Online Retirement Calculators
What each does well, and where they fall short
MaxiFi, formerly the free ESPlanner Basic, is the best retirement calculator we could find. Why? It does things none of the other retirement calculators do, and it ranks high on our retirement calculator scorecard in all three categories of accuracy, usability, and education.
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
- 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. MaxiFi does this part right, so if the inputs are done correctly, you can trust the results as quite accurate.
- Usability: High, scoring 3 out of 3. It's very flexible, because it doesn't require many of the more complex aspects, so it's ideal for less experienced users and detailed planners. The website is easy to navigate, and you can save the plan and return later—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'm sure the premium versions of the software are better at this.
- Works for both single or married.
- May take a few minutes but gathers a few personal details (like DOB) so the 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 the amount of life insurance you should have.
- Lots of reading.
- The 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.
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 they 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, and educational material, and it's meant to be revisited regularly by users.
Overall Score: Excellent, scoring 2.8 out of 3
Accuracy: High, scoring 3 out of 3. This tool is extensive, and its 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's easy to see where the numbers are coming from.
Spending, however, is difficult to assess, because the cash flow diagram doesn't show a detailed withdrawal order. Overall, if you make the inputs correctly and the plan isn't overly complicated, the results should be on the right track. But there's 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're proficient with software, you shouldn't have much trouble with the data inputs. For those who struggle with technology, it's 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're 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's 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's 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 for additional educational material on some of these topics if the website is lacking substance on any issue.
Where the site does poorly is educating the users on the plan. When you're entering information, the site provides so many options and doesn't 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 you and what the ramifications will be in the results.
- Goals-based approach.
- Profile Dashboard is well-organized.
- Allows for optimistic and pessimistic scenarios.
- The interface is smooth and visually appealing.
- 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 we enjoy the 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 aren't, so any skipped entry may result in inaccuracies within your plan.
The AARP Retirement Income Calculator estimates how much you're 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
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 three-step process for users to complete. The interface is smooth, and the look and feel is visually appealing. The tool could improve 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 over it 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.
- 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 the number of years in retirement using life expectancy.
- Can add Social Security (manually or estimated) and pensions.
- 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 the 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.
The MarketWatch Retirement Calculator is a multi-sectioned tool that tells you if you can afford to retire at the desired age. Although it appears condensed at first, after a trial it appears to be very versatile. You can enter spousal information, different types of retirement income like Social Security, and itemized retirement accounts and expenses.
Once complete, the calculator presents three 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
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 allow 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 buying 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 doesn't explain how to use it appropriately. It provides little to no recommendations to help users input data properly and doesn't explain the relevance of the more complex features.
- Very versatile.
- Allows for an Optimized Savings feature, which organizes withdrawal order in a tax-efficient way.
- Itemized expenses and income streams.
- Recommendations once your plan is complete.
- It's hard to see what's adjustable and what's not. This is a problem because it's easy for users to miss a customization opportunity.
- It doesn't allow you to see assumptions and results on the same page.
- It explains what the inputs are very well, but doesn't give an indication to an appropriate answer. Some of the defaults are not accurate or explained.
- There is no methodology information.
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
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's missing a detailed cash-flow analysis, so it's 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 don't 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 aren't accurate (this calculator is reasonable).
- Works for both single or married people.
- 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 the rate of return and chances you would run out of money.
- 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.
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
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 simulation 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 your 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.
- 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 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 and 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.
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
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 its methodology or assumptions. It also gives no advice for people nearing retirement on the next steps. At the very least, it could help users choose an expected return on investments. Those who do not know finance will struggle to choose the right options.
- 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.
- 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 a 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.
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
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. We do not like the interface at all. The graphs are different shades of blue, and 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 the 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.
- 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 the 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.
- 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.
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.