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PERSONAL FINANCIAL PLANNER FALLS SHORT

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Financial planners use sophisticated software to prepare thick financial plans for their clients. So why isn't there affordable software you can use to do a complete review of your finances?

Now there is - sort of.Jonathan Pond's Personal Financial Planner (suggested retail, $50; $69 for a CD-ROM version) promises a full-fledged plan "tailored precisely for you."

But it doesn't quite deliver.

Presented as an interactive "book," the program takes a chapter-by-chapter look at spending and saving habits, insurance and estate-planning needs and investment and tax strategies.

Work sheets help you figure how much life insurance you need, whether you should refinance and how much you need to save to meet your retirement or college goals.

But they're no more enlightening than similar work sheets in budgeting programs like Quicken, Managing Your Money and Kiplinger's CA-Simply Money.

The few exceptions include calculators that estimate how much disability insurance you need, figure your estate-tax liability and compare your return after taxes and inflation on investments that are fully taxable with the return on those that are exempt from federal taxes, state taxes or both.

The program falls far short of the specific advice you would get from a planner - or would hope to find in financial-planning software.

You'll learn how much insurance you need, but there's only a cursory discussion of what kind to buy.

You'll be told how to allocate your investment dollars among stocks, bonds and cash, but there's almost no guidance on specific investments.

For all the financial details you must provide, there's little personalized direction - a "strategy" box simply tells you which sections of the interactive book you should read.

A homeowner and a renter, for instance, are presented with the same information.

There are other flaws, too. The insurance work sheets will figure your needs but not your spouse's.

The "should you refinance?" work sheet doesn't factor in the impact of lost tax deductions.

And the retirement calculator doesn't take into account pension or Social Security earnings.