Dear Savvy Senior: What retirement planning tips can you recommend to single women? I’m 54 and divorced with a teenage daughter and very little saved for retirement.— Financially Behind
Dear Behind: It’s an unfortunate reality, but most single women — whether they’re divorced, widowed or never married — face much greater financial challenges in retirement than men. Why?
Because women earn less money — about 80 cents for every dollar that men make, on average, and they have shorter working careers than men due to raising children and/or caring for aging parents. And less money earned usually translates into less money saved and a lower Social Security benefit when you retire.
In addition, women live an average of five years longer than men, which requires their retirement income to stretch farther for living expenses and healthcare costs. And, according to some studies, women tend to be less knowledgeable and more intimidated about financial issues than men, which means they don’t always handle their money as well as they should.
Because of these issues, it’s very important that women educate themselves on financial matters and learn how to save more effectively. Listed below are some tips and resources that may help you.
If your employer offers a retirement plan, such as a 401(k), you should contribute enough to at least capitalize on a company match, if available. And if you can swing it, contribute even more. By law, you can save as much as $18,500 in a 401(k) in 2018, or $24,500 to those 50 and older, due to the catch-up rule.
If you don’t have a workplace plan, consider opening a Traditional or Roth IRA. Both are powerful tax-advantaged retirement savings accounts that let you contribute up to $5,500 annually, or $6,500 when you’re over 50. And if you’re self-employed, consider a SEP-IRA, SIMPLE-IRA and/or a solo 401(k), all of which can help reduce your taxable income while putting money away for retirement.
Also, if you have a high-deductible health insurance policy, you should consider opening a health savings account (see HSAsearch.com). This is an excellent tool that can be used to sock away funds pretax and use them before or after retirement to pay for medical expenses.
Find your number
It’s also important to get a handle on how much you need to save for a comfortable retirement. You can do this through a number of free online calculators like ChooseToSave.org or FinancialMentor.com/calculator.
Pay off debt
If you have debt, you need to get it under control. If you need some help with this, consider a nonprofit credit-counseling agency that provides free or low-cost advice and can help you set up a debt management plan. To locate an agency, use the National Foundation for Credit Counseling website at NFCC.org or call 800-388-2227.
To learn more about financial matters like retirement planning, saving and investing, health care and annuities, a top resource is the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement at WiserWomen.org.
And to help you get up to speed on Social Security, visit SSA.gov/people/women. This web page provides helpful publications like “What Every Women Should Know,” along with links to benefit calculators and your personal Social Security account to help you figure out your future earnings at different retirement ages.
You should also consider getting a financial assessment with a fee-only financial advisor. Costs for these services will vary from around $150 to $300 per hour, but this can be very beneficial to help you set-up a retirement plan you can follow. See NAPFA.org or GarrettPlanningNetwork.com to locate an advisor in your area.