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ESPlanner Basic Retirement Calculator Review

Best Free Retirement Calculator We Could Find

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ESPlanner is the best free retirement calculator we could find. Why? It does things none of the other free retirement calculators do.
ESPlanner Basic

ESPlanner Basic

Larry Kotlikoff

Review of: ESPlanner Basic

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.

This is the best free retirement calculator I have reviewed because it allowed for more detailed input and because it accurately accounts for taxes, something none of the other free retirement calculators do.

Keep in mind this is the ESPlanner Basic version. There is advanced planning available for purchase that will help you make better decisions about retirement, education funding, career, housing, account funding and withdrawal decisions, social security, pensions, tax planning, estate and lifestyle (standard of living).

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/more than 10 questions and for those who don’t prefer to spend a half hour reading to figure out what the software is and how to use it.

Best Feature: Detail and flexibility of how you enter your information and what type of planning mode you would like to run. For this trial I used the Conventional planning mode (free). There were 3 other planning modes, each having a specific target audience:

  • Economics (free)
  • Upside Investing (for purchase)
  • Monte Carlo (for purchase)

My personal opinion/first reaction: A lot of reading & it is difficult to figure out initially which planning mode I wanted to use. I like the detail and specific calculations it runs, so the extra work on the entry side was worth it.

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. As well as add in certain special circumstances, like if you want to pay for college for somebody.
  • Calculates amount of life insurance you should have.
  • If a word is underlined you may click on it to get a definition or more guidance as to how to input certain details to your plan.
  • 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.
  • 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) and a bit detailed since you have no control over it.
  • 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.

Visually appealing (Y/N): Not really

Ease of Use (Very Easy to Very Difficult): Somewhat easy

What it does not do: It does not provide custom advice about when to take pensions, Social Security and how much to withdraw from which types of accounts. Coordinating these decisions can make a big difference in your retirement spending. At the end of the Basic Free mode you have the option to upgrade to a version that may more easily allow you to adjust these things, so decisions that could increase your retirement income can more readily be identified.

Review conducted By Kim Morton, CFP® on 5/3/2012

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