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OKAY. YOU'RE 45 AND WONDER HOW YOUR RETIREMENT FINANCES WILL PLAY OUT

There's no shortage of online retirement calculators promising to tell you how much you need to save for retirement. But because these Internet tools use different assumptions, users get divergent advice, even though they're using the same numbers. To assess how they compare, we plugged a sample set of numbers into three different calculators. For our test, we used a single, 45-year-old man who earns $50,000 a year, a bit higher than the U.S. average. His only debt is a mortgage, and he's got $90,000 invested in a 401(k) account and $10,000 in taxable accounts. He's putting $5,000, or 10 percent of his income, into his 401(k) annually. He wants to retire at 65 and live on 100 percent of his preretirement income - that is, $50,000 a year. He expects to live until 100. (That may sound unlikely, but it's safer to overestimate, given that half of us will outlive the average life expectancy.) His likely monthly Social Security benefit is $1,408, based on his current income and expected retirement date. Some sites allow you to enter your assumed rate of return and expected inflation - we put 6 percent return and 3 percent inflation - but other sites make their own assumptions. Here are the results:

Ballpark Estimate

WEB SITE: www.choosetosave.org/ballpark

RESULTS: To retire in 20 years, with 100 percent of preretirement income, he would need to save 55.68 percent of his compensation of $50,000 a year. That's a far cry from the 10 percent he's now saving. Changing assumptions, such as retirement age, narrows the difference.

TIME IT TAKES: About 10 minutes.

COMMENT: This calculator is easy to use, and it allows you to include other income, such as part-time work. The downside: The results are somewhat confusing, and you have to re-enter every number if you go back to recalculate your results.

AARP

WEB SITE: www.aarp.org/money/financial_planning/sessionseven/retirement_planning_calculator.html

RESULTS: This site said he would need to save $728,987 to retire in 2027 and get $50,000 a year in income. That would require saving $1,677 a month, well above the $416 a month he is currently saving.

TIME IT TAKES: About 10 minutes.

COMMENT: While this calculator isn't quite as slick as some others, it offers some of the easiest-to-understand results, including a graph, followed by a "What if I change ..." option to easily enter different variables.

Fidelity's MyPlan

WEB SITE: www.fidelity.com

RESULTS: To replace just 85 percent of preretirement income, this site said he would need $1.15-million saved at retirement. But postponing retirement to age 70 and saving an extra couple of hundred dollars a month would get him much closer to this goal.

TIME IT TAKES: About 5 minutes, or 30 minutes for Fidelity's Retirement Quick Check, a more robust version.

COMMENT: This tool is easy to use. Plus you get a range of results, making it clear how important market performance is. However, the tool assumes you want just 85 percent of preretirement income. Also, many Quick Check results seem intended to steer visitors to Fidelity products.

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