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The Retirement Calculator Test Drive: Which Will Work Best For You?

By Shane Workman, Consultant, Bronfman Rothschild Plan Advisors

Estimating your Retirement Needs with an Online Calculator

Beginning the process of making retirement contributions is a big step for anyone. Today, proper retirement planning seems more important than ever, but where do you begin to crunch numbers?

For many, an online retirement calculator offers an anonymous, low-commitment method to obtain the basic estimates you need to get started. More than just providing one metric, retirement calculators can provide a lot of useful information about how to achieve that desired nest egg amount. From adjusting your risk profile to altering your monthly 401(k) contribution amount, there are many variables to play with in a retirement calculator, each tweaking the scenario that will result in your magic, personalized retirement number.

Find a Retirement Calculator that Reflects Your Situation

Not all retirement calculators are created equal. Here I’ll review six free, online retirement calculators and compile notes on my impressions, likes, and dislikes.

A few things to understand before you get started. First, there are a lot of retirement calculators out there – some good, others not so good. To resolve any particularities of one calculator, I recommend using a couple. This can help to provide a more accurate understanding of your retirement saving in the long run.

Similarly, finding a retirement calculator that fits your exact situation can be a daunting task, so choose a few. Can the calculator compute for inflation or pay raises or even automatic increases? The assumptions that some calculator’s algorithms make about us can produce inaccurate projections. For example, many calculators assume an ongoing 8% compounding return even though you may be a more conservative investor (and can more realistically expect a lower return). Other assumptions about spending needs in retirement can equally throw off the estimation.

Finally, as the old saying goes: “garbage in, is garbage out”. Make sure that the information you use is accurate and up-to-date. A well-developed plan based on the information you have now will be much more useful than results that were based on guesses or estimations. Wherever possible, use precise data from your financial records.

A Calculator’s Score is not Destiny. Set Goals, Measure Progress, and Adjust as Necessary

A retirement calculator is a tool, not a fortune teller. It can help craft a savings plan, measure your progress, and forecast scenarios based on adjustments to an input. Don’t let an output make you feel bad about your retirement readiness. By setting goals and making course corrections, you can provide yourself the opportunity for a rich and rewarding retirement.

My Methodology for Testing Calculators

To test the calculators fairly, I felt the need to be consistent with our information. We’re going to ignore both social security and pension plans, but I do make note of the ones that offer the ability to do so. Not all plans allowed us to input the below information, as some calculators make a few general assumptions, but here is what I used:

  • Current Income: $100,0000 annually ($8,333 per month)
  • Starting balance of retirement plan: $10,000
  • Annual Contributions: $10,000 or 10%
  • Marital Status: Married
  • Current Age: 35
  • Age of Retirement: 65
  • Years of Retirement: 30 (Assumes you’ll live to be 95, which is a good target for retirement planning purposes!)
  • Rate of Return before Retirement: 7%
  • Rate of Return during Retirement: 5% (Lower rate reflects more conservative portfolio stance during retirement)
  • Income Need at Retirement: 80% of Current Income
  • Inflation Rate: 3% (Consistent with the past 30 years)

#1: Charles Schwab Retirement Calculator

One of my favorite aspects of the Charles Schwab retirement calculator is the expanded social security benefits section. The calculator asks for you to include your expectations about social security benefits, which may not be the largest stream of retirement income for an individual, but nonetheless contributes to your nest egg. The calculator lets you choose what age you will start social security. You can enter in a number manually or ask the software to calculate and give you an estimation.

Another feature I like about this calculator is choosing your investment style (Low Risk to High Risk) rather than a straight rate of return. Changing your risk profile demonstrates how your portfolio may be structured and what rate of return you can expect. Five “investment styles” define a risk profile from Conservative to Moderate to Aggressive.

Pros:

  • Simplicity
  • Choosing your investment style instead of a rate of return on investments
  • Ability to add social security benefits or you can have Schwab estimate your social security benefits and include them.
  • Ability to add supplemental income you plan to receive each year in retirement outside of your investment portfolio and social security.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t allow you to include other investments
  • Doesn’t allow separation of spousal accounts

 

#2: Smartasset.com Retirement Calculator

Smartasset.com offers a simple, approachable compounding interest calculator that captures a ton of information. From the ability to input projected retirement age and social security election age, retirement accounts, including contributions and company match, to outside investments, and even spousal information – this calculator has a ton of options for customization.

What also impressed me was the intuitive interface. Once your report is produced, you can still view and adjust “My Details” on the left-hand panel, making adjustments super easy. Overall, the ability to capture a lot of metrics specific to an individual’s retirement preparations make this calculator quite effective, including the ability to turn on or off social security benefits.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Able to enter different investment accounts
  • Ability to input company match percentage on investments
  • Ability to input spousal information
  • Differentiation of IRAs, Traditional and Roth
  • Ability to input Pensions and Annuities

Cons:

  • No opportunity to provide projected growth on investments.
  • The site assumes an 8% growth rate which is uncommon as people get closer to retirement and move their investments to a more conservative allocation.

#3: The Fidelity Retirement Score

The Fidelity Retirement Score offers a progress report of your retirement readiness. Six questions measure your age, annual income, total retirement savings to date, monthly contributions, spending habits, and investment style. Based on your answers, you receive a score from 0 to 150. The score is a comparable to see how you stack up against others in your age and salary range, but after the initial survey you can sign up for a more details. This survey does automatically make social security assumptions.

