Women need a retirement strategy

Nearly half of all women don't have a retirement strategy, despite the fact that 56 percent of women expect to self-fund their retirement through 401(k) plans, retirement accounts or other savings and investments.

According to Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies’ latest research, “Juggling Current Priorities and Long-Term Security: Every Woman Needs Her Own Retirement Strategy,” there's a “striking disconnect among women between how they envision their retirement and how they are preparing to realize that vision."

“Women face a number of unique circumstances, such as typically lower wages than men, time out of the workforce to be a parent or caregiver and a longer life expectancy, which present challenges for saving," says Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. "As a society, we must do more to empower and equip women with the know-how to plan, save, and ultimately achieve a secure retirement.”

The study found that women would like to spend their retirement traveling, spending time with family and friends and pursuing hobbies, but more than half (53 percent) plan to retire after age 65 or do not plan to retire at all. The majority of women surveyed (53 percent) plan to continue working after they retire, including 45 percent of women who plan to work part-time and 8 percent who plan to work full-time. Most plan to keep on working because they need the money or health benefits.

Women’s expectations of delaying retirement and/or working in retirement illustrate a serious crisis of retirement confidence. More than half of women (54 percent) are “not too confident” or “not at all confident,” compared to only 44 percent of men who share that sentiment. Only 7 percent of women are “very confident” in their ability to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle.

Part of what may be fueling this lack of retirement confidence is a lifelong concern about taking care of family.

Women most frequently cite their single greatest retirement fear (26 percent) as not being able to meet the financial needs of their family. More than one in four women (28 percent) expect to take time or have already taken time out of the workforce to act as caregiver for a child or aging parent. Of these caregivers, 73 percent believe that this time out will impact their ability to save for retirement. Further, many reported that their retirement may involve financial caregiving; one in three women (31 percent) expects that when they are retired, they will need to provide financial support for a family member other than their spouse.

The study found that only one in five women (20 percent) said that “saving for retirement” is their greatest financial priority compared to the majority of women (55 percent) who are focused on current priorities such as paying off consumer debt (e.g., credit card) or just getting by to cover basic living expenses.

Often due to family responsibilities, women are far more likely to work part-time (45 percent) than men (24 percent). For women, working part-time translates into lower income and reduced access to benefits, including retirement benefits. Slightly more than half of women (58 percent) who work part-time reported having access to a 401(k) or similar plan, while the vast majority (83 percent) of women who work full-time have access to such a plan.

When women do have access to workplace retirement benefits such as 401(k)s, 74 percent participate. Women’s annual contribution rate, as a percentage of salary, is 6 percent (median), an amount that is likely insufficient for meeting long-term retirement needs. An alarming 22 percent of women are “not sure” how their savings are invested.

Three out of four women agree that they do not know as much as they should about retirement investing. “Despite unique challenges that women face, there are important opportunities within reach that can help them improve their retirement outlook, such as getting savvy about saving and investing,” Collinson says.

Slightly more than half of women (52 percent) said they have some form of retirement strategy but only 11 percent have a written strategy. Of the women who have a strategy, whether it is written or not, many are overlooking key elements that should be taken into account. Only two out of three women (65 percent) consider ongoing living expenses as part of this plan. And, fewer than one in four (24 percent) factored in costs associated with long-term care.

Statistically speaking, women live longer than men. This longer life expectancy means women need to save more for retirement to cover expenses ranging from cost of living and healthcare. However, women estimate they will need less savings ($500,000 median) than men ($750,000 median). Equally as concerning, the majority of women (56 percent) answered they had “guessed” when asked about how they arrived at their retirement savings needs.

Retirement clearly impacts families. However, fewer than one in 10 women (9 percent) frequently discuss saving and planning with family and friends. An open dialogue with trusted loved ones about expectations of support should be part of every woman’s strategy, experts say.

Among baby boomers, an alarmingly low percentage of women (20 percent) have a backup plan if retirement happens sooner than expected.

“Life’s unforeseen circumstances such as a job loss, health issues, or family obligations can derail the best of intentions,” Collinson says. “Especially with so many women planning to delay retirement or continue working part-time in retirement, a backup plan is an essential part of a retirement strategy.”

When asked what would motivate them to learn more about saving and investing for retirement, 58 percent of women said they would like educational materials that are easier to understand and/or a good starting point that is easy to understand.

Many women would like advice about their retirement savings, including 51 percent who seek advice but want to make their own decisions and 19 percent who want someone else to handle their retirement savings on their behalf; however, only 35 percent reported using a professional advisor.

The survey found that marriage positively influences the retirement outlook of both women and men. Married people tend to be more proactive in terms of saving, planning, and discussing retirement with family and friends. However, it’s important to keep in mind that marital status can change, so it is vital that every woman and man have a strategy for retirement.

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