A foundational leg of this site has long been its retirement calculator reviews. Those started with my somewhat tongue-in-cheek article on Why Most Retirement Calculators Don’t Work in 2012. I went on to write my very first set of calculator reviews in The 3 Best Free Retirement Calculators the next year. This I followed eventually with The Best Retirement Calculators which, though somewhat dated now, is still the only comprehensive attempt to compare retirement calculators that I’m aware of on the web.
Drawing on everything I had learned from reviewing dozens of calculators, I also wrote The “Perfect” Retirement Calculator in 2013, which was my specification for the features, functions, and user interface that would constitute the best possible retirement calculator. At that time, such a calculator didn’t exist.
Now it does. One calculator developer stepped up to the plate, and implemented most of my wish list. I reviewed his efforts in The Pralana Retirement Calculator in 2014.
My Retirement Planning Trajectory
Despite my past focus on retirement calculators, and my general interest in the topic (I’m a software engineer by trade), the fact is that I’d gone several years without seriously exercising one. That was partly due to my “sabbatical” from the blog as Chris came onboard and took over more tasks. But there were other reasons too:
The older I get, the more cautious I am about attempts to predict the future decades hence. At this point, I’ve seen scores of failed financial predictions from even the most qualified “experts.” Retirement calculators are invaluable, but they can’t predict the future.
I’ve already established that Caroline and I have enough money, as long as our lifestyle doesn’t change substantially, and long-term market performance doesn’t deviate significantly from my relatively conservative projections. So why revisit those numbers constantly, when I could be doing other things I love?
Our net worth has held steady for a long while, which can only be a positive indicator as we get older and closer to Social Security and our “no-go” years. Further, I have never counted inheritances or Medicare into my financial planning, yet each get more certain with every passing year.
The best use of a retirement calculator is not to predict the future, but to encourage wise financial decisions and behavior now. With that in mind, immediate tactical maneuvers have seemed a more productive use of my time than chasing ever more accurate retirement predictions. We chose better rewards credit cards, refined how we track our expenses, and diversified our conservative investments.
A final reason I’d gone so long without running retirement calculators was a factor we all suffer from every day: information overwhelm. There are dozens of good calculators available, and regular additions to the field. For me, trying to evaluate multiple calculators, the input requirements were a burden. A lot of data is required to load your life into a high-fidelity retirement calculator. Without standardizing on just one calculator, my workload was multiplied. Eventually, I just decided the diminishing benefits weren’t worth the time.
But now that’s changed….
Pralana Gold 2020
The solution to my retirement calculator conundrum, and possibly yours, was simple: standardize on one of the best, if not the best, and then focus my efforts on it. That way, I’d be keeping all my financial planning data in just one location, I would only have to learn one set of functions, and I could be sure my answers would be as accurate as possible now, and going forward.
My solution, as long-time readers might have guessed, is Pralana Gold, historically one of my top-ranked retirement calculators, and just out in a new 2020 version featuring more updates and powerful new features like modeling the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the brand new SECURE Act.
But there’s more to my decision than that. Not only am I standardizing on Pralana as my personal retirement calculator, but Can I Retire Yet? and Pralana Consulting have launched a new partnership. Now, for the first time, we have an affiliate relationship for featuring Pralana on this blog.
We are advertising the Pralana calculator here. We will also be writing about applications for it from time to time — showing how to use the calculator to analyze specific retirement scenarios. We think that focusing on a single great calculator will be more valuable to our readers, than struggling to keep up with the expanding universe of all available retirement calculators.
If you are interested in Pralana Gold at this point, you can get it for a limited time at the old price (unchanged since 2014) of $99. But note that this price will be increasing to $129 on March 1.
Either way, it’s a great value. The price entitles you to one of the most powerful personal financial models ever created, an extensive user’s manual, technical support, and all 2020 updates. It’s a good deal. More accurate retirement planning using Pralana Gold could easily save you thousands over the years.
The many calculator reviews I wrote in the past here were as impartial as I could make them. But we no longer have the bandwidth to keep updating retirement calculator reviews regularly. So we are changing our focus from reviewing calculators to applying one of the best. We intend to focus on Pralana Gold going forward. (We know those older reviews have been helpful to many thousands of people, so we will leave them posted as a historical resource.)
Please understand the change in our relationship with Pralana Consulting: For many years, Pralana and Can I Retire Yet? were engaged in an informal technical collaboration aimed at raising standards for accuracy in retirement modeling. We had no business relationship. Can I Retire Yet? was an impartial voice in the retirement calculator market. However, we now have an affiliate relationship with Pralana Consulting. That means if you choose to buy a Pralana product through this web site, we will receive a portion of the sale as income.
Historically, there hasn’t been much money in our retirement blogging or calculator business. We’re talking a few thousand dollars of income in our best months. That’s a pittance given our expenses, the engineering and editorial talent involved, and the thousands of hours invested. This is a labor of love.
Yes, it’s a for-profit business too, but money is not our top priority. What we are most concerned with these days is the long-term viability of Pralana and Can I Retire Yet? as the principals get older. We want to align the businesses, pool resources, and ensure operating funds so that our younger partners can keep the ideas going far into the future.
As always, we’ll strive to be transparent and keep readers informed as relationships evolve here!
Pralana Gold Features
Pralana Gold provides a wealth of control over your retirement scenario, with numerous options for assets, accounts, income, inflation, investment returns, tax rates, Social Security, pensions, annuities, life insurance, property, children, healthcare, and other expenses.
