By Martha C. White
October 28, 2014

How much do you think you’ll spend servicing the cost of borrowing on credit over the course of your life? A few thousand dollars? Maybe 10 or 20 grand? The real amount will floor you.

How about almost $280,000 ($279,002, to be exact). In many parts of the country, that’s enough to buy you a house and a car. It’s more than the $245,340 the government estimates it will cost to raise a child born in 2013. And this is for people with middle-of-the-road credit scores. If medical bills or a job loss torched your credit, you could be paying much more for the privilege of borrowing money.

A lot of people only think about their debt in monthly terms — how much their mortgage or car payment is, or how much they need to pay to make the minimum payment on their credit cards. But a new tool from Credit.com pulls back the curtain and shows how much we’re really paying over time.

The penalty for having poor credit is steeper than the benefit that comes from having good credit. “If you have really bad credit, you’re at a definite disadvantage,” says Gerri Detweiler, president of consumer education at Credit.com.

According to Credit.com, somebody with top-notch credit would pay $209,590 in interest, while people with bad credit would be on the hook for $369,054, on average. “However, this is over an entire lifetime and everyone has the opportunity for a fresh start,” Detweiler says. Even bankruptcies come off your credit file after 10 years, and most other negative information doesn’t last that long.

Those figures are national averages; the calculator lets you add in where you live, what range your credit score falls in and details about your debts. Playing around with the variables can show you, for instance, how much you might be able to save in interest payments if you hang onto your car for a few more years, put a little extra towards your mortgage principal or credit card balance every month, or take steps to pull your credit into a better tier.

One thing the tool doesn’t do, though, is factor in the enormous amount of student loan debt many Americans today carry. For the more than seven in 10 students who graduated with an average of $29,400 in debt in 2012, according to The Institute for College Access and Success, that amount can inflate quickly if loans are deferred or put into forbearance.

“For some students, their student loan is like their mortgage,” Detweiler says.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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