Retirement Calculator Reviews

1
E$Planner Basic Retirement Calculator Review

Screenshot from ESPLanner Retirement Calculator
This is the best free online retirement calculator we found. ESPlanner

Retirement calculators can give you a general idea of how much income you might have in retirement, or how much you need to save to retire at a specific time, but they have their limitations (they don't give advice), and retirement calculators are not all alike.

To help you find the best online calculators, we ranked nine popular retirement tools using a self-developed retirement calculator scorecard. Detailed reviews are below, in order from highest ranking to lowest.

E$PLanner Basic

E$Planner Basic is the best free retirement calculator we could find. Why? It does things none of the other free retirement calculators do, and it ranks high on our retirement calculator scorecard in all three categories of accuracy, usability and education.

What it does: You input income sources such as Social Security and pensions (amounts and when they will start), as well as savings and investment values, and it projects how much money you will need to save (or what your pre-retirement spending can be) from now throughout retirement to keep your discretionary spending after retirement at the target you set.

Overall Score: Excellent, scoring 3 out of 3.

Scoring Components

Accuracy: High, scoring 3 out of 3. Most calculators fail in this area by ignoring or making simplified assumptions about certain critical aspects of retirement, such as taxes. ESPlanner does this part right, and for this reason if the inputs are done correctly the results should be trusted as quite accurate.

Usability: High, scoring 3 out of 3. It is very flexible, because a lot of the more complex aspects of the program are not required. This allows both less experienced users and detailed planners to find the program useful. The website is easy to navigate, and the ability to save the plan and return later is a huge plus.

Education: High, scoring 3 out of 3. The help features effectively guide the user by explaining what inputs mean. Assumptions and results are explained clearly. The program could do a better job of advising users on next steps, but I am sure the premium versions of the software are better at this.

Additional Details

Target audience (in retirement, near retirement etc.): From 20 years prior to retirement to living in retirement.

Not intended for: Those who don’t like detail or don't want to answer more than ten questions. 

My personal opinion/first reaction: I really like this program. It is one of the most versatile that I have seen, and can be used by almost anybody. There is some knowledge of finance needed, but if a user is not sure what to do, the complex aspects of the program can be skipped without skewing the results. 

Pros

  • Works for both single or married.
  • May take a few minutes, but gathers a few personal details (like DOB) so output is more accurate.
  • Can select where you are in the retirement process: saving for, pre-retirement or retired. Can set a different retirement age between you and your spouse. Can add in certain special circumstances, such as paying for college for somebody.
  • Calculates amount of life insurance you should have.
  • Inputs have a question mark bubble next to them, which provides more information about the appropriate entry.
  • All assets and income can be input separately for husband and wife as well as divided up amongst appropriate tax status (for example, you can enter after-tax assets, pre-tax, no-tax and cash reserves all separately).
  • You can designate specific rates of return for each tax status asset.
  • Taxes (federal and state) are automatically calculated based on your inputs and show as separate expenses on the output pages.
  • You can decide withdrawal order of Roth accounts. You can also enable Roth IRA conversions in the program. 
  • In the conventional mode, you enter your desired discretionary retirement spending. I used $68,000. This is above and beyond taxes and housing and a few other things. Since it asks for discretionary spending first it is difficult to know what you should and shouldn’t include in this number.
  • Housing expenses entered separately is a very nice feature since you can add if you are going to downsize, your actual mortgage and payoff schedules and other information.
  • You can enter separately certain expenses and income, which is nice if you might have an expense for 10 years then it is done. Or if you have a pension or other source of temporary income.
  • You can input separate assumptions for inflation (current and future), expected tax hikes or cuts, and social security cuts if you so desire.
  • Once you are done entering your assumptions, you click the “create plan” button and it just takes a few seconds to spit out the results (which you can view these as a graph or on a more detailed annual inflow, outflow, and assets spreadsheet).

