Since crystal balls aren't very reliable, let's talk about using online calculators to project into the future.

Vanguard, the investment company, offers a full array of online calculators that can start you in the right direction.

Calculator 1 • Life expectancies are longer, but just how much longer? If you want to know the probability of living to a certain age, you can use the calculator at http://tinyurl.com/mpmszrm.

Put in your age, gender and the time frame you are considering, and out comes the probability of living that long. For example, a single male age 65 has a 41 percent probability of living to age 85. If he's married, there is a 72 percent probability that either he or his wife will live to 85.

The calculations are based on Society of Actuaries Retirement Participant 2000 Mortality Tables.

Calculator 2 • With this calculator, you can figure out whether it's worth cashing out your company's retirement plan. You'll see the effect of taxes and penalties. Plus, you'll be able to see what would happen if you rolled your retirement assets into an IRA or another company retirement plan.

You'll enter your age (there are no early-withdrawal penalties if you are 55 or older for a company retirement plan, such as a 401(k) — not 59 1/2, like it is for IRAs).

You'll also enter your federal income tax filing status (such as single or head of household), your taxable income, your state tax rate, the amount you want to cash out and number of years to retirement and average return you think you might earn on a rollover IRA. Hit calculate and you'll find the results with an explanation of the right path.

You'll find the calculator at http://tinyurl.com/lmw87rf.

Calculator 3 • Before anyone starts on the road to retirement, he or she needs to figure out living expenses. You can use the worksheet at http://tinyurl.com/q9yocyr.

This worksheet goes through a list of common expenses, totaling them for you. You can print out the worksheet, but the data will not be saved.

Calculator 4 • Then you need to know your sources of retirement income. Use the worksheet at http://tinyurl.com/mqd2m2d.

There you'll enter Social Security, pensions, employment income, rental income, veteran's benefits and other income.

Then you'll enter federal, state and local taxes rates and your estimated monthly expenses, excluding income taxes.

Hit calculate for the results, which will show your monthly income and, importantly, your surplus or shortfall.

Calculator 5 • If you want to know how much you should save to meet your retirement needs, you can use the calculator at http://tinyurl.com/y8jszgb.

Enter age, current retirement assets and how much you are saving each month. With this information, the calculator gives you an estimated balance at age 65 and tells you how much you can withdraw monthly. The results are based on a real rate of return of 4 percent each year. Withdrawals are assumed to be 4 percent of your balance and later, the dollar amount is increased to account for inflation.

You can find the following additional calculators at http://tinyurl.com/3z3l64j.

Compare the two types of IRAs: Find out the features of traditional and Roth IRAs.

Should I convert my IRA to a Roth?: Should you pay taxes now or later? This calculator can help you decide.

Should I roll over company stock?: Find out which options for your company stock are best for you if you change jobs or retire.

How investment costs affect my retirement spending: See how keeping your investment costs low can translate into more spending money.

Estimate your required minimum distributions in retirement: Learn how RMDs work and how to calculate your RMD withdrawal.

How much can I withdraw in retirement? is available at http://tinyurl.com/79cyfzw.

Julie Jason, JD, LLM, a personal money manager (Jackson, Grant of Stamford, Conn.) and award-winning author, welcomes your questions/comments (readers@juliejason.com).