Advisors vs. the Bag Lady Nightmare: 4 Women Talk Money With Terry Savage

NAPFA conference session advises a late planner, a widow, a lesbian co-parent and a woman caught between her children and aging father

"Women have a deep and lurking fear of becoming bag ladies," Terry Savage said. (Photo: AP)

Terry Savage is, by all accounts, a supremely successful personal finance columnist and a source of inspiration for working women everywhere.

Yet the author of Savage Truth and Money has a confession to make: she is afraid of becoming poor someday. A bag lady. And Savage says she is not alone: many women share her fear.

“Women have a deep and lurking fear of becoming bag ladies,” Savage said Wednesday at the start of a panel talk on women and personal finance sponsored by TD Ameritrade Institutional at the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) national conference in Chicago.

“I am willing to own up to my fear,” Savage said, but added that to conquer her fear she has purchased two long-term care insurance plans.

Savage’s admission came as she introduced a panel talk featuring four women who shared the details of their own personal financial lives in a surprisingly open and honest discussion.

The four women—none of whom are stay-at-home mothers in a traditional marriage—described their biggest financial fear and the problems they face. Savage then opened the discussion to the audience of NAPFA planners, who offered their advice on how to solve those problems.

Janice

A recently retired single woman with no children, this former financial analyst said she didn’t start working with an advisor until she realized there was a difference between investing and financial planning. When she decided it was time to retire at age 70, however, Janice hired an advisor who helped create a portfolio that provided her with long-term preservation of capital.

The advisor also supported Janice through the refinancing of a fixed-rate mortgage on her home, with monthly payments that are cheaper than rent, and reviewed her long-term care insurance plan.

“The fund companies are so unhelpful with retirement planning,” Janice said. “Once I hit Social Security age, I banked all those checks for three years, and that gave me cash and traveling money.”

Biggest fear: Managing her health care issues as a single woman.

Advice from NAPFA planners: find out whether her LTC insurance plan offers a case management benefit.

Mary

After retiring at age 52 to enjoy a long retirement with an older husband, Mary unexpectedly became a widow 10 years ago. She hadn’t paid much attention to her finances up to that point because her husband was an economist and she figured, “he was the financially savvy one in our marriage.” After she died, she found herself a financial planner after interviewing three candidates and picking the person she felt was the best communicator and listener.

Mary is a stepmother of three children and 10 grandchildren and says she doesn’t want to be a burden on them, which is why long-term care insurance is on her “bucket list” for the next year.

 “When I first talked about the fee with my financial planner, it sounded like a lot, but we talked it through,” Mary said. “I love the idea that if something comes up, I can just pick up the phone and he’ll call me in 24 hours.”

Biggest fear: Running out of money.

Advice from NAPFA planners: Mary has avoided investing in stocks, but many planners in the audience at the NAPFA panel encouraged her to re-examine that decision. Nothing beats stocks for higher returns, and she can find equities that match her risk tolerance, they told her.

Shannon

When Shannon completed her Ph.D. in English after 15 years in grad school, she didn’t get a job to pay off her $100,000 in student loans. Instead, the writer and mother of two adopted daughters in a lesbian partnership and decided to stay at home and take care of the kids. Her older partner makes a good living as a tenured professor, but she and Shannon are unmarried, and federal tax law considers them to be strangers to each other.

The partners have no financial planner, and their accountant is “a raging homophobe” who isn’t interested in helping them with their precarious financial situation, according to Shannon.

“I got lucky and married into tenure, but I’m completely dependent on my partner,” Shannon said. “I decided to stay at home and make baby food, and I don’t earn money, so I don’t feel entitled to speak up.”

Biggest fear: Losing her partner.

Advice from NAPFA’s planners: Take out more life insurance—in the range of $500,000 to $2 million to cover all possible expenses in case of either the older partner’s or Shannon’s death—and find a financial planner at www.prideplanners.org.

Karen

Karen is a divorced mother with two daughters in college, an ex-husband in cognitive decline due to Parkinson’s disease and trustee responsibility for her aging father and aunt, who are in the same nursing home.

Because of the complications in her life, Karen has engaged a NAPFA advisor to help her manage her 89-year-old father’s finances, which include a monthly bill for $7,800 in skilled care. He has dementia, so can’t handle his own money, but Karen believes he will outlive his money. She’s worried, thoough, that his portfolio is overinvested in stocks.

“My aunt is 92 years old and recently bought $600,000 in variable annuities with surrender fees that would make you cry,” Karen said. “But on the positive side, she is in the same skilled care facility as my father, and it’s a wonderful surprise for him every day to see her there.”

Biggest fear: Not being able to put her daughters through college, including graduate school.

Advice from NAPFA’s planners: Karen is in a classic “sandwich generation” dilemma, and she should work with her advisor to create a consolidated plan that addresses the entire family’s financial concerns. She should examine the cost of her dad’s stock trades and consider whether they are worth it.

The NAPFA national conference took place May 8 through 11 at the Hilton Chicago. For those who didn’t attend the event, NAPFA National 2012 can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NAPFA, or at #NAPFA2012.

Read about ‘Shock of Gray’ author Ted Fishman’s keynote address at the NAPFA national conference 2012 at AdvisorOne.

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