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What’s so important about retirement calculators? Why are these tools of more than just technical interest? Well, they’re important because either you, or a financial planner, will use the results from a retirement calculator to make one of the most crucial decisions of your life: *Are you financially independent yet, or not?*

If you get this decision right, you can enjoy more of the freedom and fulfillment that everybody wants out of a complete human life. But, if you get this decision wrong, you could run out of money for healthcare or other essentials in your old age, or you could waste years of your life doing unnecessary or unenjoyable work.

That’s why retirement calculators are important. And it’s why the review I wrote of the three best free retirement calculators, and a follow-up comparison of five free retirement calculators, have been the most popular posts on this site. Thousands of people have read these articles and, I hope, been motivated to analyze and better understand their own retirement trajectories.

## A Curated List

But the universe of retirement planning tools has not stood still since I wrote those initial articles. And, I’ve continued to read, and experiment, and hear from readers. So I’ve since cataloged *dozens* of additional retirement calculators — every general-purpose, publicly-available tool that I hear about. Altogether, I have a database of information on **56**, **79**, now **82** retirement and financial modeling tools!

Unfortunately, it just isn’t realistic for me to perform in-depth reviews on that many software programs. Yet retirement calculators are a core topic of this blog, and I know many people come here for guidance about them. So, how should I go about evaluating all of these options?

*Here is my solution*: Rather than attempt to compare or validate so many calculators in-depth, I’m offering a “curated” list below of what I consider to be the best available calculators, along with key data to help you choose the right one(s) for your situation.

My plan is to keep this list updated going forward. As the calculator landscape changes, I will continue to learn about new calculators. Some older calculators may become obsolete. So programs will come and go, but the list below will always represent my current recommendations. (You may want to bookmark this page for future reference.)

## Selection Criteria

Only about **one** out of every **three **calculators made it onto my list. So, how did I choose them? Here are my criteria:

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- I favored general-purpose tools that take a set of financial inputs and model them over time — suitable for traditional pre- and post-retirement, or early-retirement scenarios. (Not every tool below is that general, but most are.)
- I was looking for something beyond trivial time-value-of-money analysis: Each calculator chosen needed to offer some unique value — either in its user interface, its approach, or its analytical power.
- I did not include a few well done but overly simplistic tools, intended for those with no financial experience. (I can assume that readers of this blog have at least a minimum of financial sophistication.)
- Conversely, I did not include tools targeted at professional advisors (with price tags to suit), or tools that were obvious loss-leaders for other bundled financial services (conflict of interest), or tools that were highly-technical or research-oriented.
- I gave weight to reputation and precedent. In general, I wanted to see established companies or well-known individuals who could support their tools, with ongoing development, and an established user base, if possible.

I’ve run each of the programs below, in some form, and worked with many of them extensively. However, I did not attempt to *verify results* mathematically. There are simply too many variables involved and too many judgment calls on the part of programmers for me to issue an opinion that a given calculator is “right” or “wrong.” Any calculator, in any given scenario, can be caught making some simplifying assumption about reality that somebody will argue is incorrect. I don’t want to play that game.

But, do realize that, in an attempt to make retirement modeling “easy,” some calculators make assumptions that may not suit your situation. For example, a surprising number of calculators continue to have problems with early retirement or near-retirement scenarios. Beware of calculators that require you to input a salary, or want to compute your expenses as some percent of your salary, or assume that Social Security must start at your “retirement” date, or that include built-in/undocumented assumptions for stock market returns, inflation, or tax rates. (Some calculators use overly optimistic market returns; others use your *marginal *tax rate as an *effective *rate, overstating your tax liabilities.)

Rather than expecting perfection out of any single software program, I suggest getting a “second opinion.” You can simply check your situation by running more than one calculator. There are enough good ones listed below, that you can easily get a 2nd (or 3rd) opinion on just about any retirement-related financial question! And I’ll make it as easy as possible for you to choose a calculator appropriate to your needs?.

