Question: Can you send me some web sites (other than Social Security) that have calculators to help figure out when is the best time to retire in your own individual situation? I will reach full retirement in April of 2011 but would like to run some scenarios if I retire 8-12 months early. I would also like to keep working during that time. Thanks! Carol, Little Falls, MN
Answer: I really like the financial planning calculators at analyzenow.com. The website is the creation of Henry "Bud" Hebeler, formerly president of Boeing's aerospace unit and now a passionate proselytizer for sensible financial planning. He offers users the option of simple planners that are free to more complicated ones that are available for a modest charge. His Social Security calculators are terrific, by the way. (You could also check out his book, Getting Started in a Financially Secure Retirement.)
Another financial planning calculator I like is at esplanner.com. Boston University economics professor Laurence Kotlikoff is head of the online company. He has a basic plan for free that takes into account many aspects of finances, including federal and state taxes and Social Security. The centerpiece program the firm charges for is dense, time consuming and it requires lots of data. But the plan spews out a lot of interesting analysis and suggestions. (He lays out his personal finance ideas in a recent book written with columnist Scott Burns, Spend 'Til the End - The Revolutionary Guide to Raising Your Living Standard, Today and When You Retire.)
How about consulting with a financial planner? As readers of this blog know, I usually argue against working with a financial planner. DIY is the best approach for most people. But the expertise of a financial planner can be invaluable at major transition points, such as retirement.
If you're intrigued by the idea, I would recommend finding a fee-only certified financial planner (CFP). The advantage of a CFP is that they can look at your whole financial situation and not just slices of it. (For instance, many so-called financial planners are only knowledgeable about portfolios; they can't help you with your home, insurance needs, and so on.)
The main website for delving into fee-only financial planners is the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. A well-known financial planning group that targets middle income households is the Garrett Planning Network.