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Saving for Retirement: A New Way to Figure It Out

In the scant five weeks since we introduced the SmartMoney Retirement Planner, almost 30,000 people have used it to test-drive their retirement plans. Are they saving enough? Spending too little? In honor of today’s release of the tool for iPad and for Android, we compiled some of our favorite tips so you can get the most out of the Planner.

  • Spending Estimator: Unless you’re already retired, it’s hard to know how much you’ll really spend in retirement. The “Estimate This” button in our “Retirement Spending” tab can offer a guideline: It calculates spending based on your last salary before retirement. The spending is broken down according to the 2009 Bureau of Labor Statistics expenditure numbers for retirees. To go for broke, select “Exhaust Assets and Income.” After all, you can’t take it with you.
  • Other Future Expenses: Say you plan to travel for a year, or finally join your local country club. The Planner lets you account for one-time or recurring costs (outside of those fixed in “Retirement Spending”). To do so, enter negative numbers in the “Future Income” drop-downs labeled “Annuity” (for a recurring expense) or “One Time Gain” (for a one-shot deal).
  • Required Minimum Distributions (RMD): Once you hit 70 years old, the U.S. government requires you to withdraw a certain percentage of money from your retirement accounts, excluding Roth IRAs. The IRS has pages of information on RMDs, including a different set of rules depending on your marital status and how old your spouse is (if you have one). Our planner accounts for all of these rules. The only way to get around them is to move more money into a Roth IRA. You can also set your drawdown preferences on the lower left of the “Future Income” tab by clicking “View Drawdowns.”
  • Optimize Your Savings: If you have not yet retired and are still saving, but don’t know which accounts to use, the SmartMoney Retirement Planner can help. Set your annual savings and select the “Your Held Assets” tab. On the bottom left, click “Optimize Savings.” Then, when you add any investment or retirement account, click “Contributing to this account” and the planner will tax-optimize your savings.
  • Taxes: Anyone attuned to local and national politics knows that taxes are a great unknown, open to the whims of deficits and policy. The Planner defaults to a tax rate of 13.6%, the average tax rate in 2008 paid by the top 50% of tax payers, according to the Tax Foundation. (We don’t tax Roth IRA withdrawals, of course.) Have your own view on taxes? Change your tax rates and other assumptions in the “Advanced Settings” tab.

If you find your own secrets or have ideas for new features, feel free to send them on.


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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.