## Key Data

As part of my survey, I’ve compiled several columns of key data into the table below, to help you understand how each calculator fits into the field:

**Fidelity**: First, I’ve categorized all the calculators into three levels of “fidelity.” Credit goes to Stuart Matthews of Pralana Consulting for this helpful concept. By *fidelity* we are referring to how well each calculator can potentially reproduce reality — the realism of its simulation. In a nutshell, to do a better modeling job, a calculator will need to collect more data, and more accurate data, from you. So, “fidelity” is also a rough measure of increasing complexity:

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*Low-Fidelity*— these calculators will feature just a dozen input fields or less, and usually perform only a simple fixed rate/average return calculation. They feature ease of use, and generally will require less than 5 minutes of your time to produce answers.*Medium-Fidelity*— these calculators add additional fields, usually handling multiple accounts with different asset allocations, and arbitrary financial “events” such as irregular future income or expenses. Generally they might require 10-20 minutes of your time to produce answers.*High-Fidelity*— these calculators will add even more input fields, the ability to compare scenarios, and often Social Security and tax calculations. Generally they will require at least 30-60 minutes of your time to produce answers. And they could easily require several hours to understand all the options, and collect and input all the data to take full advantage of their capabilities. But these calculators have the potential to be most accurate, assuming you take the time to enter good data, and assuming your guesses about the future hold true.

**Returns**: Broadly speaking, there are three approaches to modeling stock market returns over time:

- Using an
*average*return for each year is the simplest approach. However, unless you reduce that average return by some arbitrary amount, it does not take into account the impact of*volatility*on your portfolio, and will be overly optimistic. - A
*Monte Carlo*analysis, using an average return plus a standard deviation, takes volatility into account, but requires expertise (or trust) for choosing the necessary mathematical parameters. And there are arguments that the artificial randomness introduced by a Monte Carlo simulation doesn’t mimic the real world accurately. - Finally, a
*historical*analysis uses actual market data on the performance of asset classes over the past century to model what would have happened to your portfolio over periods in the past. The issue with this approach is whether the future will be like the past or, even if it is, whether the current starting point of high market valuations leads predominantly into the realm of lower return possibilities.

There are arguments, and recognized experts, for and against each way of modeling returns. Who’s right? My own preference is to gather as much information as possible, by using calculators that offer all three mechanisms, then compare the results, and draw my own conclusions.

**Platform**: The majority of modern retirement calculators run in your browser as web applications. If you want the slickest user experience, you’ll probably opt for one of these. However a few calculators run on your desktop or tablet, using Microsoft Excel, iOS, or Windows. If you’d rather keep your financial data on your local computer, you might opt for one of these.

**Cost**: Many retirement calculators are *free*, including good ones at each fidelity level. But a few calculators are offered in different fidelities at different price points. When there are multiple versions, I’ve included the range of costs in the table below. In general: I’ve reviewed the highest-fidelity version available, it includes all the features of any lower versions, and the lower versions are also worthy of your consideration.

**Notes/Features**: I’ve included brief notes on the features of each program, so you can get the flavor of its functionality. I’ve tried to standardize terms when possible: “Income replacement” means the calculator wants to estimate your expenses as a % of income (a negative if it precludes early- or post-retirement scenarios). “Spouse” means there are dedicated fields for a spouse’s data. “Spending policies” means the calculator offers algorithms for automatically adjusting your spending in retirement. “Financial events” means the calculator allows entering arbitrary incoming or outgoing cash flows into the simulation. “Scenarios” means you get some capability for comparing financial alternatives. “Tax calculations” means the calculator goes beyond using a simple effective tax rate to perform detailed marginal tax calculations. “Today’s dollars” means there is an ability to display results in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars. “Save data” means you can save your work. “Well documented” means the calculator does an above-average job of explaining its assumptions.

**Review**: If I’ve written a review of the calculator, it will be linked from a review date. If there is no link from a review date, then that is simply the last date that I updated information on the calculator in this table.

## Choosing a Calculator

Below is my list of the best calculators, for your consideration. All of these calculators have unique strengths. But each has its limitations too. So, how do you choose?

*Price *should not be an issue: There are free calculators available at all fidelity levels. If you have a preferred *platform*, that may help filter your list. Most importantly, decide how *accurate *an answer you need, and how much *time *you want to invest in getting it:

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If you just need a simple answer to whether your savings are roughly on track to retire in a certain time frame, you should start with the *low-fidelity* calculators to get quick answers.

If you want to fine-tune the results more to your specific situation, perhaps looking at how your mixture of assets and future financial events will impact your wealth, start with the *medium-fidelity* calculators.

If you have substantial assets and need to fine-tune a tax or withdrawal strategy in retirement, or you want to model a range of future life events and compare alternative courses of action, use a *high-fidelity* calculator.

In any case, you’ll want to use more than one calculator, to confirm your results. For the low-fidelity calculators, I’d run *three *programs before drawing any conclusions, because they are so simple and easy to use. For the medium-fidelity calculators, I’d choose at least *two *programs. You can become proficient in both without a big time commitment. If you need a high-fidelity calculator, I would review the field of choices, then become expert with the one that makes most sense to you. After that, I’d choose a medium-fidelity calculator to rough-check results.

