This has not been the best of years for retirement planning software. First, in spite of an upward-trending market, retirement plans and portfolios have been badly battered. Second and worse, the whole class of software has come under attack for perceived inadequacies.

The Society of Actuarials and Actuarial Foundation, in a review of 12 retirement planning packages, found that nearly all fell short of the mark in doing what they were supposed to. The review covered consumer and professional packages, and noted that:

*They are based on unrealistic rates of return.

*They often fail to account for fees, taxation and inflation.

*They underestimate life expectancy.

*They don't factor in Social Security.

*Home equity treatment varies widely.

*Some life events are just difficult to account for.

The study concluded that, "The results from any program should not be used as the sole input for decision-making for retirees or prospective retirees."

If this seems a harsh indictment of an entire class of software, it merely shows that there is good reason to buy the upgrade next time. More important, it reiterates what most accountants and clients have known from the outset: Software is just a set of tools, and the value to the client lies not in the tools but in the hands of the professional planner.

If this seems a harsh indictment of an entire class of software, it merely shows that there is good reason to buy the upgrade next time. More important, it reiterates what most accountants and clients have known from the outset: Software is just a set of tools, and the value to the client lies not in the tools but in the hands of the professional planner.

Retirement Plan Analyzer, Distributions Planner, and Income Navigator

Brentmark Software Inc.

Orlando, Fla.

(800) 879-6665

Brentmark's Retirement Plan Analyzer is the most popular of its three retirement planning products, along with the Retirement Income Navigator and the Retirement Distributions Planner. The RPA is used to evaluate various strategies of taking distributions from traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, Roth 401(k)s and other qualified retirement plans.

A 2009 version of the Retirement Plan Analyzer was released last November, which added a new Case Analyzer function; a new Quick Calculators tab, which allows a side-by-side comparison of conversion of the retirement plan to a Roth IRA; and a new Quick Start menu for faster access to client set-up and functions. The current version, 2009.02, was released in February 2010. It calculates up to four alternatives simultaneously for varying types of distributions, including minimum distributions, pre-59-1/2 distributions, Roth IRA conversions (including the two-year spread-out for such conversions in 2010), spousal rollovers, income taxes, estate taxes, IRD calculations, life insurance and done exclusion gifting.

The Retirement Income Navigator, which was updated in November 2008, uses an asset allocation approach for optimizing retirement income during the income drawdown period of retirement. Its chief benefit is that its allocation approach does a better job of handling market variability.

The Retirement Distributions Planner offers substantive treatment of required minimum distributions and pre-59-1/2 distributions. It handles up to five beneficiaries either after the death of the plan owner or after the death of a spouse after a spousal rollover. Reports show annual distributions and the life expectancy for each beneficiary, as well as total distributions to each beneficiary and yearly distributions to all beneficiaries.

Brentmark's Retirement Plan Analyzer is a fast and flexible tool for scenario comparisons, with multiple scenarios that include tax calculations, separate growth rates for each type of fund, multiple beneficiaries and annual re-calculations. It also handles state-specific estate and inheritance taxes, making it an invaluable tool for comprehensive retirement analysis.

BNA Wealth Manager

BNA Software

Arlington, Va.

(800) 424-2938 opt. 3

BNA Wealth Manager is designed especially for accountants to provide needs-based financial and retirement planning based on the cost basis reporting and planning system created by Scivantage.

The result is a product designed for faster case preparation, faster case analysis and a shorter sales cycle. BNA Wealth Manager, introduced in June 2009, addresses retirement planning, life insurance needs, cash flow analysis, education funding, distributions planning (qualified plans, IRAs, RMDs, lump sum and pre-59-1/2), estate planning, and gift and trust planning. Aimed at the mid-to-upper end of the market, from mass-affluent to ultra-high-net-worth clients, it allows practitioners to choose between goal- or cash-flow-based analysis.

It offers an "instant client" feature for faster case set-up, and a modular approach to planning that gives the accountant better control over the amount of data to perform an analysis. It is also highly scalable, using the capabilities that Scivantage initially developed for its own Methuselah wealth management product.

The program delivers a clean and easily navigated interface, with top and side menus covering major areas of analysis, scenario comparisons and creation of client proposals. Sub-menus handle input of client details and objectives, including education, beneficiaries and income. Other menus delineate assumptions, retirement planning, distribution planning, estate and gift planning, as well as analyses for capital needs, disability needs and long-term care.

Though relatively new to the marketplace, BNA has done solid research into the needs of accounting firms for a comprehensive planning tool, and the result is a very solid high-end tool with minimal set-up and training requirements, so that an accountant can be up and planning within 15 minutes.