Cons

  • Lots of reading.
  • Rate of return range you may select from is -20% to 20% in .25% increments. Quite a wide range (possibly unrealistic) as the economic time period you invest in has more impact on your rate of return than almost anything else.
  • For pensions it doesn’t look like you can specify payout type: single life, 100% to survivor, etc.
  • You don’t have control over longevity assumptions (it defaults to 100).
  • The initial results graph was a little difficult to understand, but the annual and detailed results clarified everything.
  • It requires a lot of knowledge about finance. Although I like discretionary inputs, many people will not know when they want to do a Roth conversion, and how much it should be. More guidance would be useful.

Review conducted By CJ Miller in November, 2016.

2
New Retirement Online Tool

Screenshot of New Retirement Calculator
The New Retirement Calculator presents results in a timeline format. New Retirement

What it does: New Retirement is a website that seeks to be an online, complete retirement planning solution. Users create a profile, enter a ton of personal financial data and goals, and then can explore the results. The program gives results in a goals-based format, using a timeline to determine how far off you are from retiring when you want. It also provides in-depth analysis, potential next steps, educational material, and is meant to be revisited regularly by users.

Overall Score: Excellent, scoring 2.8 out of 3.

Scoring Components

Accuracy: High, scoring 3 out of 3. This tool is extensive, and the ability to customize input allows for more accurate output, but some portions are easier to assess than others. For example, income inputs seem quite accurate and it is easy to see where the numbers are coming from. Spending, however, is difficult to assess because the cash flow diagram does not show a detailed withdraw order. Overall, if the inputs are correctly made and the plan is not overly complicated, the results should be on the right track. But, there is no way to tell without reviewing each individual assumption that the program utilizes and because the program was quite extensive we couldn't evaluate each piece.

Usability. High, scoring 3 out of 3. The interface of this program is above average. If you are proficient with software, you should not have much trouble with the data inputs. For those that struggle with technology, it is easy to make a mistake or enter a number in the wrong spot. It will be best used by the tech savvy. The sections are clearly defined, which makes it easy to find the information you are looking for. The site uses several graphs to display the results in different ways, which provides a lot of value for more visual users. It is possible this software may be too complex for the average user simply because of the amount of effort involved in inputting the data accurately. A financial professional would be able to navigate the software easily, and may find it useful.

Education. Moderate, scoring 2 out of 3. There is good and bad to the educational piece of the New Retirement website. The good comes in the form of topical education. The site does a fantastic job of educating users on financial planning topics, such as Roth conversions, annuities, rollovers, etc. It also provides resources to additional educational material on some of these topics if the website is lacking substance on any issue.

The piece that the site does poorly on is educating the users on the plan. When entering information, the site provides so many options and does not adequately educate users on which to choose. With customization comes complication. The average user will not know what to select for rates of return, inflation rates for health care expense, life expectancy, etc. The site does a poor job explaining which option is best for them, and what the ramifications will be in the results.

Additional Details

Target audience (in retirement, near retirement etc.): Anyone from 30 years away from retirement to those who are already retired.

Not intended for: People that need more guidance on what to use for their assumptions, or those that have minimal financial planning knowledge.

Best Feature: The best feature is the ability to add multiple income streams. The software allows users to customize income sources by inputting additional wages, lump sum payments, and any other income items. Users can also choose the start and stop age of these streams, which is unique among most retirement software calculators. In retirement, income will not always be stable and predictable, so this feature provides tremendous value.

My personal opinion/first reaction: I believe this is one of the most comprehensive and versatile calculators that I have seen. It allows for mass customization, and uses a goals-based approach to evaluate a person’s status. Although this may seem like the best choice at first glance, keep in mind that I am a finance professional. For those with very little financial experience, the customization allowed by the calculator may be overwhelming. The average user may struggle with the intensity of this software.

Pros

  • Goals based approach.
  • Profile Dashboard is well organized.
  • Allows for optimistic and pessimistic scenarios.
  • Interface is smooth, and visually appealing.
  • Having multiple facets to the “Analysis” section allows users to see results from different angles.
  • On each page, it provides several options for extra education on certain financial planning topics.
  • Has different pages for each major retirement vehicle, including Assets, Social Security, Pensions, Annuities, etc.
  • You may save and come back later to adjust your plan.
  • The Risks Analysis page gives clear indications how you may be able to improve your plan.

