By Dolores Kong
The Boston Globe

Online retirement planning isn't just about coming up
with some rough idea of how much you need or arriving
at some seemingly unreachable savings figure.

Now, you can get detailed estimates of your Social
Security benefits based on your age and earnings
history, specific advice for your 401(k) and other
retirement accounts, and courses of action to make
that apparently unattainable nest egg a reality.

In on the Internet retirement planning action are the
Social Security Administration; mutual fund companies
including Vanguard and Fidelity Investments; financial
Web sites such as and Microsoft's; and a bevy of new online services -
including one started by a Nobel laureate economist -
that want to sell you specific 401(k) advice.

Various national surveys have found Americans lagging
in saving and investing for retirement:

- Fewer than half of US households will have built a
big enough retirement nest egg, according to a study
last month by the Consumer Federation of America and
Direct, which sells 401(k) and other
financial advice.

- Only 16 percent of American workers have saved
$100,000 or more for retirement, and only half have
ever tried to figure out how much they'll need to
retire, according to a 1999 retirement confidence
survey by the American Savings Education Council,
Employee Benefit Research Institute, and Matthew
Greenwald and Associates. The 2000 survey will be
released Tuesday.

With such dismal findings, proponents of retirement
saving urge people to take advantage of the plentiful
online tools out there.

Even the very act of coming up with a rough idea of
how much you'll need in retirement, using something
such as ASEC's simple online "ballpark estimate"
worksheet, can make all the difference, said Dallas
Salisbury, chairman of ASEC and president of EBRI.
"It's the shock factor. At the point people do an
initial assessment, the number does hit you as to what
you need to save. It creates, if you will, an
incentive to act," said Salisbury, whose savings
education council is a coalition of US government
agencies, corporations, and nonprofits such as EBRI.

Surveys have found the median savings of Americans who
have done a retirement calculation to be $66,500,
compared with only $14,000 for those who haven't put
pencil to paper or used one of the online retirement
calculators out there, according to the savings

Here are some of the Web sites offering retirement
planning tools, from the most basic to the most

- Last month, President Clinton unveiled
the Social Security Administration's new online
retirement planner, which gives people three options
for estimating their benefits. The simplest is an
interactive "quick calculator," based on current age
and earnings. There's another online calculator based
on your earnings history. Finally, you can download
software to get the most detailed analysis. The last
two options, currently unavailable in a Macintosh
version, require you to enter past earnings.

If you don't have a copy of your Social Security
Statement with your earnings history, you can order
one online. The Web site also shows at what age you
can expect to get full benefits (it's increasing to 67
for people born in 1960 and later), and how much your
benefits would be reduced if you retired early, at 62.

- At this American Savings Education
Council site, you can fill in a "ballpark estimate"
worksheet, which lets you roughly figure out the
annual income you'll need in retirement; what you can
expect from Social Security, your employer's
traditional pension, and part-time income; and how
much you'll need to make up in savings. The site also
features an interactive quiz to figure out your
retirement personality - whether you're a planner,
saver, struggler, the impulsive type, or a denier. And
there's a quiz to assess your retirement readiness.

- Co-founded by William F.
Sharpe, recipient of the 1990 Nobel Prize in
economics, this Internet financial adviser provides
for free a personal retirement forecast based on your
specific 401(k) investments and contributions, but
charges individuals $54.95 to $189.95 a year for
buy-and-sell advice, depending on the level of service
selected and number of retirement accounts. The
company also sells its services to employers who want
to help workers maximize their 401(k) plan.

"We're very different from some other sites," said
Sharpe, a Stanford professor emeritus. "We take risk
into account. We don't ask you what you think your
return is going to be. We use very carefully
constructed estimates and we will predict the range of
outcomes you'll experience." One of the neatest
features of the free forecast: Watching the graphing
of the various retirement scenarios on a chart and a
bottom-line conclusion about the probability of your
plan succeeding, which gets depicted like a weather
forecast - sunny or gloomy. The drawback: The site
makes recommendations only on mutual funds in your
401(k), IRA, or other tax-deferred accounts, and not
for other assets.

- For $75 a year, this Hartford
online investment adviser makes recommendations not
only for saving for retirement, but also for your
children's college education, a new home, or a dream
vacation. That annual fee lets you run as many
different investment plans as you'd like. The drawback
is that there's no free trial of any of its features,
only a "learn more" section of static (not
interactive) screens. Thus, you get a snapshot of a
generic plan for someone named John - who is planning
for retirement, a down payment for a house, and
college expenses - but nothing individualized.

A trial is available to the media, however, and this
reviewer found that users of the service have to put
in a lot of information and make some economic
assumptions. But the 19- page plan that resulted
during the review included a lot of detailed
information, including specific action steps and
asset-allocation recommendations, although some of the
advice appeared to be cookie- cutter.

- and These two
companies have teamed up to provide what they call the
only free online 401(k) investment advice service,
giving you recommendations for allocating your assets
based on the mutual funds your company plan offers, if
the plan happens to be in TeamVest's database. Quicken
refers visitors to the TeamVest site for the new
401(k) service, but TeamVest's site won't be updated
until the summer. However, you can still input your
personal information, salary, risk tolerance,
retirement income needs, economic assumptions, and
other data and get an action plan and a report that
are supposed to be printable, but weren't at the time
of this review.

A highlight: If you type in your employer and it's in
the 401(k) database, the service will automatically
let you know what options you have in your company
plan. Otherwise, it'll give you generic asset
allocation recommendations.

TeamVest offers more detailed 401(k) advice for a fee:
A one-time, personalized report for $49.95, or a
full-service option for between $89.95 and $149.95 a