Fidelity’s Retirement Score is not perfect, but does serve as a good pre-retirement calculator to see how you compare to your peers.  Ultimately, this comparison could lead a person astray since it doesn’t have the ability for users to enter more specific information. The score is calculated assuming an underperforming market, so the estimate is rather conservative, which may be a good wake up call for those who receive a “bad” score.

Pros:

  • Nice interface and easy to complete the 6 informational questions
  • Social security estimate/override.
  • Asset allocation selection
  • Real estate
  • Annuities

Cons:

  • Only works for a single individual
  • Lacking ability to input more information such as a pension
  • Not intended for those currently in retirement
  • Since the calculator makes no assumptions about taxes and displays all results in gross, every score will be higher than it probably should be

#4: New Retirement’s Simple Retirement Calculator

New Retirement’s Simple Retirement Calculator is as advertised: simple. Although it lacks the fancy design or graphics, this calculator gives you a quick assessment of your current retirement savings, showing how long your money will last in retirement at a set level of spending in retirement.

Additionally, the New Retirement website contains several other calculators and resources for retirement planning. Once you create a profile and enter information about your financial goals, you’ll be given suggestions. Results are provided in a format that is goals-focused, with a timeline showing how close (or far) you are from exiting the workforce within your specified time horizon. There are also suggestions for next steps in addition to a thorough analysis of your retirement situation. The overall flow and interface of the website, and inputting the information, makes the experience more user friendly for a person with basic retirement and investment knowledge.

The Simple Retirement Calculator is a much more detailed planner. It allows you to input the value of your home and other assets while also incorporating debt, annuities, medical expenses, net worth, and estate planning. One thing I really liked was alternating from optimistic and pessimistic rates of returns on your investments and savings accounts, providing a truly holistic understanding of various investment scenarios.

Pros:

  • Ability to enter home value and mortgage
  • Starting at age 70.5, the calculator estimates required minimum distributions
  • Social security adjusts for inflation

Cons:

  • All the suggestions give a range of numbers rather than inputting a specific amount
  • Annuity and pension incomes are not inflation linked and do not grow
  • Other income growth rate is set to 3% optimistically and 2% pessimistically

#5: Vanguard: Retirement Income Calculator

Vanguard’s Retirement Income Calculator offers a very simple and easy to use calculator that most investors will have no problem operating. The calculator helps estimate monthly income needs and shortfalls in retirement. Be advised, you will need to increase your contribution amount if you have a company match to include.

Vanguard also offers two free retirement tools. The Retirement Nest Egg Calculator and the Retirement Income Calculator together offer powerful retirement planning. As the name suggests, the nest egg calculator is an easy way to determine if your retirement savings will last. While it’s an easy calculator to use, don’t be fooled by its simplicity. Using a Monte Carlo simulator, it examines 5,000 simulations to produce its results.

The second calculator helps you estimate just how much income you’ll need in retirement. While rules of thumb may be helpful for long-range planning, Vanguard’s income calculator enables you to refine these estimates based on your specific circumstances. The down side is Vanguards 4% withdrawal rate assumption at retirement, rather than choosing a return on investments during retirement.

Pros:

  • Simple one-person compounding interest calculator
  • Social security estimator

Cons:

  • Lacks ability to add spousal information
  • Lacks ability to add outside investments

#6: Bankrate

Bankrate is well known for its many different financial calculators from retirement calculators to mortgage calculators. Bankrate Retirement Calculator projects your monthly income from your savings in retirement before and after inflation and taxes. It also reports an estimated time of when your savings will run out. This tool could be useful for someone who will see a significant tax bracket drop upon retirement, but overall, it needs more input options for the user who wants a more detailed and accurate look into saving for retirement.

Pros:

  • Ability to input rate of return on investments before and during retirement
  • Input of inflation and tax rates before and during retirement
  • Quick input of only 10 questions
  • Adjusting tax rates before and after retirement
  • Ability to input your own retirement spending estimations

Cons:

  • Spousal inputs
  • Ability to input outside investments, all savings must be input together
  • Boring layout
  • Limited additional inputs

Note: All the information presented is for educational and resource purposes only. It is not intended to provide specific or investment advice, nor does it serve as an endorsement of any of the retirement calculators. We don’t guarantee the accuracy of the tools presented above and suggest that you consult with a trusted financial advisor regarding your individual situation.

Bronfman E.L. Rothschild is a registered investment advisor (dba Bronfman Rothschild and Bronfman Rothschild Plan Advisors). Securities, when offered, are offered through an affiliate, Bronfman E.L. Rothschild Capital, LLC (dba BELR Capital, LLC), member FINRA/SIPC.
This information should not be construed as a recommendation, offer to sell, or solicitation of an offer to buy a particular security or investment strategy. The commentary provided is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for accounting, legal, or tax advice. While the information is deemed reliable, Bronfman Rothschild cannot guarantee its accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose, and makes no warranties with regard to the results to be obtained from its use. Past performance does not guarantee future results. © 2018 Bronfman Rothschild

 

Calculators Reviewed:

Bankrate’s Retirement Calculator

Charles Schwab’s Retirement Calculator

The Fidelity Retirement Score

New Retirement’s Simple Retirement Calculator

SmartAsset.com’s Retirement Calculator

Vanguard’s Retirement Income Calculator