Cons

  • Very time consuming.
  • Overwhelming for those with little finance experience.
  • The assumptions are vast, and it would require hours to determine if they are accurate and trustworthy.
  • The "to-do" list tries to sell too much. Although I enjoy next steps, sending consumers shopping elsewhere for every next step defeats the purpose of the product and functions like clickbait.
  • Sometimes defaults are entered in the program, and sometimes they are not. So, any skipped entry may result in inaccuracies within your plan.
  • Entering expenses is confusing. For example, are “Future Expenses” in addition to “Current Expenses”, or in place of?

3
AARP Retirement Income Calculator Review

Screenshot of AARP Retirement Calculator
This is a pretty good free retirement calculator. AARP

What it does: The AARP Retirement Income Calculator estimates how much you are projected to have by a target retirement date, and estimates the minimum amount you'll likely need. It shows results in terms of yearly cash flow streams.

Overall Score: Good, scoring 2.6 out of 3.

Scorecard Components

Accuracy: High, scoring 3 out of 3. The ability to add Social Security and pensions is quite useful. Users can also adjust assumptions, such as inflation and tax rates, so they can make a customized plan. The results graph clearly shows a detailed, yearly cash flow estimate.

Usability: Moderate, scoring 2 out of 3. The program is fairly intuitive, outlining a 3-step process for users to complete. The interface is smooth, and the graph is visually appealing. The tool can improve on a few things, however. For instance, the economic assumptions button is hard to find (a link at the bottom of the final graph). This is the most important part and can drastically change results! Also, the graph must be clicked on to see cash values, instead of just hovering as the program states.

Education: Moderate, scoring 2 out of 3. It does a fantastic job explaining inputs to users, and gives them access to a variables guide to educate them about different assumption options.

Additional Details 

Target audience (in retirement, near retirement etc): Pre-Retirement (about 5-10 years prior to retirement would be ideal)

Not intended for: Those already retired

Best Feature: The best feature is the ability to enter both you and your spouse’s information. This makes it far easier for a couple to create a plan.

My personal opinion/first reaction: I like this calculator. It allows for comprehensive customization by letting users adjust assumptions at the end. I also believe that AARP can be trusted, because they are not a financial services company. Other companies may use online tools as a sales vehicle. 

Pros

  • Flexibility to estimate your rate of return now and in retirement. However, this is an item outside of your control, and many upcoming retirees do not have a good understanding of realistic market returns, nor realize how the order of returns can affect their retirement money.
  • Flexibility to estimate your tax rate now and in retirement. This is another item difficult to assess without professional help, or software that does accurate tax calculations based on your sources of income. Many retirees will be able to increase their after-tax retirement income with careful tax planning.
  • Can estimate number of years in retirement using life expectancy.
  • Can add Social Security (manually or estimated) and pensions.
  • Phrases spending in retirement in terms of current lifestyle (less extravagant, more extravagant, the same).
  • The cash flow graph is visually appealing, and detailed. It is easy to see where the money is going, and whether you have a shortfall.

Cons

  • Can only use if you haven’t retired yet.
  • Rates of returns on savings before and during retirement have a very large range to decide from. The default is 6% before retirement, and 3.6% during retirement, but a user could input any number. The program does little to justify these numbers, or educate users on the right choice for them.
  • It is not clear if retirement accounts are coded in program as taxable or tax deferred. The program lumps IRAs, including Traditional and Roth accounts, into the same place. This likely affects the accuracy of tax estimates by the program.

Review conducted By CJ Miller in November, 2016.

4
MarketWatch's Retirement Calculator

Screenshot of the MarketWatch Retirement Calculator
This is one robust retirement calculator. MarketWatch

What it does: The MarketWatch Retirement Calculator is a multi-sectioned tool that tells you if you can afford to retire at a desired age. Although it appears condensed at first, after a trial it appears to be very versatile. You can enter in spousal information, different types of retirement income like social security, and itemized retirement accounts and expenses. Once complete, the calculator presents 3 different graphs that indicate your retirement plan. These include a graph of assets, future income, and retirement spending. The program also provides recommendations at the top, even if your plan looks like you are on the right track. 