Note that you can sort the list below in different ways by clicking on the double-headed arrow at the top of any column. And you can search or filter by simply typing into the Search box at the top right. Finally, I’ve included the link to each calculator so you can easily try it out for yourself: Just click on the name.

Best wishes in your retirement planning. And let me know your experience, so I can continue to update and improve this list for everybody’s benefit?.

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Wow, Darrow, that’s a fantastic list– and hundreds of hours of research!

I’m amazed how the field has grown. 25 years ago you had to use “workbooks” (or order a disk from T. Rowe Price) and they all assumed that you’d retire at age 65…

Thanks Doug! That’s about right on the research hours. 🙂 And, yes the world has changed…

Darrow,

I think the Fidelity Retirement Income Planner uses Monte Carlo simulation to arrive at an average historical growth rate usually around 8%. I question that MC simulation of the entire market since 1929 would give an accurate average result for the type of market we have today. Would it be better to use the last 10 or 20 years only? And then cut it in half to not over estimate future growth. What do you think?

I use a brute force spreadsheet approach that models each year of retirement (expenses and income) and I run a zero growth scenario just to be sure I don’t run out of money. From the zero growth case one can ballpark how much of a market deflation one can absorb. I think this is important. Feedback?

Thanks for sharing your research and knowledge. Your articles gave me confidence that I could actually retire.

Hi Bob. Agreed, I would be loathe to build a retirement plan based on average historical growth rates right now. But there are a diversity of opinions on how much those historical rates should be reduced. Even using the last couple of decades could be too optimistic. I don’t have the expertise to advance any particular version of the future. I think assumptions need to be partly a function of how well you can absorb risk: A healthy early retiree who could resume working or work part time, might be comfortable with more aggressive growth assumptions. A traditional 60-something retiree would probably be advised to take a more cautious tack. Your approach, modeling zero growth, seems very safe indeed, if one can afford it. FWIW, I tend to look at absorbing market downturns mostly as a function of my allocation to bonds and cash.

For what it’s worth & to inform those reading this excellent post on calcuators, Fido RIP has several knobs one can turn to add conservatism. (Darrow-I know that you already know this but, thought others might not.)

For example, to add conservatism, you can: increase the required confidence level, add expense events (ie: LTC), or adjust inflation. This will not address the underlying use of MC in Bob’s comment but, it does enable more conservatism, if that’s the goal, and a lot of flexibility.

Thanks Mark. And those potential adjustments would work for a number of other calculators too.

The “how long will my money last” at smart 401K dot com is free and the easiest to use and most practical of all the many calculators I have looked at. It allows a SS estimate to be added and inflation adjusted, same for separate pensions or annuities and investment assets. Some of the fancy calculators give crazy and not to be trusted results. This allows you to clearly set up heavy inflation, low inflation, no inflation scenarios and see what the results are up to 30 years out. Few people will have the same situation 30 years out, but it does tell you what your cushion is to deal with the unknown. I am not interested in stock marked monte carlo etc. as if you have won the game by having enough assets, there is no real gain in taking much chance of losing. As to inflation, there are other views on inflation than using the stock market. A 95% confidence in a monte carlo is very bad if you assume running out of assets is a disaster. If you applied 95% to air travel crashes for an analogy, you would have crashed in 20 flights. Those odds are too poor for me. Even 99% is one crash in 100 flights. Not good enough. Real airplanes are in the multi multi millions of events for failure in terms of testing. Per my title I am on the cusp of retirement, that is very different (asset distribution) than asset accumulation. The above may not be as relevant for asset accumulation at younger ages as if you crash, you can start over or attempt to wait it out (as long as you are not in japan).

Thanks, and congrats on your cusp status. Looks like Smart401k is using the CalcXML calculators, which I’ve reviewed and listed in my table. Agreed, they do a nice, straightforward job. The comparisons to airline safety are instructive. I’ve thought about these issues that way too. Most of us wouldn’t be comfortable in daily life with the kind of reliability we’re asked to accept from financial services. One difference, though, is that with some attention to your budget and net worth (plus using these calculators), you can get many years of advance warning about any financial problems ahead, and take appropriate action. Not true if an airplane or bridge is falling down.