J&L Retirement Planner

J&L Software

Taneytown, Md.

The J&L Retirement Planner is a specialized version of the company's financial planner, expanded to include reverse mortgages, asset allocation withdrawals, minimum distributions and scenario event groups.

The output is displayed in a text format that shows the yearly effects on up to 50 accounts, including investment, tax-free, retirement, asset and equity accounts. The program can create a scenario based on mortgage, loan, credit-card debt, withdrawal, deposit, and transfer events. And it incorporates minimum required distributions and Revenue Code Section 529 (college investment savings) into the scenarios. The program incorporates up to five separate budgets and the ability to track individual budget items. Each event has an option to be adjusted yearly for inflation or a separate yearly adjustment rate. There are many screen and printed reports.

Though this is the retirement-specific version, most accountants prefer the capabilities of the Professional Version, which offers more advanced planning and portfolio management capabilities, including the ability to handle unlimited budgets, real estate investments, Monte Carlo simulations, historical return analysis and asset allocation. It also allows the planner to define groups of accounts and maintain a constant asset allocation within each group. This feature allows the user to rebalance each group yearly or periodically. There is also a feature that allows the user to rebalance a group when funds are transferred into an account within that group.

J&L's Planners offer the ability to track the IRS basis and implementation of college savings and early distribution programs established by Rule 72t, and handling of requirements for the IRS required minimum distributions at ages 59-1/2 and 70-1/2.

The J&L Retirement Planner is designed to be a low-cost package available from a variety of software download sites. Most accountants will benefit, though, from the Professional Version of the J&L Financial Planner for its expanded capabilities.

Money Minders Financial Planning Spreadsheets

Money Minders Software

Ottawa, Ont.

(800) 694-9996

Money Minders is a spreadsheet-based financial planning system that operates on the Microsoft Excel platform and offers a variety of 158 templates for retirement planning.

Those templates include a comparison of deferred pension to private, deferred tax liability from tax-sheltered investments, defined-benefit pension plan calculations, effect of recommendations on tax payable, funding requirements for retirement, individual retirement account projections, an IRA accumulation/retirement projector, Keogh retirement account projections, money purchase pension plan, pension salary calculations, prepaid pension maximization, projected growth of a tax-sheltered vs. open investment, a retirement calculator, and tax-sheltered annual income illustration.

They also deal with many other concepts, including pension maximization, leverage, buy term and invest the difference, retirement planning, estate planning, taxation, term versus UL, life insurance comparisons, life and disability insurance needs analysis, cash flow, education funding, investment analysis, cost base tracking, asset allocation and portfolio reporting

Recent enhancements include a new interface to update the menu system that interacts with the company's spreadsheets. This interface offers a better navigation system, a database system for the basic data required by the templates, imprint changes that can be downloaded directly from the vendor's Web site, and a new manual.

The Financial Planning Spreadsheets are priced at the mid-range and provide a strong alternative to accountants who wish to use their own set of tools to develop an effective retirement plan. It's an excellent choice for spreadsheet-adept accountants who prefer tabular analysis of data and concepts.

NaviPlan Standard and Extended

Emerging Information Systems Inc.

Winnipeg, Manitoba

(888) 692-3474

The NaviPlan line from EISI uses two tools that stand separate from the Profiles Professional and Forecaster products, but are designed to work with those products to fill a hierarchy of needs-based planning tools that stretches from the simplest plans to the more complex needs of high-net-worth clients.

NaviPlan Standard is an assessment tool with three levels of planning, all of which can be promoted into NaviPlan Extended. It qualifies the client, assessing the financial situation, priorities and goals. The three levels of planning provide for clients who are wealth accumulators, mass-affluent clients, and high-net-worth clients. It is meant to be a quick planner that offers pre-set scenarios for sophisticated retirement distribution scenarios and side-by-side "what-if" comparisons. Retirement distribution scenarios can be augmented with system-generated strategies that automatically calculate 100 percent coverage for any goal. And a new Retirement Distribution Summary report is designed to educate individuals at or nearing retirement on strategies for achieving their retirement goals and accounting for potential risks.

The retirement planning capabilities of both versions include a financial assessment, pre- and post-retirement cash flow analysis, planning for accumulation and distribution of retirement funds, survivor income needs, disability income needs, long-term-care needs, estate planning, business planning and tax analysis.

NaviPlan software is available in a flexible ASP platform (NaviPlan Central) that enables advisors to do their work from just about anywhere. A subscription to NaviPlan Central includes an offline format of NaviPlan software that can be installed locally on an advisor's desktop or laptop computer.

