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Retirement calculators may not add up

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The next time a calculator tells you that you're on track for a timely retirement, take those results with a heaping spoonful of salt.

A recent analysis of a dozen free retirement planning calculators from different financial services firms found wildly varying projections on how much income you'll need once you've stopped working.

Corporate Insight, a New York-based research and consulting firm, drafted a hypothetical profile of Art Vandelay (apologies to Seinfeld), a 40-year-old architect who is single, earns a $100,000 salary and has saved $100,000 in his 401(k) savings plan. Corporate Insight analyzes industry trends and customer behaviors for financial services companies.

Based on the data and other inputs, the calculators gave a wide range of monthly retirement income projections, from $6,013 to $3,772.

The magnitude of the savings shortfall also varied wildly. For example, the Retirement Wellness Planner from Principal Financial estimated that the saver needed an additional $4,597 per month to meet expenses, while the TIAA Retirement Advisor predicted a $1,120 income gap.

"Nothing is more dangerous than false confidence," said Andrew Way, a senior analyst at Corporate Insight. "This [output] should give you an idea of where you are, but don't take it as 100 percent set in stone."