Four tips for women on reaching retirement savings goals

By Michael Bonds
For the Bellingham Business Journal

The Pacific Northwest is quickly becoming recognized as one of the nation’s most popular places to retire.

The weather is beautiful in the summer, the scenery is tranquil and the year round outdoor activities are abundant, which helps retirees maintain a healthy lifestyle.

As I meet with clients preparing to embark on retirement, I aim to help my female clients understand some of the different elements they need to consider compared to my male clients.

While women face a unique set of circumstances when it comes to retirement planning, being more aware of these challenges is the first step to helping to overcome them.

At Schwab, we generally highlight four key considerations to help women prepare and be confident in their financial future.

Keep in mind, this information should not be considered personalized investment advice or recommendations. Because each situation varies, it’s important to review for your own particular situation.

1. Women may have a lengthier retirement. Women tend to outlive men by an average of five years, according to the National Center for Health. Though a longer retirement means more time to travel the world and spoil grandchildren, it also means women will have to save more money to last them through their longer lifespans.

Tip: Stocks are an important part of most portfolios, even during retirement. Though you may want to gradually reduce your exposure as you get older, consider maintaining a portion of your savings in stock investments to counteract the impact of inflation. The ultimate goal is to have continued growth while not risking the money you need to live on.

2. Women may have a more expensive retirement. Not only do women have to plan for more years in retirement, but they often have to anticipate higher expenses. Longer life expectancies can translate into increased medical expenses and a higher likelihood of entering a nursing home or assisted living community, or hiring formal home care, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Tip: Medicare benefits cover some medical costs during retirement, but consider signing up for supplemental insurance, such as long-term-care insurance or a Medigap policy or a Medicare Advantage Plan.

3. Women potentially have to save more to make up for earnings loss. On average, women still earn lower salaries than their male counterparts. In 2015, women still earned only 80 cents for every dollar men earned, according to U.S. Census Bureau’s data for full-time, year-round workers’ median earnings released last September.

Plus, over the course of their working years, women spend more time out of the workforce to care for their families, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute. To counteract the forces that are weighing on their ability to accumulate savings, women should focus on socking away as much as possible during the years they are working and earning an income.

Tip: Your level of savings is the biggest factor in determining whether you will meet your retirement financial goals, so start early.

But in case you procrastinate, there are ways to help catch-up. Max out your 401(k) contributions and use an automatic deposit feature so you don’t even have to think about it. As of tax year 2017, you can contribute up to $6,000 beyond the usual limit to your 401(k) each year after you turn 50. You may also be able to annually contribute an extra $1,000 to your Traditional or Roth IRA to help bulk up your savings.

Review your expenses periodically to look for ways to save more, and avoid carrying a balance on your credit card to limit costly interest payments.

4. Women may receive less in Social Security benefits. Lower salaries and fewer years in the workplace also put women at a disadvantage when it comes to Social Security benefits.

In fact, women earned on average about 20 percent less in Social Security than men in 2015, according to the Social Security Administration.

While this may be difficult to think about now, women who may become widows due their longer life expectancies should consider how they can maximize their Social Security survivor benefits.

Tip: Consider delaying the start of your Social Security benefits. If you choose to start cashing in your Social security checks before your normal retirement age, your benefits are reduced. If you wait to some point between your normal retirement age and the age of 70, you’ll receive a higher monthly benefit. Use Social Security Administration’s calculators to determine your breakeven age—the point at which you break even and begin to come out ahead if you delay Social Security.

Michael Bonds, ChFC, AAMS, is a VP Sr. financial consultant at Charles Schwab with more than 18 years of experience. Some content provided here has been compiled from previously published articles authored by various parties at Schwab.

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