Two Retirement Planning Tool$ to Use NOW

BY Paul Solman  December 7, 2010 at 10:52 AM EST

Retirement tools. The questions they ask you to fill in seem designed to scare your pants off:

How much do you expect to earn on your assets?

When are you planning to retire?

When are you going to die?

Sadly, in most software programs, “How the hell should I know?” is not among the options.

Ballpark Estimate” doesn’t avoid the problems sketched above, but at least it doesn’t pretend to be more than it is: a back-of-the-envelope guess as to how your retirement is shaping up. It takes little time, if lots of imagination. And it has this to recommend over the competition: it is not a tool created by the personal finance industry, which has an obvious incentive to steer you into its most profitable products: mainly, stocks.

Instead, “Ballpark Estimate” is a tool created by the non-profit Employee Benefit Research Institute which, I am obliged to note, gave a financial kickstart to this page at its inception.

The ne plus ultra of online retirement software, according to the Washington Post, Business Week and others, is E$Planner, the brainchild of Boston University economist Larry Kotlikoff. Meticulously thought through and grounded in real economic theory, E$Planner is as exhaustive as it is exhausting. We link to the free “Basic” version here.

A word to the weary. Should you become discouraged when walking through the prompts, ask yourself this: what’s the alternative? A wild guess as to how much to save? Or perhaps the “Down-Under” approach, put into rhyme by the British comedy team Flanders and Swann decades ago:

The Ostrich lifted its head from the sand,

About an inch or so;

Will you please excuse, but disturbing news

I have no wish to know.

Please DO let us know how these tools would be more useful to you. Or if you’ve discovered one(s) you prefer.