Personal Carbon Dividend Calculator FAQ

Estimate how solving climate change will impact your budget.

What is the Personal Carbon Dividend Calculator?

This online calculator allows anyone in the U.S. to estimate the first-year financial impact of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act on their personal budget. The calculation is based on where you live, your family size, and — optionally — your self-reported income and expenditures on gasoline, electricity and heating fuel. It is an estimate — your actual results may vary depending on your actual consumption patterns.

How are the numbers calculated?

The Personal Carbon Dividend Calculator calculates two numbers in order to give you a personalized estimate.

Your Carbon Dividend. The carbon dividend is a monthly payment that will be distributed to households every month — think of it as your share of the payback for damage to our climate caused by fossil fuels. Your income helps estimate your typical carbon footprint and income tax rate, and your household size determines your dividend share, so the calculator can determine your estimated after-tax monthly carbon dividend.

What is the purpose of describing my 'Living Situation'?

To make the best possible estimate of both carbon fee costs and carbon dividends, some information about living arrangements is needed. The more people share a residence (house, condo, or apartment), the lower the per-person electricity and heating costs are likely to be. In some cases, an individual or family group might share their residence with others who receive their dividends separately and perhaps pay a portion of utility costs, so the calculator needs to know this in order to allocate both dividend amounts and carbon costs as accurately as possible.

Indirect carbon fee costs, referring to CO2 that is emitted during the production of other goods and services like food, electronics, clothing, etc., are included in the calculations. These costs account for 50 to 60 percent of carbon costs for most households. Direct carbon fee costs, on the other hand, denote the money you spend on energy you use directly — gasoline, electricity, and natural gas or other heating fuel.

How precise are these results?

If you have accurately entered your gasoline, electricity, and heating bill costs, the result has a margin of error equal to about $18 per month. For example, if the Personal Carbon Dividend Calculator estimates a net benefit of $50 per month, there is a 90 percent chance your actual outcome will be a net benefit in the range of $33 to $67 per month. This range of carbon costs is given in the final screen titled “Your Results.”

What data sources are used to estimate the numbers?

If you know your direct energy costs like gasoline, electricity, and home heating for the previous year, you can fine-tune the results for those costs using ‘sliders’ provided in the Personal Carbon Dividend Calculator. If, for example, you don’t drive much or your vehicles are more fuel-efficient than average, your carbon fee cost will be lower than an average household with characteristics similar to yours. There are other lifestyle factors like diet, for example, that the calculator does not attempt to account for.

Do these numbers account for income tax on the dividend?

Yes, the carbon dividend shown is the dollar amount after federal income taxes have been taken out, assuming federal tax rates for a typical household described by the user’s inputs. State and local taxes are not included in the calculation.

Can the CFD Calculator show results beyond year 1?

No. After year 1, changes in key factors such as household income, tax laws, vehicle efficiency, carbon intensity of grid power, etc. are too numerous and too large to predict with much accuracy. As a rule, the household carbon dividend and household carbon fee costs will go up together in proportion to the increase in the carbon fee. Over time, however, both of these growth rates will slow down and eventually start to drop as our energy systems are decarbonized. In the meantime, any given household may find ways to reduce its carbon footprint to improve their bottom line.

What about air travel?

The Personal Carbon Dividend Calculator assumes a carbon cost for air travel that is typical for a household with the characteristics entered by the user. It’s worth noting that although air travel is carbon-intensive, it only accounts for about 2 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Most of our carbon footprint is still in everyday energy usage and embedded in the products and services we buy.

What about energy-consuming items that are not covered in the query, like a second home or a boat?

These can be accounted for by fine-tuning the direct energy cost ‘sliders’ for gasoline, electricity, and heating. Simply include those costs in the annual total used to calculate a realistic monthly average. For instance, if you own a speedboat, the cost of gasoline should be added into your monthly average, taking into account that it’s only used for part of the year.

What if I have solar panels on my home?

If you have your own solar array, you should not include any lease or financing costs for the solar power in your electric bill, only count the costs for the power that you buy from the grid in the “average monthly electric bill” number. Remember that the calculator knows how ‘green’ the utilities are in your area, based on your zip code.

What if I have signed up for electricity from a renewable power supplier?