Overall Score: Good, scoring 2.4 out of 3.

Scorecard Components

Accuracy: High, scoring 3 out of 3. The high score in this area is due to the versatility options. I have not seen many calculators that allows for so much customization. From taxable vs. tax exempt itemized accounts, to custom inflation rates for itemized expenses, to custom withdrawal order options, the list goes on and on. The graphs are easy to analyze as well. I would like a more detailed explanation of the methodology, but the math appears correct at first glance.

Usability: Poor, scoring 1 out of 3. I have mentioned a lot about the interface problems above. To summarize, it is too condensed which makes it difficult for the user to input options properly.

Education: Moderate, scoring 2 out of 3. The information buttons do a fantastic job of explaining even the most complicated customization options in a simple, easy to understand way. It also gives great next steps to consider at the top. Even if your plan is on the right track, it gives recommendations to maximize your plan such as buy a second home, spending more in retirement, etc. The education feature does lack guidance during the entry process. The information buttons explain what the feature is, but it does not explain how to use it appropriately. It provides little to no recommendations to help users input data properly, and does not explain the relevance of the more complex features. 

Additional Details

Target audience (in retirement, near retirement etc.): People nearing retirement with a strong idea of their current financial assets, expenses, and retirement goals.

Not intended for: People already in retirement, or people that struggle with technology.

Best Feature: There are many contenders for best feature in this calculator. I think the big winners are the Optimize Savings feature in “Your Held Assets” and withdrawal order customization in “Future Income.” Together, these features can account for taxes more accurately than most any other calculator.

My personal opinion/first reaction: I like this calculator. It is simple, and versatile at the same time. The inputs are not that complex, but very customizable. I think it is hard to use, because the most important inputs are hidden at the bottom right of each tab. It was easy for me to miss opportunities on my first run through. As I continue to use it, I find more cool features. I think they could expand it to make it a multi-page calculator. I am not sure if there is a benefit in condensing it to one page with so many sections. Overall, this calculator is above average and excels more than most calculators in customization.

Pros

  • Very Versatile.
  • Allows for an Optimized Savings feature, which organizes withdrawal order in a tax efficient way.
  • Itemized Expenses and Income Streams.
  • Recommendations once plan is complete.
  • Allows for itemized retirement savings accounts (Home Equity, 401K, Taxable Brokerage, etc).
  • A lot of assumptions customization, including different expense growth for each itemized category.
  • Allows for independent spousal options.
  • Has an information button next to each input that provides fantastic input explanation.
  • There is a save feature.
  • The graphs are visually appealing.
  • Allows for custom tax rates, including capital gains tax!
  • Can see expenses in today’s dollars. This is not the default.

Cons

  • It is hard to see what is adjustable, and what is not. This is a problem, because it is easy for users to miss a customization opportunity.
  • It does not allow you to see assumptions and results on the same page.
  • It explains what the inputs are very well, but does not give an indication to an appropriate answer. Some of the defaults are not accurate or explained.
  • There is no methodology information.

Review conducted By CJ Miller in November, 2016.

5
T. Rowe Price Retirement Income Calculator

Screenshot of the TRowe Price Retirement Calculator
This retirement calculator could use an update. TRowe Price

What it does: With the T.Rowe Price Retirement Income Calculator you input income sources such as Social Security and pensions, as well as asset values, and it projects the likelihood that your plan is sustainable through life expectancy. It also provides suggestions (such as reduced spending) to make your plan sustainable.

Overall Score: Fair, scoring 2.2 out of 3.

Scorecard Components

Accuracy: Moderate, scoring 2 out of 3. I enjoy that it has detailed inputs, such as pensions and Social Security. It is also beneficial that the tool allows retirement savings to be entered as Taxable AND Tax-Exempt. This bodes well for accuracy, because it makes the tax estimates more accurate (although, still not perfect). It is missing a detailed cash flow analysis, so it is hard to see what happens to your savings over time.

Usability: High, scoring 3 out of 3. The interface is very user friendly, and all aspects of the calculator are easy to get to. I do not think anybody would have trouble using this software tool.

