As the nation’s primary unpaid caregivers, women face a few extra financial burdens as they plan for and live out their retirements. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, the average female caregiver loses $324,000 in wages, pension payouts and Social Security benefits over her lifetime.
It doesn’t help that today’s pre-retirees are part of the “sandwich generation,” caring for aging parents and children alike. A near majority of adults aged 40 to 59 have an elderly parent and a dependent child, and 15 percent are providing financial support to both.
Unpaid care is only going to become more common as clients’ parents age and lose their independence without adequate long-term care coverage. Because women bear the brunt of the responsibility for caring for aging loved ones, advisors need to be ready to help them and their families cover the costs and preserve their own retirement plans.
Who among your clients may become caregivers? The FCA National Center on Caregiving says most older people with long-term care needs – around 65 percent of the elderly population – rely solely upon family and friends.
About two-thirds of their caregivers are female, and the average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman, married and employed, taking care of a mother who lives in a separate home. Roughly one-third of them have to decrease working hours, over one-fifth take leaves of absence and more than 15 percent have to leave their jobs altogether. On average, they spend 24.4 hours per week providing care.
“There are three big costs for caregivers – financial, physical and mental,” says Mike Lynch, vice president of strategic markets for Hartford Funds.
Financially, they face significant out-of-pocket expenses for transportation and materials – over $5,000 for co-residents and over $8,000 for caregivers in different homes. There are also the long-term impacts of reduced 401(k) contributions, Social Security benefits and pension payouts, “the biggest measurable cost,” says Lynch.
Physically and mentally, caring for an aging parent is a tough job. Female caregivers are almost six times as likely to suffer depression and anxiety, and 25 percent experience health problems, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, poor immune function and increased mortality.
Saving, investing and budgeting
Fortunately, there are more than a few ways for women to reduce their financial burdens while providing care.
“The most important thing for a woman in this position is to plan ahead,” says Kimberly Foss, founder of Empyrion Wealth Management. “I would ask her to sit down with her financial planner and take a careful look at spending and savings. Often, budget adjustments can free up money for savings, including tax-qualified accounts, without seriously limiting one’s lifestyle.”
To that end, Foss recommends future caregivers and their spouses max out their 401(k)s, IRAs and 403(b)s while also taking advantage of catch-up contributions, if age allows. As of 2017, investors 50 and older can contribute an extra $6,000 to a 401(k) and $1,000 to an IRA. Similarly, a spousal IRA allows a caregiver’s husband to make contributions on her behalf if she’s already left work, effectively doubling the family’s IRA savings.
After-tax contributions are also crucial for weathering the out-of-pocket costs of care.