The program has far too many features to list them all here. That’s what makes it one of the leading retirement calculators. If you want the full treatment, click over to the Pralana web site or read my old review.
But, just because Pralana Gold is so powerful, doesn’t mean it is hard to use. It offers a “Simplified Inputs” screen that lets you optionally input just a dozen or so variables to get started. You can then run an initial simulation, and later dive much deeper into the program for a more refined and sophisticated analysis. There is also an extensive User’s Manual, written by the developer, and free technical support, also from the developer. Both of those are rarities in today’s software world.
Pralana Gold features very flexible input for your assets. You can set the average rate of return, standard deviation, and investment expenses for each asset class. You can also associate a historical sequence of returns — the program’s or your own — with any asset class. And you can set an asset allocation for each type of account (regular, tax-deferred, and Roth) for multiple periods.
The program includes extensive capabilities for modeling real estate. You can set up scenarios for downsizing a home, and model changing ownership costs such as interest, taxes, insurance, and maintenance, for example.
The latest version models cash value life insurance in addition to term life insurance, reverse mortgages, and Health Savings Accounts. It also models RMD’s and QCD’s per the just-passed SECURE Act.
Pralana Gold allows for describing income streams in great detail. You can control pre-retirement, self-employment, pension, post-retirement, alimony, child support, windfalls (stock options, inheritance), and a fixed annuity — in most cases for both a retiree and spouse, separately.
It calculates your actual Social Security benefit based on your start age and also handles spousal and survivor benefits. And it potentially replaces dedicated Social Security calculators, by analyzing your optimal Social Security start age.
Pralana Gold offers extensive support for modeling miscellaneous discretionary expenses. These can be set for up to four phases of life: pre-retirement, early post-retirement, late post-retirement, as well as after the death of a retiree or spouse.
Much attention has gone into the modeling of healthcare expenses. You can set a separate inflation rate for healthcare. And you can model those expenses for up to five phases of financial life: working, retirement for one or both of you, on Medicare, and after one spouse has died.
The program models the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with the associated subsidies, and its Roth conversion modeling has the ability to avoid the ACA subsidy cliff when you purchase ACA health insurance. It also handles Medicare Part B premiums.
Pralana Gold is almost unique in the realm of retirement calculators in performing detailed federal income and FICA tax calculations, as well as estimating state and local taxes. No company can call their retirement calculator truly accurate, if it doesn’t include these detailed tax calculations using marginal rates.
Pralana Gold offers all three popular methods for simulating investment returns: fixed rate analysis which uses the same average annual rate of return for a period of years in retirement; Monte Carlo analysis which uses an average return plus standard deviation to create “artificial” randomness; and historical analysis which uses sequences of real-world returns from history.
The program also plots the output from these various simulations on a single output graph, so you can see and judge for yourself whether the differences are important in your case.
It includes a bevy of advanced analysis features including consumption smoothing, variable spending strategies, Roth Conversion planning, and Social Security optimization.
And the latest version contains two new optimization features: earliest safe retirement date, and supplemental retirement income requirement.
Pralana Gold output is notably rich in both graphical and tabular formats: summary panels provide a quick check of input data, easy-to-understand graphs illustrate simulation results, and detailed tables are available for precisely displaying all calculation results.
There are numerous views of all the variables for each year along with net worth, making it easy to see input data, calculations, and cash flow. You can also create fully custom views, to display just those columns of interest.
Some of the more useful output variables, rare to find in other calculators, include year-by-year tax rates — both effective and marginal, withdrawal rates, and asset allocations across all accounts. These numbers are invaluable for detailed financial planning.
In summary, Pralana Gold offers flexible financial events, variable portfolio mix, taxable/tax-deferred/tax-free accounts, detailed tax calculations, scenario analysis, average/historical/Monte Carlo simulations, and detailed, verifiable output. It also includes features to optimize specific financial scenarios in your future, such as Social Security claiming and IRA conversions.
Pralana Gold is much more than just a “retirement calculator.” It is a generalized financial model that can improve decision-making at all stages of life: early career, young family, empty-nesters, near retirees, retirees, and their survivors.
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[The founder of CanIRetireYet.com, Darrow Kirkpatrick relied on a modest lifestyle, high savings rate, and simple passive index investing to retire at age 50 from a career as a civil and software engineer. He has been quoted or published in The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch, Kiplinger, The Huffington Post, Consumer Reports, and Money Magazine among others. His books include Retiring Sooner: How to Accelerate Your Financial Independence and Can I Retire Yet? How to Make the Biggest Financial Decision of the Rest of Your Life.]
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Note: For many years, Pralana Consulting and Can I Retire Yet? were engaged in an informal technical collaboration aimed at raising standards for accuracy in retirement modeling, with no business relationship. However, as of January 2020 we have an affiliate relationship. That means, if you purchase a Pralana product here, a portion of the sale goes to support this site.
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Disclosure: Can I Retire Yet? has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Can I Retire Yet? and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Other links on this site, like the Amazon, NewRetirement, and Pralana links are also affiliate links. As an affiliate we earn from qualifying purchases. If you click on one of these links and buy from the affiliated company, then we receive some compensation. The income helps to keep this blog going. Affiliate links do not increase your cost, and we only use them for products or services that we're familiar with and that we feel may deliver value to you. By contrast, we have limited control over most of the display ads on this site. Though we do attempt to block objectionable content. Buyer beware.