(Dow Jones) Popular online tools and software help people get a sense of their finances and how much they need to save, but they may not give a complete picture.

Many of the tools don't adequately take into account longevity, health-care costs and other risk factors, according to a new report by the Society of Actuaries and the Actuarial Foundation.

The report evaluates the benefits and shortcomings of 12 popular financial planning software programs including Fidelity's retirement planner, the T. Rowe Price retirement planner, and Money Tree, one of the most popular software used by independent advisers.

Kirk Kreikemeier, a financial planner involved with the study, says the tools often failed to address longevity, didn't factor in a financial crisis and take Social Security into account. Part of the solution is more transparency, he says. For example, the software could direct investors to the Social Security Administration Web site for its free and precise benefit estimate.

The limitations of the software place greater responsibility on advisors to consider multiple scenarios to limit risk, says Kreikemeier. "Even if you're not able to address risk it would be helpful to disclose it," he says. "You don't want a false sense of security."

Companies defend the software and some advisors say the tools often are effective at getting investors to at least think about retirement savings.

"It's a way to get people engaged in the process," says Stuart Ritter, a financial advisor at T. Rowe Price Group Inc. He says the T. Rowe Price online tool does take into account some of the risks and variables but "if we take into account too many questions, people won't use the calculator at all."

David Conner, sales and marketing manager for Money Tree Software, says they adjusted the software last year, but it's largely up to the advisors and their compliance departments, which set the rates of return and other factors. "We tell them to make sure they use this to show uncertainty, not certainty," he says.

Chris McDermott, senior vice president at Fidelity Investments, says the tools can help consumers "understand where they are at."

"This is not a one-time discussion," he says. "This tool can help put a road map in place, but they (investors) need to stay active."


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