Filtering Based on Comparing Two Cells

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated July 2, 2022)
This tip applies to Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Excel in Microsoft 365, and 2021

Hank has a worksheet in which he tracks various items manufactured by his company. One of the columns contains an estimated cost for each item, and another column contains the actual cost of the item. There are about 1500 rows of data in the worksheet, and it would be very helpful for Hank if he could filter the data to show just the rows where the actual cost differs from the estimated cost.

There are several ways that this can be done. The traditional approach is to add a simple helper column to detail the difference between the two columns. Assuming that your estimated cost is in column C and your actual cost is in column D, then you could place the following formula in each cell of the helper column:


What you end up with is a column that shows the variance between actual and estimated costs. You can then filter based on the helper column, which allows you to display only the rows you want.

Of course, this is a sneaky way of getting around the desire to filter based on the comparison of two cells—your helper column is, after all, a single cell on which you are filtering. You could, continue this sneaky approach, however, by using a variation that doesn't require the helper column. Apply a conditional format to the cells in column D (the actual cost) that highlights the cell in one color if the actual cost is below the estimated and a different color if it is above the estimated. With the colors showing, you could then easily filter based on the colors, again giving you just the rows you want to see.

A third approach is to utilize an advanced filter to limit your rows. Again, I'm assuming that your estimated cost is in column C (cells C2:C1501) and the actual cost is in column D (cells D2:D1501). Each cell in row 1 should have a column header, such as "Estimated" and "Actual." Now you need to create a small criteria table, somewhere in an unused area of your worksheet. In this case, I entered the word "Difference" into cell K1 and the following formula into cell K2:


The word I entered into cell K1 didn't really matter; it was necessary because the Advanced Filter tool expects a header in the criteria table. The key is the formula entered into cell K2. With the criteria table in place, I then followed these steps:

  1. Select any cell in the original data table (not in the criteria table).
  2. Display the Data tab of the ribbon.
  3. Click Advanced in the Sort & Filter group. Excel displays the Advanced Filter dialog box, with the address of your original data table already filled in, in the List Range box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Advanced Filter dialog box. Your data range shown will be different.

  5. Select the Criteria Range field. The insertion point should appear within the field.
  6. Use the mouse to select the criteria range, cells K1:K2.
  7. Click on OK.

That's it. Excel immediately filters your data to show only those rows where the actual cost differs from the estimated cost.

A fourth approach can be used if two conditions are met. First, that you have your data range formatted as a table and, second, that you are using Excel 2021 or the version of Excel provided with Office 365. Then all you would need to do is to find an unused area of your worksheet and enter the following formula:


The formula spills into as many cells as necessary in order to return the rows where the actual and estimated costs differ. This approach is very simple, and I only noted two potential drawbacks. First, the FILTER function does not return column headings; it just returns data rows. The second potential drawback is that it always returns something, even if there was nothing in some of the source cells. For instance, if you have a column in your data called Comments, and there is not a comment in every cell in the column, then FILTER returns a 0 value for those empty cells. These two potential drawbacks can make your returned data look a little funky, but that can always be touched up with the judicious use of formatting.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (12924) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Excel in Microsoft 365, and 2021.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


Quickly Inserting Tables that Don't Go From Margin to Margin

Adding a table to your document is easy. Adding one that doesn't extend from margin to margin may seem a bit harder. ...

Discover More

Index Number for the Active Table

For some programming needs, it is important to determine the index of an object within a collection of such objects. This ...

Discover More

Counting Non-Blank Cells

Need to count the number of cells in a range that are not blank? You can use the COUNTA function of a more complex ...

Discover More

Excel Smarts for Beginners! Featuring the friendly and trusted For Dummies style, this popular guide shows beginners how to get up and running with Excel while also helping more experienced users get comfortable with the newest features. Check out Excel 2013 For Dummies today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Clearing Only Filtering Settings

When you filter data in a worksheet, Excel also allows you to apply sorting orders to that data. Here is a ...

Discover More

Showing Filter Criteria on a Printout

When you print out a filtered worksheet, you may want some sort of printed record as to what filtering was applied to the ...

Discover More

Enabling Filters by Default

Filtering can be a powerful way to work with large amounts of data in a worksheet. If you use filtering quite a bit, you ...

Discover More

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.


If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] (all 7 characters, in the sequence shown) in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is two more than 7?

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)

This Site

Got a version of Excel that uses the ribbon interface (Excel 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Excel, visit our ExcelTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Newest Tips

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.