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6 decades to prepare: A checklist for women’s retirement

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Preparing for retirement is a challenge — but for women, the challenge is more complex.

That’s according to a Pershing guide offering suggestions on retirement preparation for women in each decade of their adult lives.

Women face specific challenges in preparing for retirement that men do not, the guide said.

They have longer life expectancies — those who reach age 65 are expected to live 2.3 years longer, on average, than men who reach the same age, meaning they’ll be retired longer and as a result need more money to see them through.

Women who retired in 2012 are expected to spend 15 percent more time in retirement than men (20.5 vs. 17.9 years).

But funding that isn’t happening.

While they need higher savings balances to face retirement, they have less, thanks to making less during their working years: women get nearly a third less compensation than men in those all-important paychecks.

They spend less time in the workplace, leading to gaps in employment — because they’re the ones who often take off to become caregivers for aging parents or others.

They face higher medical costs: Women have a higher chance than men of being impacted financially by chronic or terminal illnesses.

And, to add insult to injury, they pay higher taxes in retirement: 80 percent of women in their final years will be single, facing higher tax rates than married couples do.

So what’s a woman to do? The guide has come up with ways for women to prioritize retirement preparation, no matter what decade of their working life they’re in.

1. Age 20-29

For women in their twenties, Pershing suggests that women make a clear plan for paying their current expenses, paying down debt through loan repayments, and saving for major purchases such as a wedding, home, or car.

Beginning savings — even a small amount weekly put into an interest-bearing account, for emergencies such as a lost job or unexpected expenses — should also be part of the plan.

In addition, this is the time for women to take advantage of their employers’ retirement plans, including any dollar match.

If there is no plan available, they should open an IRA and make monthly contributions.

2. Age 30-39

As women age and hit their thirties, they should look into lowering any existing loan payments, perhaps by refinancing a mortgage and/or student debt.

They should investigate 529 plans to begin saving for children’s college educations, and take advantage of the tax benefits such accounts offer.

Now is the time, too, to maximize contributions to a company’s retirement plan, as well as to take advantage of life, health, and other insurance to ward off undue financial risk.

3. Age 40-49

Any high-interest debt should be tackled aggressively and paid off when a woman enters her forties.

She should also be looking into ways to lower the interest rates on any existing loans or mortgages, both to avoid paying unnecessary interest and to free up cash for other purposes.

If the kids are hitting college, it’s time to take on the financial aid system to find ways to reduce the family’s share of costs.

Retirement contributions should already be at the maximum; if not, now is the time. If they are, increase them further.

Now is also the time for a woman to look at her own personal net worth and income needs, apart from those of her spouse, and to make sure that any insurance needs are still adequately covered.

4. Age 50-59

Women in their fifties should tackle debt hard now, starting systematically with the highest interest rates.

They also need to do the following:

  • Look into retirement scenarios: how much is saved, how much they’ll need, and how to get there.

  • They should check whether investment allocations should be changed because of approaching retirement or other reasons to withdraw funds.

  • Get quotes on long-term care insurance, or life insurance  with riders that can offset health care costs.

  • Evaluate the benefits of accelerating mortgage payments.

  • Keep retirement plan contributions as maximized as possible.

5. Age 60-69

For women in the their sixties, now is the time to sign up for Social Security account access ( to find out how much to expect and determine when to receive benefits.

They also need to do the following:

  • Discuss the pros and cons of retiring soon vs. waiting until late sixties or early seventies.

  • Buy a long-term care policy, if possible.

  • Look into new living options, like downsizing, that might reduce monthly expenses. If appropriate, identify specific goals for a legacy; consider gifts of real estate or valuables, or using investment assets to fund a trust.

6. Age 70 and beyond

At this age, women should consider keeping part of their investment portfolios exposed to equities, to pursue growth and potentially offset inflation, or to leave to a legacy.

They should determine whether their investments provide a consistent income stream and peace of mind. If it makes sense to stay in their homes, they should make sure they can afford it and make appropriate financial decisions to maintain the property and meet other expenses.

And if they’re hoping to leave a legacy, they should put together establish the right vehicles and investments, such as trusts, charitable accounts, or other options.

See also:

5 key pitfalls of retirement planning tools

IRI: Retirement savings a top concern for most women

Yet another gender gap: key facts about women in 3 infographics