Published January 12, 2017|9 min read
There’s a saying that "Life begins at retirement," but for the three or four decades prior to hanging up your hat and exiting the workforce, it can be one of the last priorities on people’s minds.
When you’re in the prime of your career, juggling rent, mortgage, student loan payments, raising a family and paying all sorts of other ancillary expenses that life throws at you, retirement planning can take a bit of a back seat (for a decade or so). People are living longer, too, making it harder to pin down if, and when we will retire. How can you be expected to predict where you’ll be in 30 to 40 years, much less three or four years -- or how much money you’ll need to survive and thrive?
Some sources maintain that you need to replace 70 to 90 percent of your pre-retirement income to live comfortably in your golden years. Others quote various big-ticket, round dollar figures, like $500,000, or even $1 million. But your eventual needs may necessitate a much smaller retirement fund; it all depends on you, your current lifestyle, and your future lifestyle. And who knows where Social Security will be by then?
To get a better handle of how much money you’ll need heading into retirement -- and if you’re on the right track to getting there -- retirement calculators can help. We found the most user-friendly and accurate calculators on the market from the hundreds available and divided them up into two sections: those offered by other personal finance sites, and those from financial and investment institutions. (We’ve organized them this way since the former group emphasizes general retirement saving, while the latter focuses on investment-related criteria and can be limiting in scope to singular company product options.)
Best for: Simple to advanced retirement saving calculations
The Retirement Planning Calculator from MarketWatch may be one of the most comprehensive on the web, and gives you the choice between configuring basic financial calculations up to more advanced retirement information, depending on how far you’d like to dig into the numbers. Use the sliders at the top of the calculator interface to enter your (or your spouse’s) current age, your desired retirement age, your salary and annual retirement savings, and that’s enough for the calculator to draw up a figure on the corresponding chart, tracking how much you’ll have saved up for your goal every five years until retirement.
Or, if you’d rather get into the meat and bones of it all, click on the tabs at the left to estimate your future income and retirement spending. The advanced settings are so precise it’s like peering into a crystal ball to predict the future. Here, you’ll find fields for making general assumptions, like the life expectancies of you or your spouse, plus your desired annual pay raise rate. Entering your various tax rates, plus inflation assumptions for expenses like housing, transportation, medical and discretionary spending are factored into the calculator for a more detailed, on-point retirement savings projection.
We like the option to save or reset your data and return to it later, making this a calculator that caters to users who want a to revisit their retirement predictions over time and pair insights with real-time savings goals.
Best for: Consumers already acquainted with retirement investing
If you want to take a deeper look at how your retirement accounts, pension benefits and Social Security may work in tandem with your savings and expenses in retirement, SmartAsset’s calculatoris a perfect fit for you. First, it will solicit key information from you, like your annual income, how much you’ve saved per month, your estimated retirement expenses, and other investment details, like the types of retirement accounts you have, plus the age you intend to elect Social Security coverage.
Here, you can also compare your current retirement saving plan against SmartAsset’s recommendation for maximizing your savings and investments. SmartAsset’s algorithm processes the data and lays out both scenarios in a clear, concise fashion, placing the dollar amounts you’ve provided into the retirement accounts it believes would give you the most financial benefit. An accompanying bell curve and chart gives users a great visual experience detailing out what you’ll have at the retirement age you specify, and what you’ll need in order to have a sufficient savings amount. Directly below the calculator, you’ll also be able to access literature on various investment topics including how to assess what lifestyle you’d like to lead in retirement.
SmartAsset’s calculator leans on data that users provide regarding all types of savings accounts, including retirement/investment accounts already developed, so for those with a simple savings account or no employer-sponsored benefits plan, like a 401(k), this could mean skipping over several vital inputs in the calculator and ending up with projections that aren’t quite as intuitive as you’d like. We’d recommend it for the consumer who’d like to better manage their existing investments and maximize their current investment opportunities, not for newbies to the wealth management game.
Best for: Customizing specific aspects of your financial profile (like cost of living, ROIs, assets)
More of a questionnaire than a calculator, Kiplinger’s retirement calculator cuts to the chase and asks users five key questions upfront:
How much income will you need in retirement?