This would require a little extra work on your part. If you can obtain a carbon footprint report from your power supplier and a comparable report from the major electric utility in your area, you can calculate a ratio of the green power to the not-green power. Then multiply that ratio by your average monthly electric bill and adjust the electricity slider accordingly. This will improve the accuracy of your carbon fee cost prediction.

What if I heat with electricity and have no separate utility bill for heating?

The drop-down box for “What kind of fuel is used most to heat your home?” includes electricity as one of the choices. If you select that for your household, you will see in the next step that there is no slider for heating fuel — it’s contained in your electric bill.

What would be the impact of a low- or no-meat diet?

The Personal Carbon Dividend Calculator does not have a specific input for this factor, but information is available to estimate it (see table in next FAQ). For example, compared to beef, the carbon cost of fruits and vegetables is about 30 percent lower. About 10 percent of the average family’s carbon fee cost is associated with food, so if meat made up half of your diet, completely eliminating it might reduce your total carbon cost by 1 to 2 percent, depending on the specific changes you make. Of course, as the carbon fee increases, the dollar savings would increase proportionately.

What about other household characteristics that are not requested by the tool?

If you want to get a general idea how reducing different kinds of expenditures would impact your carbon fee costs, you can use the table below to do so. Here is an example of how to calculate that:


Expenditure category Carbon intensity,

kg CO2 per dollar

Expenditure category Carbon Intensity,

kg CO2 per dollar

Air travel 1.104 Apparel 0.260
Laundry & cleaning supplies 0.464 Major appliances 0.255
Beef 0.406 Personal care 0.250
Pork 0.405 Fees & admissions 0.247
Dairy 0.360 Vehicle maintenance & repair 0.241
Poultry & fish 0.359 Alcoholic beverages 0.238
Other food at home 0.344 Food away from home 0.220
Furniture 0.333 Small appliances & housewares 0.219
Other entertainment misc. 0.327 Personal services 0.216
Household textiles 0.320 TV, radio, & sound equipment 0.208
Nonalcoholic beverages 0.309 Vehicle rental, licenses, etc. 0.203
Cereals & baked goods 0.307 Tobacco products 0.138
Fruits & vegetables 0.294 Telephone services 0.135
Misc. household equipment 0.293 Personal insurance & pensions 0.058
Pets, toys, playground equipment 0.285 Home insurance 0.044
New car & truck net outlay 0.280
Help! My 'net benefit' is negative! Can the calculator help me find ways to lower my carbon footprint?

Possibly, to the extent you have control over the inputs. Can you move to a zip code with a milder climate or a greener electric grid, or change the size of your household? Probably not, but if you are already planning to move or expecting a new arrival, the calculator can help you predict how those changes will affect your bottom line. Other inputs like housing type or number of vehicles are there mainly to make the initial estimates of direct energy costs, which can then be overridden by adjusting the sliders. That’s where you have much more control; for example, if you want to do the number-crunching, you can also see how doubling your car’s gas mileage, installing a high-efficiency furnace, or installing solar panels to get half of your electricity will affect your carbon costs.

Even though I drive a lot, my net costs are still small. Did I mess up?

Probably not. Even though gasoline is a highly visible energy cost, it only accounts for 20 to 25 percent of most Americans’ carbon emissions. A great deal of fossil energy is embedded invisibly in the stuff we buy. In fact, around 60 percent of U.S. residents will come out ahead with their carbon dividend. Households whose dividends fall short of carbon fee costs will tend to be more concentrated among higher-income Americans who consume a lot more fossil energy than the average. Even in those cases, that shortfall will usually be less than 0.2 percent of their household income.

Can I go back and change some of the inputs, like household income or zip code, to see what happens?

You can adjust the gasoline, electricity, and heating fuel sliders at any time to see how changes in those costs affect your carbon fee cost, but going back further to change the earlier household descriptors may produce unreliable results. The calculator software relies on properly accessing multiple databases after the initial data – income, zip code, number of adults and children, etc. – are entered. So if you want to experiment with inputs other than gasoline and utilities, it’s best to start over. That can be done by clicking the ‘Start Over’ link on the final screen, or just click the ‘Reload’ icon on your browser.

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