Why NewRetirement is my favorite retirement planning tool
Over the past week, I've shared two terrific retirement planning tools. First, I explored the pros and cons of Personal Capital. Next, I looked at OnTrajectory, which is the best traditional retirement calculator I've found.
Today, I want to talk about NewRetirement. Since I discovered it two years ago, NewRetirement has become my favorite tool for retirement planning.
I like NewRetirement because it offers amazing levels of customization. Plus, it explains its assumptions and offers ample information about every subject it tackles. And it does all of this without ever becoming overwhelming. It's comprehensive and customizable, yet clear. Most importantly, NewRetirement is more than just a retirement calculator. When I say it's a retirement planning tool, I mean that.
NewRetirement offers three levels of service.
- Planner, the basic level of service — and the bulk of what I'll review in this article — is free. You do need to provide an email address, but once you do, you're able to create a personalized retirement plan. (I'll show you what that's like in a moment.)
- If you like the basic level of service and want more, you can upgrade to PlannerPlus for $6/month. This gives you access to advanced retirement planning tools, more detailed reports, and the ability to print your plan. (NewRetirement is offering GRS readers a 30-day free trial of PlannerPlus, by the way.)
- At the highest level, you can pay NewRetirement for personalized advice from a Certified Financial Planner. Unlike Personal Capital, NewRetirement won't pester you over and over to use their advisors. But the service is available for those who need it.
As I mentioned, I've been using NewRetirement for a couple of years. In order to give an honest and complete review today, I created a second NewRetirement account and walked through the process of setting everything up from scratch. Do I still like the tool as much as I did in April 2017? Let's find out.
Disclosure: Before I begin this review, I need to make one thing clear: I am an investor in NewRetirement. When I first found the service two years ago, I liked it so much that I started an email conversation with founder Stephen Chen. That grew into a friendship. Since then, I've invested $50,000 of my own money into the company. (Also, I was the first-ever guest on the NewRetirement podcast!) Having said that, I've done my best to provide an honest review here.
Getting Started with NewRetirement
After you register for an account, NewRetirement starts by asking you a series of basic questions. (You can opt to by-pass these questions if all you want is a simple retirement calculator.) Here's how I answered using my current financial state.
When you've finished entering your basic info, you're presented with the NewRetirement dashboard. It's here that you first get a hint that this retirement tool is more robust than any of the others. Front and center is a progress bar…and because you're new, that progress bar is nearly empty.
Even if you didn't flesh out your initial data, NewRetirement would give you some useful info. (Meaning that if you read this article and want to look at what the tool does, you can click over and get a quick overview of your financial future in just a couple of minutes.)
The fun really starts, however, when you dig deeper into NewRetirement.
Digging Deeper into NewRetirement
As the dashboard implies, NewRetirement features 33 different retirement planning sections divided into ten broad categories.
In each section, you can enter data and/or change assumptions. If all of this were dumped on the user at once, it'd be overwhelming. Fortunately, it's a step-by-step process that never gets out of control.
The ten main categories that NewRetirement tackles are:
- Basic profile and goals, including your age, life expectancy, desired legacy, and plans for retirement. (The latter is a written statement. I love it! Most retirement tools are all about the numbers. NewRetirement digs deeper.)
- Social Security, where you can enter your estimated retirement benefits and start date. If you don't know what to expect from Social Security, NewRetirement links to the official government website and a Social Security calculator.
- Work and other income. In this section, you can specify how much you earn from your job, but also input money from dividends, interest, rental properties, and other sources.
- Annuities and pensions. If you have access to an annuity or pension, you can enter your info in this section. I won't have either of these, so I skip this section.
- Savings and assets. This is a large section in which you list your tax-advantaged retirement accounts, regular investment accounts, bank accounts, large assets, and ongoing retirement contributions. Under “other assets”, I included the various businesses I own pieces of (including NewRetirement itself!). I did not, however, value this website.
- Expenses and inflation. Here you can choose both an optimistic inflation rate and a pessimistic inflation rate. You can also enter any known large one-time expenses in your future, such as buying a home, sending the kids to college, or charitable giving. You can tell NewRetirement which account the expense will come from, the age it will occur, and the reason for the expense. Pretty cool. Lastly, if you think your core spending will change over time, you can specify that here. Right now, for instance, I think I'm spending $5000 per month. If I think that spending will drop to $3500 per month when I turn 55, I could model that in this section.
- Housing, where you enter the current value of your home, the balance on your mortgage, and project future home appreciation. Another cool feature: You can model future changes to housing or mortgages. If I think that Kim and I will sell our current home and downsize in a decade, for instance, NewRetirement will let me do that. (Minor quibble: When I'm projecting my future, I assume that we'll sell this house in ten years and then rent a place. NewRetirement won't let me explicitly model that. My workaround is to model buying a new home for $1, then bumping my monthly expenses by $1500 to compensate for rent.)
- Medical and long-term care. As you probably know, medical costs are one of the fastest-rising yet most oft-overlooked chunks of the average American budget. NewRetirement includes an entire section for modeling current and future health-care costs.
- Debts. NewRetirement allows you to list all of your current debt (plus links to advice on how to manage your debt, if it's problematic).
- Estate planning. This section doesn't have a lot of resources but offers a bit of information. Plus, it lets you track whether you've completed important estate-planning documents.
