Net price calculators may be good in theory – the online tools give families a picture of which colleges are affordable – but using them can present some challenges, U.S. News reports.

To give an estimated cost to attend a given school, the tools ask users to input data such as age, parental income and household size. A calculator will then tabulate what the students might pay after potential grants or scholarships are factored in.

While the federal government mandates that all schools have a net price calculator on their websites, some are finding ways to skirt the requirement, says Diane Cheng with The Institute for College Access & Success.

As a result, the online cost calculators can be hard to find, hard to use and hard to understand, but students and families shouldn’t let that scare them away, she says.

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eCampus News staff and wire reports