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L ike many couples their age, Doug and Mary W. of suburban Philadelphia haven't spent a lot of time thinking about retirement. Sure, Doug contributes to his 401(k), and savings are an important part of their household budget. But with the demands of career and family, there isn't much time left at the end of the day for this 30-something couple to think about their plans for the weekend, let alone ponder their Golden Years.
       But that all changed recently when they did some virtual retirement planning, using a calculator they found at Money magazine's Web site. The results surprised them.

       "The bottom line was that we'll run out of money at age 77 in the year 2041, leaving zero to our heirs," Mary says. "So it looks like we've got a whole lot more saving to do, or our daughter will be left hanging."
       Doug and Mary are just two of an estimated 77 million baby boomers who will start retiring in 2011. Although the Web is no substitute for a one-on-one session with a financial planner or investment professional, experts agree it is a powerful tool for your family's retirement planning.

       Here are five great retirement planning destinations to visit on your road to a financially secure future:

A favorite of the pros
The behemoth of retirement planning Web sites, The Vanguard Group's Retirement Resource Center is designed to help investors plan and manage a financially sound retirement. This site gets high marks for presenting information in a way consumers can easily understand, and that's a challenge when you're talking about vehicles with strange-sounding names like SEP IRAs [simplified employee pension plan individual retirement accounts], 401(k)s, and annuities.
       Spend some time at this site. It has one of the best retirement calculators around, but if you plan on using it, don't come empty-handed. You'll need last year's tax return, an estimate of your monthly expenses, retirement plan balances--i.e., pension, 401(k)--and the value of taxable investments like savings accounts and life insurance benefits.
This site gets high marks for presenting information in a way consumers can easily understand.
      Todd Bramson, a certified financial planner with Marathon Advisors, Inc. in Madison, Wis., says the The Vanguard Group calculator is similar to the ones he uses for his clients.
       "If you're willing to take the time to go through The Vanguard Group site, you'll gain a lot of insight into your future financial security," Bramson says.
       Even though The Vanguard Group has a product to sell, the site is amazingly free from the hype found at many commercial sites. Consumers need to be vigilant in using the Web for financial planning, because many sites are product-motivated.

Retire with $1 million
Okay, visually, the Money magazine site is a little busy. But where else can you learn how to get a million dollar nest egg? There's something for almost everyone--profiles of a young single, a married couple with children, a divorcing dad, and business owners. Overall, this site provides a solid package of information about investing and personal finance.
       Money's calculator is not as comprehensive as The Vanguard Group's, but it's a good place for novice planners to start. Meet John and Jane Doe, ages 40 and 41, who earn $80,000 a year and have $55,000 in tax-deferred savings. Click on calculate, and we learn that despite the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Doe add a credible $5,000 a year to their SEP IRAs, they will run out of money at the age of 79 in the year 2036.

       A must-read at this site is "Make the Most of Your 401(k)." The basic message: Shovel as much money into your 401(k) as you can because it's an unbeatable investment. Every dollar you invest [to a limit of $9,500 in 1997] reduces your taxable income, and most employers kick in as much as 50 cents to every dollar you contribute.
       Laura Varvel, a certified financial planner from Bryan, Texas, who hosted Money magazine's premier on-line Retirement Planning Conference, says the Web is a great tool for retirement planning. But consumers still need to sit down with a professional to make sure they're on solid ground. "It's not the things on the Web that will hurt you, it's the things you don't know about," she says.
       Ask staff at Pacific Community Credit Union, for example, about IRA options. Some credit union members can take advantage of CUNA Mutual Group's Plan America program, which offers a personal financial management program with no-cost consultation (visit www.cunamutual.com).
       Be wary of so-called "rules of thumb," Varvel says, for example, that you'll need 70% to 80% of your current income in retirement. How much you need depends on your lifestyle and where you live. "The more time you have for leisure activities, the more things you'll want to do," Varvel says. "And those things cost money."

A numbers game
There's a lot of number crunching going on at the Kiplinger site and most consumers will be amazed at the results. Mary and Doug learn that by skipping dinner in a restaurant once a month (estimated tab $50), they can save an additional $30,997 for their retirement.
       Kiplinger's calculators are easy to use and provide consumers with useful information about rates of return, expenses, even saving for a car.
       Although the retirement calculators found at this site and others are great tools, experts caution against placing too much reliance on their results.
       David Yeske, a certified financial planner in San Francisco, says random variables such as projected inflation rates, tax rates, rates of return, and life expectancy may produce varying results. For example, The Vanguard Group calculator uses a projected annual inflation rate of 5.4%, whereas the Money site uses 4%. "A very small change in any of these factors can have a huge impact on the final result," Yeske says.
       Features of the Kiplinger site include highlights from a recent issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. In addition to providing information on stock quotes, mutual funds, and kids and money, the site links users to "Web sites that will knock your socks off" dealing with investing, family matters, consumer watchdogs, government, and travel.
Mary and Doug learn that by skipping dinner in a restaurant once a month (estimated tab $50), they can save an additional $30,997 for their retirement.

A good place to start
There are no bells, whistles, or calculators, but America On-Line's Personal Finance Center (AOL's Personal Finance Channel, Retirement Planning) is a gold mine of information about all aspects of retirement planning.
       Check out the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) for a primer on pension funds, retirement planning goals, Social Security, and investing. AARP also targets retirement destinations. After all that number crunching, take a moment to dream about that gorgeous oceanfront condo in St. Petersburg, Fla., or a rustic cabin in Vermont. Here, you'll also find retirement destinations ranked by climate, housing, services, working, leisure activities, and personal safety. The top climate: Carmel, Calif.
       AOL also lists dates for upcoming on-line events and conferences.

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