Low-Cost Financial Planning Tools

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Almost 80 percent of Americans over the age of 55 don’t think they will be able to fully retire without having to work at least part-time to make ends meet, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households. Nearly half of Americans have no financial plan for retirement, with almost one-third having no retirement savings or pension, according to the 2013 survey.

People who manage their investments using a basic spreadsheet are ahead of most of their peers when it comes to taking an active role in protecting their assets and securing a safe retirement. However, as a personal investment portfolio grows, consumers will learn that a simple spreadsheet won’t help effectively track important information such as level of risk, performance, commissions and fees.

Managing personal assets with a simple spreadsheet program, such as Microsoft Excel, is a good start to taking charge of personal finances, but there are other easy-to-use, free or low-cost software programs and websites available to help when an individual is ready for more data to guide financial planning.

Free Retirement Calculators

Free retirement calculators, such as the one offered by AARP, allow users to identify their retirement needs based on personal criteria the user enters. Depending on the retirement calculator used, the personal data the consumer enters includes age, sex, marital status, current annual contributions, expected social security payments and desired retirement income.

Personal Finance Software

Another helpful tool to help manage personal finance is a personal finance program such as Quicken that ties your savings to your spending, updating your balance as you pay bills and make deposits. Quicken works like a checkbook register and can help users or their tax preparers create income tax returns at the end of each year. Once you’re comfortable with the Starter program ($40 as of December, 2014), you can upgrade to the Deluxe program ($75), which has a retirement planning feature.

Online Money-Management Tools

The more investments and retirement products someone has, the better they can manage them using a tool that links all the data. FutureAdvisor.com, for example, is a free money management website that lets users coordinate all of their financial accounts. The website also lets users track the performance of their investment and retirement accounts and shows the fees they are paying. FutureAdvisor lets each user create a personal investing profile based on his or her age and retirement goals. The site sends alerts, based on the user’s market performance, which helps the individual decide if he or she needs to consider re-examining his or her investments.

FutureAdvisor.com doesn’t charge fees or commissions and is free to use for personal wealth management. The site makes money when users reach a point where they want more personalized advice from a live financial advisor. Users can pay $49 or $195 for Gold and Platinum plans that provide different levels of access to live advisors via face-to-face video chats.

For those who can’t afford a professional financial advisor, taking advantage of free and low-cost wealth-management products and tools can be the difference between a secure retirement and an unpleasant surprise that’s discovered when it’s too late to correct.

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