How might the world have been different if, starting 10 years ago, every would-be home buyer had access to a free and independent tool that showed them - in highly personalized and granular detail - precisely what they could and could not have afforded to buy? Would there have been a real estate crash at all?

"I don't really think people are always trying to extend themselves," says Michael Carvin, cofounder of a new online company, SmartAsset.com, that seeks to serve this purpose. "It's a matter of education."

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