Let A Pc Plan Your Retirement

Living comfortably in retirement is a big part of the American dream. But you can spend many a sleepless night pondering how much you need to save to make it come true. Instead, three new computer programs can do the job in seconds.

While many brokers and financial advisers provide plans after days or weeks of analyzing your investments, new Shearson Lehman Brothers' software lets the firm's reps produce a free analysis while you wait. Or, if you have a PC, you can make your own plan and update it any time. Novice computer users will prefer T. Rowe Price's $15 Retirement Planning Kit (800 541-3036). Calypso Software's $99 Retire ASAP provides a more detailed plan (800 225-8246).

The programs ask for your age, retirement year, expected pension, current investment data, and whether you're an aggressive, moderate, or conservative investor. They quickly compute such things as what you'll collect from Social Security and how inflation will affect your dollars. Then, they use actuarial data to determine how many years you'll have to live off your investments and what you should save by the time you quit work. For example, the T. Rowe Price analysis says a 45-year-old making $75,000 after taxes will need $745,350 to retire at 65.

WHAT IFS. Administered by a financial consultant at your elbow, Shearson's program can help you set goals--but you might also get a sales pitch for its investment products. The T. Rowe Price program includes a soft pitch, too: on-screen promotion for its mutual funds. But it lets you quickly estimate retirement costs with either a rule-of-thumb assumption that they'll run 60% to 80% of present expenditures or estimates of what you'll spend on clothing, travel, and such. Once you see how much you'll need to save, a keystroke compares a lump-sum withdrawal of tax-deferred savings to taking cash out periodically.

Calypso's weightier Retire ASAP program lets you produce up to 10 what-if scenarios--for instance, how you would fare if Social Security payments grew 3% annually or you quit your job and lost a pension. It also offers guidance. Where T. Rowe Price's program assumes a paid-off mortgage by retirement, Retire ASAP suggests that you consider a reverse annuity mortgage, wherein a bank pays you in advance for your home and lets you continue to occupy the house during your lifetime. The software even gives tips on housing choices, medical care, and leisureactivities.

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