How to Fix Excel Formulas that are Not Calculating or Updating

Bottom Line: Learn about the different calculation modes in Excel and what to do if your formulas are not calculating when you edit dependent cells.

Skill Level: Beginner

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You can follow along using the same workbook I use in the video. I’ve attached it below:

Excel File Icon 2021 xlsx Loan Amortization Schedule – Manual Calc Example.xlsx

Why Aren’t My Formulas Calculating?

If you’ve ever been in a situation where the formulas in your spreadsheet are not automatically calculating as they should, you know how frustrating it can be.

This was happening to my friend Brett. He was telling me that he was working with a file and it wasn’t recalculating the formulas as he was entering data. He found that he had to edit each cell and hit Enter for the formula in the cell to update.

And it was only happening on his computer at home. His work computer was working just fine. This was driving him crazy and wasting a lot of time.

The most likely cause of this issue is the Calculation Option mode, and it’s a critical setting that every Excel user should know about.

Calculation Options Manual or Automatic Calc Mode.

To check what calculation mode Excel is in, go to the Formulas tab, and click on Calculation Options. This will bring up a menu with three choices. The current mode will have a checkmark next to it. In the image below, you can see that Excel is in Manual Calculation Mode.

When Excel is in Manual Calculation mode, the formulas in your worksheet will not calculate automatically. You can quickly and easily fix your problem by changing the mode to Automatic. There are cases when you might want to use Manual Calc mode, and I explain more about that below.

Calculation Settings are Confusing!

It’s really important to know how the calculation mode can change. Technically, it’s is an application-level setting. That means that the setting will apply to all workbooks you have open on your computer.

As I mention in the video above, this was the issue with my friend Brett. Excel was in Manual calculation mode on his home computer and his files weren’t calculating. When he opened the same files on his work computer, they were calculating just fine because Excel was in Automatic calculation mode on that computer.

However, there is one major nuance here. The workbook (Excel file) also stores the last saved calculation setting and can change/override the application-level setting.

This should only happen for the first file you open during an Excel session.

For example, if you change Excel to manual calc mode before you save & close the file, then that setting is stored with the workbook. If you then open that workbook as the first workbook in your Excel session, the calculation mode will be changed to manual.

All subsequent workbooks that you open during that session will also be in manual calculation mode. If you save and close those files, the manual calc mode will be stored with the files as well.

The confusing part about this behavior is that it only happens for the first file you open in a session. Once you close the Excel application completely and then re-open it, Excel will return to automatic calculation mode if you start by opening a new blank file or any file that is in automatic calculation mode.

Therefore, the calculation mode of the first file you open in an Excel session dictates the calculation mode for all files opened in that session. If you change the calculation mode in one file, it will be changed for all open files.

Note: I misspoke about this in the video when I said that the calculation setting doesn’t travel with the workbook, and I will update the video.

The 3 Calculation Options

There are three calculation options in Excel.

Automatic Calculation means that Excel will recalculate all dependent formulas when a cell value or formula is changed.

Manual Calculation means that Excel will only recalculate when you force it to. This can be with a button press or keyboard shortcut. You can also recalculate a single cell by editing the cell and pressing Enter.

Automatic Except for Data Tables means that Excel will recalculate automatically for all cells except those that are used in Data Tables. This is not referring to normal Excel Tables that you might work with frequently. This refers to a scenario-analysis tool that not many people use. You find it on the Data tab, under the What-If Scenarios button. So unless you’re working with those Data Tables, it’s unlikely you will ever purposely change the setting to that option.

Data tab what if scenarios data tables

In addition to finding the Calculation setting on the Data tab, you can also find it on the Excel Options menu. Go to File, then Options, then Formulas to see the same setting options in the Excel Options window.

Under the Manual Option, you’ll see a checkbox for recalculating the workbook before saving, which is the default setting. That’s a good thing because you want your data to calculate correctly before you save the file and share it with your co-workers.

Excel Options Window Calculation Settings
Click to enlarge

Why Would I Use Manual Calculation Mode?

If you are wondering why anyone would ever want to change the calculation from Automatic to Manual, there’s one major reason. When working with large files that are slow to calculate, the constant recalculation whenever changes are made can sometimes slow your system. Therefore people will sometimes switch to Manual mode while working through changes on worksheets that have a lot of data, and then will switch back.

When you are in Manual Calculation mode, you can force a calculation at any time using the Calculate Now button on the Formulas tab.

Calculate now button for manual calculation mode

The keyboard shortcut for Calculate Now is F9, and it will calculate the entire workbook. If you want to calculate just the current worksheet, you can choose the button below it: Calculate Sheet. The keyboard shortcut for that choice is Shift + F9.

Here is a list of all Recalculate keyboard shortcuts:

Shortcut Description
F9 Recalculate formulas that have changed since the last calculation, and formulas dependent on them, in all open workbooks. If a workbook is set for automatic recalculation, you do not need to press F9 for recalculation.
Shift+F9  Recalculate formulas that have changed since the last calculation, and formulas dependent on them, in the active worksheet.
Ctrl+Alt+F9  Recalculate all formulas in all open workbooks, regardless of whether they have changed since the last recalculation.
Ctrl+Shift+Alt+F9 Check dependent formulas, and then recalculate all formulas in all open workbooks, regardless of whether they have changed since the last recalculation.
Source: Microsoft: Change formula recalculation article

Macro Changing to Manual Calculation Mode

If you find that your workbook is not automatically calculating, but you didn’t purposely change the mode, another reason that it may have changed is because of a macro.

Now I want to preface this by saying that the issue is NOT caused by all macros. It’s a specific line of code that a developer might use to help the macro run faster.

The following line of VBA code tells Excel to change to Manual Calculation mode.

Application.Calculation = xlCalculationManual

Sometimes the author of the macro will add that line at the beginning so that Excel does not attempt to calculate while the macro runs. The setting should then changed be changed back at the end of the macro with the following line.

Application.Calculation = xlCalculationAutomatic

This technique can work well for large workbooks that are slow to calculate.

However, the problem arises when the macro doesn’t get to finish—perhaps due to an error, program crash, or unexpected system issue. The macro changes the setting to Manual and it doesn’t get changed back.

As I mention in the video, this was exactly what happened to my friend Brett, and he was NOT aware of it. He was left in manual calc mode and didn’t know why, or how to get Excel calculating again.

Therefore, if you are using this technique with your macros, I encourage you to think about ways to mitigate this issue. And also warn your users of the potential of Excel being left in manual calc mode.

I also recommend NOT changing the Calculation property with code unless you absolutely need to. This will help prevent frustration and errors for the users of your macros.

Conclusion

I hope this information is helpful for you, especially if you are currently dealing with this particular issue. If you have any questions or comments about calculation modes, please share them in the comments.

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