Digital Gov

The new retirement calculator, same as the old retirement calculator?

If you want people to use your tool, making it friendly can help.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a web tool on Nov. 12 aimed at helping Americans calculate their Social Security benefits based on how much money they earn and when they start taking payments.

"Deciding when to start claiming Social Security benefits is one of the most important financial choices a consumer will make," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said. "The CFPB's 'Planning for Retirement' tool can help consumers clearly see their options."

But it's quickly apparent that CFPB's tool isn't brand new. The Social Security Administration has had multiple online calculators that address the same issue -- some in more numerical depth -- for nearly a decade.

But CFPB officials argue that presentation matters.

"Yes, you can get the same estimates from the Social Security Administration's calculator," said Stacy Canan, deputy assistant director of CFPB's Office for Older Americans. "[But] design elements in ours are very user-friendly."

That user-friendliness could help CFPB reach Americans who are less financially literate.

Concurrent with the release of the web tool, CFPB issued a report on older Americans that showed a majority of the over-65 population relies on Social Security for the majority of their income. Many of those same elderly folks (46 percent of them) started claiming benefits at the earliest possible age (62), potentially missing out on tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetimes.

Furthermore, people claiming benefits earlier tend to have less knowledge of how Social Security payments are calculated, and Canan said the new tool is meant to help spread awareness.

Much of the tool's target audience is Americans in their early 50s who are beginning to think about retirement, but the tool is "absolutely intended for millennials as well," Canan said.

The questions posed on the CFPB site "actually makes our tool very distinct and useful," she added, pointing to the simply worded advice that pops up on the Planning for Retirement page.

CFPB created the tool in partnership with SSA and used an API to fold in SSA's data. However, CFPB wasn't able to say how much it cost to develop the tool or how long it took.

SSA still has its own functional calculators online, which offer the same or more information than CFPB's tool.

But given its design, mobile friendliness and Spanish-language option, CFPB's calculator offers potential outreach to those who need broad reminders, not an obsessive dive into the numbers.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.


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