Education: Moderate, scoring 2 out of 3. It tries, and the question mark buttons near each input are useful. Where it loses a high ranking in this section is in the advice columns and assumptions. Most of the advice is to call T. Rowe Price, instead of explaining objective next steps and why they can help. The assumptions at the bottom are very hard to read, and most people will ignore them. Assumptions can be the most important part of a tool, especially if they are not accurate (this calculator’s are reasonable). 

Additional Details

Target audience (in retirement, near retirement etc.): From 20 years prior to retirement to living in retirement.

Not intended for: Those who don’t like detail or more than 10 questions.

Best Feature: Output graphs are very easy to understand and allow you to create a comparison result by altering some of your original inputs on the results screen.  

My personal opinion/first reaction: I think this calculator has a lot of good, and some bad. The customization ability of the inputs is unique and comprehensive. This is one of the only calculators I have seen that allows users to schedule out expenses, which is a major value add for users. I believe that the program lacks appropriate advice and next steps to build a complete plan, and is used mostly as a selling tool for the company. It answers the question “Can I retire?” and not “How Should I Retire?”

Pros

  • Works for both single or married.
  • May take a few minutes, but gathers a few personal details (like date of birth) so this makes the output more accurate.
  • Can select where you are in the retirement process: saving for, pre-retirement or retired.
  • Uses Monte Carlo simulations for rate of return and chances you would run out of money.
  • It has a picture and link to a calculator as well as a worksheet calculator to help estimate your expenses and such, which are nice features.
  • It lets you enter many different retirement accounts by type, and differentiates them by taxable and tax-exempt.
  • Short summary video presentation is provided after you have made your inputs. It tells you the likelihood that your savings will last to your age 95 based on your desired spending and income sources. If savings are not likely to last, it tells you what level of spending would be sustainable.
  • Can print a report directly to PDF.
  • Can modify a few assumptions to see a side by side comparison of results.
  • Assumptions and explanations are laid out below the results.
  • Provides next steps that can help keep you on track. For instance, if you are on track for your retirement goal the program states you should “Review your progress quarterly.”

Cons

  • Must estimate your allocation between stocks, bonds and short-term investments… this is not easy to do if you have a lot of balanced funds and or multiple accounts. This information is used for the Monte Carlo simulations. 
  • Must include taxes in estimated expenses. Most people have no idea how to accurately estimate taxes.
  • Allows you to add Social Security income, but you can’t change the amount in later years, as you would need to do if you switched from a spousal benefit to your own benefit. Same restrictions for pensions.
  • Automatically assumes age 95 for longevity and you don’t have the chance to modify that assumption until the first trial has been run.
  • There is an attempt at an education factor, but it does not go far enough. The program has “Consider This” and “Our Point of View”. The contents of these sections can be summed up by saying ‘Call T. Rowe Price today to buy something.’
  • The program does not run a detailed cash flow analysis. This makes it difficult to see the withdrawal order of retirement assets, and income/expense timing in retirement.
  • The assumptions page at the bottom is dreadful. I am sure it is thorough and accurate, but it reads like a terms and conditions page. I would have to pay a lawyer to make sense of it all. 

Review conducted By CJ Miller in November, 2016.

6
Schwab Retirement Savings Calculator Review

Screenshot of Schwab's Retirement Income Calculator
I love Schwab, but their calculator could use some improvements. Charles Schwab

What it does: With the Schwab Retirement Savings Calculator you input income sources such as Social Security and pensions, as well as asset values, and it projects the likelihood that your plan is sustainable through life expectancy, and provides suggestions (such as reduced spending) to make your plan sustainable.

Overall Score: Ok, scoring 2 out of 3.

Scorecard Components

Accuracy: Moderate, scoring 2 out of 3. It has some versatility, such as the ability to define your Social Security start year and amount. It only works for one individual, which makes it unreliable for couples because spouses have different ages and input needs. It uses a Monte Carlo for rates of return, which is great, but it does not plan for taxes well and does not show a yearly detailed cash-flow analysis.

Usability: Moderate, scoring 2 out of 3. I think the tool is easy enough to use. The interface matches the rest of the website, and it is only three steps so it does not take long. I would like to see an option to schedule out retirement savings and expenses. A lot of people will not estimate these inputs properly.

