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Posted: July 29, 2008

Women Behind the Eight-Ball with Old-Age Fears -- for Good Reason

A new study finds women fear retirement more than men -- and another study says there's a good reason for that fear.

Women have three major worries when they think about retirement: inflation, health and longevity, according to a study by The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. They have reason to be nervous. Women work 12 fewer years than men on average, have less put away for retirement and face high odds of a long life spent alone, said Stephanie Chappell, The Hartford’s corporate gerontologist.

At the top of the list, 83% of the women surveyed as part of the study said they feared that their purchasing power would dwindle due to inflation, compared with 69% of men. Declining health came in second, with 75% of polled women saying that they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned.

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Add the rising cost of health care to fears of poor health, and 87% of the women expressed nervousness concerning retirement and their senior years. Sixty-four percent of the women said they were also worried about living too long, compared with 46% of men.

Meanwhile, a study by Hewitt Associates, a human resources consulting group, found that women need to save more for retirement than men, but it also highlighted that the gap between the amount women need to save and the amount they are actually saving is larger than the gap for men.

Moreover, this gap will continue to grow due to lower salaries, conservative investing, longer life expectancies and higher retiree medical needs.

The study, which examined the projected retirement levels of nearly 2 million employees at 72 large US companies, found that both men and women are on track to replace 85% of pay at retirement, assuming average life expectancy. However, women, on average, need to replace nearly 130% of their final pay at retirement, 7 percentage points more than men. When factoring in differences in longevity, that disparity jumps to 10 percentage points.

In other words, the average woman will need to save 2% of pay more per year than the average man, over 30 years, to achieve the same standard of living.

Multiple factors

Hewitt’s study and other research reveal that multiple factors — both financial and socioeconomic — contribute to the gap in retirement income replacement rates between women and men. Those factors include women’s likelihood to:

• Make less and live longer. Despite the fact that women's income has increased 63% in the past 30 years, their salaries still trail men's, with the average woman earning just $57,000 a year compared to $84,000 for the average man in Hewitt's study. In addition, women are expected to live almost three years longer than men, an average of 22 years after retirement at age 65 compared to just 19 years post-retirement for men. As a result, most women will need to save more to make their retirement savings last over a longer stretch of time. In addition, because medical costs after retirement are a flat dollar amount for all employees, those costs will consume a higher percentage of women's retirement assets than men's.

• Invest less assertively. Recent Hewitt research reveals that most women have less money saved in their 401(k) plans than men. The average plan balance for women is $56,320 -- nearly $47,000 less than men. In addition, women tend to contribute less (7.3% of pay versus 8.1% for men) to their 401(k) plan, and they are less likely to take advantage of the employer match. Thirty percent of women did not contribute to their 401(k) plans in 2007 and another quarter (24%) did not contribute at a level high enough to take advantage of the company match, which, according to Hewitt research, is typically $0.50 for every dollar up to 6% of pay per year.

• Delay retirement saving and have spotty saving patterns. Not surprisingly, Hewitt's study reveals that the earlier and more consistently employees save for retirement, the greater the impact on increasing overall income replacement rates. Unfortunately, Hewitt research also shows that women wait two to four years longer than men to start saving for retirement. In addition, they are more likely to be in and out of the workforce for family reasons, which can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in missed earnings, promotions, raises and benefits over the course of a career, including larger deficiencies in retirement savings.

Closing the gap

Despite the challenges they face, it is possible for women to get to a more comfortable place in retirement. In fact, making a few easy changes to their saving and investing behaviors can have a significant impact in helping women shrink the retirement income gap and get to more appropriate retirement levels.

• Invest earlier and at a more vigorous rate. Hewitt research shows that the age at which employees start saving has a significant impact on their retirement balances. Women could potentially increase their nest egg by 18 percent simply by investing two years earlier than they do now, or 23% by investing just four years earlier.

In addition, women can increase their projected retirement income rates an average of 7% simply by investing just 2% of pay more a year in their 401(k)s. A woman who makes an average salary of $57,000 and who increases her annual 401(k) contribution from 2% to 4% -- an increase of just $95 per month -- will have accumulated an extra $81,000 by the time she reaches retirement age. What's more, she will tack on an extra $40,500 by having contributed at a rate high enough to take advantage of her employer's company match program.

• Put off retirement for a few years. While most employees, including women, estimate they will retire by age 65, working just two years longer to age 67 can increase projected retirement replacement income levels by 13.5% for women who contribute to their 401(k) plans. And because women will have more money to live on during their years in retirement, their retiree medical costs -- typically a flat dollar amount on an annual basis -- won't eat up as large a percentage of their savings had they retired at age 65 or earlier.

• Take advantage of advice. According to industry research, a staggeringly high number of women – 90% -- have said they feel insecure when it comes to managing their finances. Thankfully, an increasing number of companies offer services and tools that not only help women feel at ease and make them more comfortable negotiating the financial landscape, but also put them on the right track to save more money in the long run. According to Hewitt research, 43% of companies offered online, third-party investment advisory services in 2007 and 47% more planned to offer them in 2008. In addition, nearly one quarter (22%) offered managed accounts, up from only 15% in 2007.

• Keep money invested in 401(k) plans. According to Hewitt research, 45% of employees cash out their 401(k) plans when they leave a job. Although it seems tempting -- and intuitive -- to cash out 401(k) savings, particularly when taking time off to care for family, employees will forfeit 20% or more of their account's value in federal taxes and 10% more in early withdrawal penalties. Women should keep their money in their companies' 401(k) plans, even when switching jobs or exiting the workforce. By doing so, they can continue to grow their savings in a tax-free environment and, in many cases, avoid higher investment fees typically associated with retirement savings accounts offered in the retail market.

(Article courtesy of ConsumerAffairs.com)

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