to a designated "charity of the month."Hugh
has channeled more than $17,000 since 1996 to his
list of charities, which includes Habitat for Humanity, the Taiwanese Association of America's
Taiwan Quake Relief Fund, and the Christian Children's Fund.
Less expensive lunch
As for lunch, Hugh
himself brown-bags it - the inspiration for his
"Lunch Savings" calculator.That calculator requires assumptions for investment yield, and the price of homemade lunch vs. one from a restaurant.
It doesn't account for certain benefits of bringing a lunch, though.
"As I sit here eating my cheap 'brown bag' lunch here as always at work, I thought I would calculate the small fortune I have amassed by eating like this (besides the fact that I get extra time to program and surf the Net!)," Hugh
says in his
commentary next to the calculator.
That's the kind of wit that kept a tax attorney like Vitek clicking on Hugh's calculators.