Education: Moderate, scoring 2 out of 3. The help features for each input are awesome. I like that they guide the user to make the right choice when entering data. If you're not on track for you goal, the program also gives advice on how you can improve. Some of it is vague, but it is a good start. The assumptions are not laid out well, and the methodology could be explained better.

Additional Details

Target audience (in retirement, near retirement etc.): Pre-retirement only.

Not intended for: Those who are already retired.

Best Feature: I think that the best feature on this tool is the question mark buttons above each input. The buttons give the user a more detailed assumption about what is supposed to be entered. It is always a hassle to see assumptions after you completed the program and realize you made some errors. This feature prevents that (for the most part).

My personal opinion/first reaction: I see this calculator as being perfectly average. It is a multi-page calculator that allows for some customization and some education, but not enough of either to give a great plan. Its usability is ok, but not fantastic. It is a middle of the line tool. I am fond of Charles Schwab, as I interned there, but this tool could use an update.

Pros

  • The input screen has a question mark after each item. When you scroll over the question mark it guides you how best to answer that input item.
  • You can state what year your Social Security will start and the amount.
  • The retirement summary shows your outcome and the additional amount you might need if you are falling short of your retirement spending goals.
  • If you might run out of money or if you may not have enough income to meet your retirement spending goals, it will list a few suggestions with details on how might achieve your retirement spending goals.
    • For example it may suggest you:
    • Increase your retirement age to X age.
    • Increase your savings prior to retirement to X dollar amount.
    • Decrease spending in retirement by X dollar amount.
  • You can modify some of these suggested changes and recalculate to see what combination of changes works best for you.
  • There is an icon “How this tool works” (although a bit difficult to find) that lists out assumptions and explanations.

Cons

  • You can choose your investment style from five different options. For this case I did “Low Risk”, but even with the “Low Risk,” which was the most conservative allocation possible, it estimates your average return at 8.1%. This seems high. It does run simulations using Monte Carlo though.
  • Only works for a single individual.
  • You must estimate your taxes in estimated expenses. This can vary tremendously depending on your whether your savings are pre-tax or after-tax, when you take Social Security, and what your itemized deductions may be. I used total spending, including taxes at $70,000/year to run this review.
  • All savings must be input together (taxable & tax deferred). You can’t designate if you have both taxable and tax deferred savings and how much of each you have. This calculator assumes all assets are pre-tax.
  • Automatically assumes age 85 for longevity and you don’t have the chance to modify that assumption.
  • The “How This Tool Works” is hard to find, and very lengthy. I like the explanation, but the format is overwhelming. 

Review conducted By CJ Miller in November, 2016.

7
Vanguard Retirement Income Calculator Review

Screenshot of Vanguard's Retirement Calculator
This retirement calculator should only be used if you're still far away from retirement. Vanguard

What it does: With the Vanguard Retirement Income Calculator you input income sources such as Social Security and pensions, as well as values for savings and investments, and it projects the monthly income you will have versus what you will need in retirement. It calculates what you will need by asking you what percentage of your current income you expect you will need in retirement.

Overall Score: Poor, scoring 1.6 out of 3.

Scorecard Components

Accuracy: Poor, scoring 1 out of 3. There are only 8 inputs, and assumptions cannot be edited. This creates unreliable results that are not versatile or customizable to a retiree’s specific plan. This program may be useful for someone 10 years or more from retirement, but not for anything more than a rough estimate of retirement income and spending. All results should be taken with a grain of salt.

Usability: High, scoring 3 out of 3. The tool has a simple and appealing interface. It is easy for someone to adjust the inputs, and visually see what happens to the results. This is fantastic as a one page, convenient estimating tool.

Education: Poor, scoring 1 out of 3. It does little to explain the methodology or assumptions. It also gives no advice for people nearing retirement on next steps. At the very least, it could help users choose an expected return on investments. Those that do not know finance will struggle to choose the right options.

Additional Details

Target audience (in retirement, near retirement etc.): Pre-retirement only.

Not intended for: Those who are already retired or anyone needing a detailed retirement plan.

