Widows, divorcees face financial wake-up call when spouses are gone

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Even though many women spend decades in the workforce, they sometimes are unprepared to take on money matters.

Widows and divorced women need to plan for retirement differently. That’s the advice from financial planners and studies by Allianz, Lincoln Financial Group, and the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Women pay a higher economic price for divorce, separation, and widowhood compared with men. Older wives are doubly disadvantaged relative to their husbands because, among other factors, they’re less likely to recoup their losses from divorce by remarrying, according to a 2016 Center for Retirement Research study. Furthermore, men typically make more money than women, are more likely to have access to pensions, and are more likely to achieve financial security and live above the poverty line in later life compared with women, regardless of marital status.

About 65 percent of women save less than they need to, compared with 55 percent of men, according to the 2017 Lincoln Financial retirement survey, based on a national sampling of 2,509 full-time workers ages 21 to 70 who have been contributing to their current employers’ defined-contribution retirement plans for at least one year.

A Longer Retirement, Especially for Women

Women who reach age 65 have a 50 percent chance of living to age 88, according to a study by Allianz. A male-female couple of age 65 have a 50 percent chance of at least one member living to age 92.

SOURCE: Allianz
Staff Graphic

So what’s an aging American woman to do? First, seek out help, starting with a financial adviser, particularly one who is a fiduciary — the term means the adviser puts clients’ interests first, ahead of the paycheck.

“When it comes to significant family decisions involving an aging adult, such as a divorced or widowed parent facing the sale of the family home, a financial adviser often brings a very positive and critical element of emotional distance to the situation,” said Scott R. Inglis, regional director and portfolio manager with Carnegie Investment Counsel in Center City.

“This emotional distance can make all the difference in the world, leading to win-win outcomes and decisions,” Inglis said. “An aging parent fears eating cat food, and they can’t eat drywall. Sometimes, the right thing to do is also the hardest thing to do, and it takes an objective third party to show the best way forward.”

He’s currently advising elderly clients, including one living with an ill husband, and has recommended that they liquidate their real estate and rent, instead, or share housing with friends.

Divorce and widowhood are still a financial shock for women, though many have been in the workforce for decades, according to the Allianz Women, Money, and Power study from insurance company Allianz Life. More than six in 10 divorced respondents (64 percent) said divorce created a financial crisis for them, and a nearly equal number (59 percent) said divorce was a real “wake-up call” financially. Although fewer widowed respondents (43 percent) said losing their spouses created a financial crisis, a full 60 percent felt the loss of their spouses served as a financial wake-up call.

” ‘Now, it’s on me,’ they realize, to handle all the finances,” said Deb Repya, Allianz Life senior director of consumer insights. This despite the fact that the majority of women in the study (51 percent) claimed to be the chief financial officer of their households, and more than two-thirds (68 percent) of women said they currently felt financially secure. That number rose to 73 percent for married women.

Get a handle on things.  Financial advisers with certified financial planner (CFP) designation adhere to a fiduciary standard no matter how they’re paid. Search the Financial Planning Association’s website (www.onefpa.org) or PlannerSearch.org. All 8,000 planners listed are CFPs, and you can search by compensation (fee or commission). The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors also has its planners sign a “fiduciary oath.” Find its searchable database at NAPFA.org.

Want to take a baby step? Start with a calculator provided by the financial company managing your employer’s 401(k) or with one of these:

NewRetirement.com, designed by brothers Stephen and Tim Chen with their mother in mind. It lets users select many of the assumptions that are preset in other calculators, such as how much more pre-retirees anticipate they can save. The calculator is for people who aren’t afraid to train a critical eye on their retirement prospects — a worst-case scenario.
• Target Your Retirement (http://crr.bc.edu/special-projects/interactive-tools/target-your-retirement/ ) was designed by the Center for Retirement Research. You can compare the added benefits of downsizing to a less-expensive house or using a reverse mortgage to tap home equity. A bonus: You can slide a button from ages 62 to 70 to gauge the beneficial financial impact of working longer.

“A married (or partnered) household has almost a 10 percent chance that at least one person will live to 100,” said economist Olivia Mitchell, a professor at the Wharton School. “The moral of the story is save a lot more, retire much later, and consume less so as not to outlive your assets.”