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Review of:
Retirement Planner 98
 
by Greg Lundblade

There are a number of things that we as adults do that are important, and that we do not get to "practice" before we do them. Examples would be marriage, having and raising children, and coping with personal disasters. Retirement used to be on the list. The technology now exists for the average computer user to financially prepare for retirement by running estimates of annuities, savings accounts, and other financial instruments. These estimates enable the user to make projections and see if he is going to achieve his goal. Retirement Planner 98 from Torrid Technologies allows the user to make such estimates. 

 Test Systems: (A) 486DX4-100, 16MB RAM, Win 95. (B) Pentium 133, 32MB RAM, Win 95, Win 98. 

Installation

The program comes zipped on a 3.5 HD floppy. You must use an unzip program such as Pkunzip, Winzip, or others in order to install the program. Retirement Planner 98 takes up very little hard drive space. It runs, and not just crawls, on a 486DX4-100. It flies at lightening speed on a Pentium 133. The unzipping of the program was the most difficult part of the installation. It will not automatically install itself. You will need to know how to use an unzip program, Microsoft Explorer, or the "my computer" feature of Win95 or 98 to install the program. This entire stem should be simplified by the manufacturer before marketing it. The program itself is easy to use. The installation should also be 

 very easy, in order to make it user friendly to the novice user. 

Features

User inputs: current age, retirement age, salary/income, estimated annual raise, employees contribution, company contribution, effective annual return, current balance, inflation, cost of living adjustments, retirement income goal, and pension benefit. The Output: 401(k) cumulative balances, inflation adjusted retirement income goals, 401(k) income, Social Security Profile, pension income, totals from all participant accounts. 
 
 

Ease of use

This program appeals to the person who really likes to see graphs as well as data at the same time. A change of any aspect of data is immediately reflected in the graphs. The user can also view the data in a spread sheet type of format. It would make a valuable selling tool for a life insurance agents or financial planner who wanted to show a prospective client how their money could grow if annuitized or invested in a certain financial instrument. The program allows the user to view a tax deferred investment along with a conventional investment instrument that is taxable each year. This is the real value of the program. It is very easy to use! 

 This program does have two weaknesses that would hinder some calculations. If the user has several financial instruments that draw different interest rates, contributions, or initial investments, the program will now show these individual "instruments" in the total picture of his/her investments. You have to look at the total financial picture, or start another calculation with only the one instrument. You can show one tax deferred investment along with a taxable investment at the same time. A color monitor would be essential if you did want the graph to show this. 

I tried to open one copy of the program and then narrow its spread on the monitor. I then tried to open the program a second time and then narrow the spread to the other side of the monitor. (You can do this with some programs such as Netscape Communicator.) This allows the user to easily have two copies of the same program running at the same time, but performing different calculations. The program could not be sized down to allow two programs to run on the same screen. You can still run two copies of the program at the same time, but the screen gets a little crowded. This one feature would be very useful to the professional insurance salesperson or financial planner. It would look real sharp. This suggestion does not hinder the use of the program for the individual user. Another problem is that the program will only show projections up to and including age 90. I'm not so sure this is a major problem, except for a few people. 

Summary

Retirement Planner 98 is a user friendly program that will run on a 486 and is useful in calculating the condition of the user's existing or planned retirement funds. It is very useful for the individual or for the professional. I can see Retirement Planner 98 being used by insurance agents and other financial planners with ease, even on an older computer. Its chief strength is its graphs that are easy to set up. The user can then adjust his or her planned input to meet certain financial retirement goals. 

 The installation process is ok but could be easier to use. I have no suggested retail price or street price as of October 1998. A working version of the program is available for a test drive at http//:www.webcalcs.com/rp and www.torrid-tech.com. The idea is that you can try before you buy. The company literature that accompanied the program mentioned another version with a few more bells and whistles. I could not find the program on the Internet, nor was I able to get additional information on the product. 

I give Retirement Planner 98 three and one half of four jalapenos (or stars). Crunch those numbers and enjoy! 

Greg Lundblade is a high school social studies teacher, husband, father, German language translator, and former insurance agent. He considers financial management a "necessary hobby." He is a native of San Antonio and an Alamo PC member since 1991.