Best Feature: The best feature of this calculator is its simplicity. It is a one page calculator, with only eight inputs. This makes it easy to understand, and provides high usability for anyone needing a (very) rough estimate of his or her retirement situation.

My personal opinion/first reaction: This is a great one-page calculator in terms of Usability. The interface is smooth, and it can be useful for anybody 10 years or more from retirement. Vanguard also has a “Retirement Nest Egg Calculator” which uses a Monte Carlo simulation. Combining the two could provide a clearer picture, but is still not detailed enough for a reliable plan. There are a lot of assumptions and variables that you cannot adjust. For example the Vanguard retirement calculator determines a rate of inflation for you and it decides when you will start Social Security - you cannot adjust these items.

Pros

  • Easy to use. I think if you have a simple situation, you are in a low tax bracket, and you have more than 10 years to retirement, then this calculator will give you a general idea of how much you might be able to spend in retirement.
  • Everything is presented in today’s dollars.

Could be a Pro or a Con

  • You can select a projected rate of return from a range of 1%-10%. I used 1%. It is nice that you can adjust your projected rate of return, however it does not seem prudent to allow someone to project their savings and investments growing at a rate of 9% or 10% a year.

Cons

  • Only works for a single individual. You could double the inputs to approximate the results for a couple, but it may not be a reliable outcome.
  • You must not be retired and your annual income must be over $20,000. (For this case I used a current age of 59, a retirement age of 65 and current annual income of $60,000.)
  • The calculator has no input for life expectancy. It uses a 4% withdrawal rate increasing with inflation at 3% to show you how much you might be able to withdraw from savings and investments depending on the rate of return you selected.
  • It doesn’t actually tell you when it starts your Social Security benefit (It indicated that these are the “benefits you’ll receive beginning at age 62 or later.”) It does allow you to put a dollar amount in, but what amount should you use? The amount you'll get at 62, 66? This leaves a lot of room for error particularly if you are married and you and your spouse aren’t the same age and/or don't have the same retirement date.
  • All savings must be input together (taxable & tax deferred). You can’t designate if you have both taxable and tax deferred savings and how much of each you have. This calculator assumes all assets are pre-tax.

Review conducted By CJ Miller in November, 2016.

8
Bankrate Retirement Calculator Review

Screenshot of Bankrate's Retirement Calculator
This retirement calculator is simple, but doesn't allow customization. Bankrate

What it does: With the Bankrate Retirement Income Calculator you input savings, estimate your rate of return and tax rate, your age, and the number of years you think you'll spend in retirement, as well as inflation. It projects your monthly income from your savings in retirement before and after inflation and taxes. It also reports when you will run out of savings, and provides a yearly cash flow analysis. 

Overall Score: Poor, scoring 1.6 out of 3.

Scorecard Components

Accuracy: Moderate, scoring 2 out of 3. The calculator allows for a decent amount of customization and some tax-estimates in the results. It also lets you adjust inputs by inflation, and shows the results with and without these adjustments. It does not account for Social Security, pensions, or other income sources. It also has an all or nothing option for tax-deferred/taxable savings. You cannot have both. This can skew results, but for a rough estimate the tool is ok.

Usability: Poor, scoring 1 out of 3. I do not like the interface at all. The graphs are different shades of blue, and the pencil icons are hard to understand. For a one-page calculator, you would think the inputs would be more intuitive. The worst part is the “View Report” section. The buttons follow you as you scroll through the calculator, which is not necessary. It is easy to miss, but tucked away in that section is a yearly cash-flow analysis. Users should not have to go on an odyssey to find the important sections of the tool.

Education: Poor, scoring 1 out of 3. It does not explain methodology, or offer any next steps. The interface makes the program hard enough to use; I think a little guidance could make it better. Customization options are not well explained either. 

Additional Details

Target audience (in retirement, near retirement etc.): Pre-Retirement

Not intended for: Those who are already retired or those who would like to lay out a detailed retirement income plan that shows income from various sources like pension and Social Security in addition to investment income.

Best Feature: The input is only 10 questions and doesn’t take more than 2 minutes from start to finish.