NaviPlan continues to bring a strong and flexible toolset to the retirement planning field. NaviPlan Extended in particular is a more elite planning tool designed for advisors who deal with high- and ultra-high-net-worth clients. It offers a more sophisticated tool with two levels of intermediate and advanced cash-flow-based planning options.

Profiles Professional

Emerging Information Systems (USA) Inc.

Carlsbad, Calif.

(800) 237-6335

Profiles Professional is a cash-flow-driven retirement and wealth management solution based on 14 modules for analysis, financial planning, estate planning and sales support for the professional. It is supported by an independent fast-planning module known as Profiles Forecaster, now in Version 4.2.

Profiles Forecaster offers a faster solution to provide the client with a basic plan in 20 minutes or less. It offers retirement planning, and survivor, disability and long-term-care needs, but not some of the more extensive allocation, disbursement and estate planning services available in Profiles Professional.

Profiles Professional is a more robust solution that places substantial emphasis on retirement considerations such as retirement fund acquisition and disbursement, asset allocation planning, disability, long-term care and death. The focus is on enhanced scenario presentation, as well as on streamlined client data entry and management; easier navigation via the left-side navigation system; and a Retirement Asset Results Timeline to track contributions, withdrawals, growth and account balance over the life of the plan.

The new versions, released in January 2010, bring new reporting features to leverage presentation options; a more appealing user interface with brighter colors, re-designed input fields and improved navigation bars; a new calculator to address conversion of a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA and the impact on future income; and new integration with SmartOffice to automatically populate Profiles Professional with data from the Ebix CRM program and the ability to export data to the Advisor Workstation Enterprise Edition from Morningstar.

EISI is rapidly strengthening the capabilities of the Profiles Professional product into an appealing solution for accountants that offers both a desktop and Web-based version, fast-start retirement plan development and more than 300 configurable options to enable unique branding, compliance and planning features. Though not the least expensive, it is a retirement planning package that should be at the top of the list for accountants looking for an effective planning package.

Quicken Premier 2010

Intuit Inc.

San Diego;

Another year has passed, and while the basic Quicken personal financial software has improved in a number of ways, the retirement planning engine remains largely the same. Fortunately, this is still fairly strong for a package that can be had for as little as $89.95 off the shelf.

Located under the planning menu within Intuit's Quicken, this retirement planning system offers a fast and accurate method of collecting retirement information, drawing data from the personal finance information in Quicken to address income, retirement income, tax situations, savings, investments, rate of return and risk, and assets and liabilities. It then creates a detailed plan showing needed retirement income and assets. The plan assumptions can be changed on the fly, and major life events (college, home purchase, etc.) can be compared for their impact on the overall retirement plan.

It also offers the ability to quickly address differing scenarios based on early retirement, a changing income level or rates of return, and working in retirement. And it offers professional planner resources, including an interview that can help a client prepare for their first retirement plan. Asset allocation is also supported, with online resources that enable the client to select, monitor, adjust and rebalance retirement portfolios.

Quicken's retirement planner is available in an online version, and via mobile devices, making it one of the more flexible mobile options for accountants.

Quicken is not trying to take the retirement planning field by storm, but it does offer a number of features that make it worth a look, particularly for accounting firms with a minimal client base in retirement planning.

ViewPlan Advanced

CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business

Riverwoods, Ill.

(800) 449-8114

ViewPlan Advanced is an estate planning system with retirement planning capabilities. It enables practitioners to create unlimited planning scenarios, presenting up to three planning scenarios to clients at one time. For retirement planning, it provides comprehensive scenario planning supported by impressive graphs, spreadsheets and text reports.

CCH ViewPlan Advanced includes the most popular charitable and intra-family wealth transfer techniques, including charitable remainder annuity trusts; charitable lead unitrusts; charitable remainder unitrusts; grantor retained annuity trusts; net income with makeup CRUTs; grantor retained unitrust trusts; flip to CRUTs; grantor retained income trusts; pooled income funds; qualified personal residence trusts; charitable lead annuity trusts; self-canceling installment notes; installment sale to intentionally defective grantor trusts; and installment sale private annuities.

Version 4.9 features improved federal and state law builders with state updates for Indiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington; an updated gift tax exclusion increased to $13,000; an updated estate tax payable in installments; and revised tools and calculations.

ViewPlan Advanced is a very capable planning system that offers the additional benefits of the tax planning features in the CCH ProSystem fx family of products. Recent improvements to numerous calculations and the ability to modify federal and state tax rate assumptions continue to make ViewPlan Advanced a powerful retirement planning system for accountants.

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