Thanks for the comprehensive review on some solid tools. I understand you cannot include all the tools out there but one unique one is the Optimal Retirement Calculator (http://www.i-orp.com/coverORP.html). I think you’d classify as High Fidelity. It is unique in that it tackles the very difficult task of optimizing the various pools of money to draw down from for retirement. Includes RMD. I find this a good balance against other tools. I’m also a big fan of FinancialMentor’s Ultimate Retirement Calculator.

An excerpt from the ORP website:

“The Optimal Retirement Planner (ORP) computes the plan that maximizes your annual retirement spending. Before retirement ORP determines which retirement savings account to contribute to. After retirement ORP spreads your saving withdrawals across the entire term of your retirement. The optimal plan:

Schedules parallel withdrawals from your IRA, Roth IRA, and taxable accounts,

Minimizes income taxes on IRA withdrawals,

Honors the IRA Required Minimum Distribution (RMD),

Includes Social Security benefits, pensions and post retirement earned income.

Schedules IRA to Roth IRA partial rollovers,

Saves excess income in the taxable account,

Includes income from selling the homestead.”

Hi Dave, thanks. I have looked at ORP, and it is a worthy and interesting effort. I felt it was a little out of the target zone for my curated list, but those with a more technical bent may want to check it out.

Thx Darrow. I haven’t seen several calculators on your list so will enjoy reviewing them. Happy Holidays. One of our favorite Thanksgiving dinners was at Geronimos in SF. Don’t know if it’s still in operation.

Thanks for that Ingrid. It’s still here, and is on our list too!

Very nice work. I am on the verge or early retirement and found this article very helpful as one of the calculators ( the flexible retirement calculator) helped verify what I had found with others. Namely stress testing early in retirement for a downturn in the markets.

Thanks Steve. I agree, keeping a close watch on the early years of retirement is critical for success, and the calculators can help with that.

Hi Darrow,

First, thank you for doing this blog and spending some serious time to help all of your readers. I’m a new-ish reader but love your straightforward approach and writing style. I have found so much helpful info here, I really look forward to each new posting. Your experiences and selfless sharing sheds valuable light and inspiration on life outside the work world.

Based on one of your previous blogs, I bought and have used the Pralana Calculator. It is awesome!…it allows for use as a medium fidelity as well as what I would consider super high fidelity when you get into the finer details of input and what it’s capable of computing for you. It has given us the confidence in our plan to escape the corporate grind (8 years prior to 65) in a short two years from now.

Keep up the great work,

-Dwayne

Thanks so much Dwayne. That is all great to hear, and congrats on your plan!

Hi, Are you familiar with the RetirePlan app? If so, what do you think of it? I have tried a variety of retirement software programs, and that app seems to meet our somewhat more complex situation much better than others. I am 10 years younger than my husband; he has two pensions; I have no pensions but more savings, and I would like to retire early so we can enjoy some of retirement together. It seems many programs are not designed to handle all of these variables.

Hi Sue. I haven’t used RetirePlan yet (not an Apple person), but have heard good things about it. I’ve made a note to review it on my wife’s iPad soon. If it’s as good as everybody says, I’ll add it to my recommended list. Thanks. [Done -DK]

P.S. Most of the high-fidelity calculators should handle that set of variables no problem.

Just curious. If a similar set of data is input into all of the calculators, do you get similar results? I have used many of the programs listed already, and will start to look at the ones I missed.

With my rental property, I generally pass most tests, and will retire in 2016, but it never hurts to quadruple+ check your plan.

Unfortunately the dark side of this whole retirement planning business is that the results often vary significantly, depending on the calculator and the planner. That’s because modeling the future is complex, and requires a lot of assumptions. (My previous retirement calculator articles document this in detail for both an early retirement scenario and a more traditional scenario. Results can vary by 100% or more!) I agree with double/triple/quadruple checking, taking a conservative approach, and staying flexible with a dose of humility in retirement. Nobody can predict the future precisely.

Darrow,

Are there any calculators that can handle a pension that starts at age 56, but doesn’t get a cola until I turn 62? I usually approximate it by assuming it is two pensions, one from 56 to 61 without a cola, and one from 62 on with a cola. But for the second one, I have to calculate what I think the pension will be worth after 6 years of inflation.

Hi Mike, I don’t recall a calculator that can start the cola later on a given pension. Modeling this as two pensions sounds like the most practical approach. Discounting that 2nd pension by the assumed inflation rate over the 6 years should get you in the ballpark. Honestly, it’s hard to get more precise than that in retirement planning.

This is by far the best article covering the subject of Retirement Calculators.