My personal opinion/first reaction: This calculator is underwhelming by itself, but Bankrate offers 40 other calculators and tools each with a designated function. I wonder, if they are able to improve their interface, if combining some of these tools could create a very accurate and highly usable calculator. 

Pros

  • There are definitions below the input section so you know (after some reading) what each input means and how you should input values.
  • You designate what your tax rate will be now and in retirement. This is difficult for most people to assess without professional help.
  • You choose the inflation rate you want to use.
  • The monthly income in retirement is projected in both before tax and after tax amounts. The monthly income in retirement is projected with inflation and without inflation.
  • You can input number of years in retirement (essentially how long you think you will live once you have retired).

Could be a Pro or Con

  • You can input your projected rate of return ranging from 1% - 20%. It doesn’t seem prudent to allow someone to project a rate of return up to 20%, which is much higher than any reasonable historical rate of return.

Cons

  • All savings must be input together you must designate them all as either taxable or tax deferred. You can’t designate if you have both types of accounts and how much of each you have.
  • This retirement calculator is quite general and doesn’t get into income specific income sources such as pension, social security or anything else.
  • The program has a horrible layout. If you do not click specific buttons, you will not see much of the input options and the final report. The interface is confusing and not intuitive.
  • It gives no advice, and has no education component. 

Review conducted By CJ Miller in November, 2016.

9
Fidelity Retirement Calculator Review

Screenshot of Fidelity's Retirement Score Calculator
This retirement calculator gave a grossly unrealistic result. Fidelity

What it does: With the Fidelity Retirement Score Calculator you input 6 items (age, annual income, your savings, monthly contributions, standard of living, and investment style) and it assigns you a score from 0-150 determining if you are “On Track” for retirement.  (Note: Fidelity offers a more robust tool to Fidelity clients, but we were only able to review this version.)

Overall Score: Poor, scoring 1.2 out of 3.

Scorecard Components

Accuracy: Poor, scoring 1 out of 3. There is no way for an effective plan to be made by only asking six questions. It does not allow for any customization of assumptions, and does not even take taxes into account at all. Most programs at least try to.

Usability: Moderate, scoring 2 out of 3. It is visually appealing, and does not take long to complete. I like that you can adjust some of the assumptions at the results screen to see how it changes the score.

Education: Poor, scoring 1 out of 3. The methodology is not explained well. Also, the assumptions are not explained well. Finally, there is no advice given as to how to improve your score. There is also little explanation as to what the score means, although we were able to determine it is meant to reflect a percentage; so a score of 90 would mean you are 90% on track to meet your goals. 

Additional Details

Target audience (in retirement, near retirement etc.): Pre-retirement only.

Not intended for: Those in retirement, those who have retirement income sources other than invested assets and Social Security, or those that want any prospective look at an accurate, comprehensive retirement plan.

Best Feature: Once the output screen has populated, you can change assumptions such as your retirement age, your monthly contributions, and your investment style and see how that affects your score.

My personal opinion/first reaction: This type of program is the most frightening to me when looking at retirement planning options, because it can lead an uninformed user completely astray. It fails to educate the user or provide them any substantial information. The final score is arbitrary (what is the difference between a 120 and a 130?) and it does not gather any information about the user’s specific situation. There are too many assumptions that go unaccounted for. I would not recommend this to anybody, even those 30 years away from retirement attempting to get a rough estimate if they are on the right track or not. 

Pros

  • Takes no more than 5 minutes.
  • Uses 250 Monte Carlo simulations which help show you what might happen to your investments over both average and below average market conditions.

Cons

  • Only works for a single individual.
  • Automatically assumes age 93 for life expectancy and you can't modify this assumption.
  • Automatically assumes 2.3% for inflation and you can't modify this assumption.
  • You can’t input other retirement income sources such as pensions.
  • All savings & assets must be input together (taxable & tax deferred).
  • It says in the assumptions that the program does not account for any taxes. Quoted directly, “This calculator makes no assumptions about taxes and displays all results in gross (before tax) format).” This is dangerous, every score will be higher than it should be.

Review conducted By CJ Miller in November, 2016.