Nearly every step of the way, NewRetirement offers you the ability to learn more about relevant topics. For instance, when you enter your expected longevity, NewRetirement links you to a life-expectancy calculator and suggests five related articles.
As you tick boxes indicating that you'd like to learn more about a particular topic, relevant articles are added to the “info and opportunities” tab in the main menu. This is an excellent, useful feature, something I've never seen in another retirement tool.
Forecasting Your Future with NewRetirement
Yesterday, it took me about an hour to work through all 33 retirement planning sections in the NewRetirement tool. I've been entering the same info into retirement planning tools for two weeks now, so I know where to find it. If this is your first time, it might take you a bit longer.
When I'd finished, the progress bar in the dashboard was no longer empty. It looked like this:
The NewRetirement dashboard contains an Analysis section that's available from the start. After you've entered your basic data during registration, you can use this section to look at a forecast for your financial future. But the analysis becomes more useful after you've entered more complete information.
By default, the dashboard displays your Savings Over Time graph (which is very similar to the graph that OnTrajectory keeps front and center at all times).
There's a “key metrics” view where you can see the core basic parameters and some of the ramifications.
Or, if you want more info, you can access a handful of other charts.
I'm a fan of the Savings Timeline chart because it gives me a quick look at my current financial trajectory.
And as much as I preach that you should not compare yourself to others, I like the “compare yourself to others” tool haha. (From my past articles about NewRetirement, I know that other GRS readers like this comparison tool too.)
Just for kicks, here's the same comparison view from when I first reviewed NewRetirement in 2017:
As you can see, there's plenty available with the free version of NewRetirement. In fact, it's this free tool that made me rave about the company two years ago. I still love it.
I do think OnTrajectory is a strong competitor for NewRetirement. That's a good thing. For many people, OnTrajectory may be a better choice. But the features I've reviewed so far in this article are free at NewRetirement. OnTrajectory costs money after the first two weeks of use.
In the future, I intend to promote both OnTrajectory and NewRetirement. They're both excellent. (If you haven't read it yet, here's my OnTrajectory review.)
PlannerPlus at NewRetirement
As you can see, the free version of NewRetirement packs quite a punch. Without paying a penny, you can do more with it than with 95% of the other retirement planning tools on the web. But what if you want more?
For $6/month, you can upgrade from the entry-level NewRetirement service to what the company calls PlannerPlus. Doing so unlocks another menu of options.
Behind the scenes, NewRetirement takes the data you've entered, crunches it based on the tool's assumptions — investment returns, inflation, health-care spending, etc. — then creates a series of data tables projecting your future financial health. In order to make these raw numbers more accessible, PlannerPlus provides its “Plan Inspector”, which lets you browse dynamic charts to explore your retirement plan.
Here, for instance, I'm looking at how even with optimistic assumptions, my savings will only last until I'm age 75.
With the free version of NewRetirement, you can enter as many expenses as you want, but nothing about the process is guided. It's all sort of free-form. For many folks, that's fine. Others want more help, though. For these people, PlannerPlus includes an advanced budgeting tool.
The budgeting tool in PlannerPlus allows users to model expenses at a far more detailed level. For instance, I could use my existing data from Quicken to enter actual expenses for almost everything.
Most retirement calculators ask for just a couple of Big Picture numbers. The good ones let you explore some level of detail. Like OnTrajectory, NewRetirement allows you to get as detailed as you want so that you can explore a variety of what-if scenarios.
With the PlannerPlus upgrade, you can also customize the software's alerts. Do you want NewRetirement to pester you when you use faulty assumptions? When your data is incomplete? When you could take steps to improve your future financial health? If so, do nothing. But if the alerts bug you, you can choose which ones to dismiss.
PlannerPlus also allows you to print your plan and/or export it to a spreadsheet.
The Bottom Line
NewRetirement isn't perfect and I don't want to pretend that it is. As I worked through the tool yesterday, I encountered a couple of minor bugs. Sometimes I couldn't figure out how to model my plans for the future. (How do I convey that I think we might sell the house in ten years, then find a place to rent?) For as much reporting as NewRetirement currently offers, it could always offer more. (We money nerds love to have lots of reports and graphs.)
That said, the company is very responsive to bug reports. They update the software regularly, so when users report issues, changes can usually be made within a few days.
Plus, NewRetirement is a work in progress. The company is constantly working to improve things, to give more value to their customers — even the folks who use the free level of service. Every month, founder Stephen Chen sends me a list of coming upgrades and his plans for the company's future. Much has changed in the two years since I first discovered the tool. Much will change in the years to come.
Ultimately, NewRetirement isn't a retirement calculator; it's a retirement planning tool. To me, that's like the difference between a pocket calculator and a spreadsheet. Each has its uses, no doubt. Sometimes, you want the pocket calculator. But sometimes, you want the more powerful option.
If all you're after is a quick overview of your financial future, you can use the basic retirement calculator at NewRetirement — or one of the dozens of other retirement calculators on the web. (Use OnTrajectory if you want a robust retirement calculator.)
But if you want to actually formulate a retirement plan, if you want a retirement planning tool that will actually guide you through the process, NewRetirement is an outstanding choice.
NewRetirement is offering Get Rich Slowly readers a free 30-day trial of PlannerPlus. You do have to enter your credit card info to start the trial, but if you decide that the service isn't right for you, you can cancel without hassle. NewRetirement isn't a scammy company. They want you to be happy.