How much retirement income will you receive from Social Security and pensions?
How much retirement savings have you already accumulated?
How much will you draw from home equity?
How big of a nest egg do you need?
Each question prompts users to elaborate a bit more according to preference. Instead of just recommending, for example, replacing 80 percent of your pre-retirement income in retirement, it lets you choose between the options at hand. Will your pension include cost of living adjustments? Will you have any investments in stocks at retirement, and do you expect to become conservative, moderate or aggressive with them? What about employer-sponsored benefits? Will you pull from equity in your home?
These specifics can help guide you to a precise path to retirement savings that anticipates the changes in your personal and financial levels over the next several years. The calculator will weigh this data against your current savings, producing actualized results that depend on the amount of years left before you retire (and how long you live), the rate of return on your investments, your annual retirement income in future dollars, your nest egg goal, a projected value of your current savings, and the amount you should be saving each month.
Our only real criticism is that Kiplinger’s calculator doesn’t take into account taxable income, so your calculated spendable income, perhaps the most important dollar figure you’ll want to know, may end up being the least accurate of all.
Best for: Calculating retirement income and nest egg funds separately
The first calculator estimates a potential monthly income in retirement through future investment accounts, like your Social Security, pension or other retirement plan. You can adjust your current age correspondent to your projected retirement age, your current income, the average amount you save for retirement, plus the amount you’ve already saved. Unlike other calculators that assume you have pension or SSI benefits, Vanguard’s calculator lets you turn these options off. Once everything’s been configured, it’ll predict the income you may have in retirement plus what you’ll need. The calculator’s use of sliders is more user-friendly and quicker to respond than other calculators that burden users to type in their info and restart each time they want to recalculate.
The nest egg calculator is even more simplified. If you have a portfolio, divide it up according to how it’s invested (stocks, bonds, cash), your existing balance and anticipated amount you expect to spend once they reach maturity. It uses a Monte Carlo simulation model, a technique used to configure several possible outcomes, for better decision making in times of risky investment.
Best for: A detailed comparison of current financial information against projected retirement saving numbers
Schwab’s Q&A-style; format is less calculator and more financial advisor. Users are asked to ask some questions about their current age, retirement age, investment style (low risk to high), plus you’ll need to outline your current household income, and how much you’ve saved towards retirement (and how much you plan on saving). It’ll also factor in your expected Social Security benefits, and, most important, how much you intend to spend in retirement.
It takes just a few minutes to produce a detailed retirement analysis -- and like Vanguard, you can adjust your plan using the sliders at the bottom to tweak your retirement age, annual contributions and projected spending. Then, you’ll know if you’re on track, or off, to reach your retirement goals. We’d reckon it’s one of the fastest options, too -- it took just five minutes for a quick analysis.
Best for: Predicting multiple retirement saving scenarios and most in-person time
One of three calculators offered by Edward Jones, the investing company recommends using its retirement savings calculator to garner a realistic estimate of your savings plan as a starting point; then, it recommends that you work with a financial advisor to develop an actionable plan going forward.
The simplest of the calculators we’ve reviewed here, it just takes is entering your current age and expected retirement age, beginning contributions age, your anticipated rate of return, and minimum/maximum contribution limits. It’ll then present two potential scenarios estimating a projected investment yield at retirement if you started a portfolio today.
We like calculators that do more than just calculate. This one gives insight -- after you’ve projected your numbers, your results are followed up with questions you might want to give an advisor in mapping out a future strategy. What will you do if you decide to change careers? How can you go about saving more, and how much more will you need? What about balancing other financial goals, like saving/paying for a child’s college education?
It’s all financial food for thought that feeds into a healthy retirement nest egg in the years to come.
Retirement is one of those stages of life you can keep predicting, but you won’t know the outcome until you actually get there. Since your possibilities on the path to retirement are varied, you should incorporate a mix of calculators into your retirement planning. Don’t be afraid to pick and choose; out of the six we’ve listed here, each one may inhabit features that set each one apart. You may want to start in basic mode when you’re young and just starting your retirement portfolio, and move on to a more advanced tool as you come closer to reaching your goal, retiring with the personal and financial wellness you deserve.
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