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Couples need to consider women's special needs in retirement planning

Posted: Friday, February 15, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) -- Women live longer than men. Those who work typically earn lower wages, and they often drop out of the work force to care for babies or ailing parents, reducing their pension and retirement benefits.

Yet many couples don't consider any of this when they plan for retirement.

The evidence is found in alarming statistics about today's elderly. While the average income for American men over 65 is more than $28,500, the average for women is $15,200, according to a study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, D.C.

The question for baby boomers, the next generation to head into retirement, is whether they can create more balance, experts say.

''Couples need to plan together,'' said Rhonda M. Ecker, co-author of the newly published J.K. Lasser's ''Winning Financial Strategies for Women.'' ''Many times, especially among older boomers, one tends to push it off on the other. It's important for both to play a role.''

The risks of poor financial planning are especially great for women, she added.

''They're most likely to end up alone, a divorcee or a widow,'' Ecker said. ''And if there are kids, there can be estate tax issues or guardianship issues she shouldn't have to face alone.''

Financial adviser David Bach believes women are playing a greater role in family financial planning than they did in previous generations, but he also thinks they need to be more aggressive in getting their mates to help build retirement savings.

''It used to be that the husband worked and the family lived on his income. Then women entered the job force in a big way, and a lot of couples lived on his income and saved hers,'' said Bach, author of ''Smart Couples Finish Rich.'' ''Today, 70 percent of households are two-income, but families are spending both incomes -- plus 10 percent. They're accumulating debt, not savings.''

He emphasized that ''It has to be a couple's joint decision'' to get their savings on track.

Susan Miller, 43, who owns an entertainment licensing company in New York, has kept 401(k) retirement accounts from earlier jobs and funds her own Individual Retirement Account each year.

She and her husband, a stock trader, also have increased their life insurance coverage and revised their wills to make sure their children -- a 14-year-old son and daughters who are 10 and 8 -- are secure.

''I'd like to save more for retirement, but that can't be our focus now,'' she said. ''I know I have three bachelor's degrees, and perhaps some graduate school, coming up fast. If you start doing the math, it's so daunting, so you just save as much as you can.''

Mandee Heller and Tamara King, who operate the Women's Financial Network at Siebert, believe men and women should be aware of their differing financial needs -- and talk about them.

''If women are living seven years longer than men, a couple needs to take that into consideration when setting budgets,'' King said. ''And what are you going to do if either of you gets sick? You need plans in place in advance.''

Heller said women also need to know what rights they have to their husband's assets: Does the woman need to be named a beneficiary on his retirement plan? How does she get access to the funds if he dies, and when? Must she share with a former spouse? With children? And what about his insurance policies?

''These are questions that should be answered before there's a crisis,'' Heller said.

Jane King, president of Fairfield Financial Advisors in Wellesley, Mass., is perhaps more sensitive to the special needs of women in retirement because she's in a May-December marriage. Her husband, Michael Nacey, 70, is retired from his full-time work as a patent attorney but still does consulting. She's 15 years younger.

''All things being equal, I will outlive him. He has two children from a previous marriage, we have a child together. So we have issues.''

How retirement questions are resolved depends on the couple and their circumstances, King said.

For some couples, for example, it might make sense for the woman to put proportionately more money into a tax-sheltered retirement account than her husband, she said. But if he has better investment choices, it could be more profitable to maximize his account.

''At bottom, it's important to be fair,'' King said. ''It couples can't talk about it and work it out, they should consider a financial planner. Then at least you have someone neutral raising the right questions.''

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On the Net:

www.jklasser.com

www.finishrich.com

www.wfn.com

www.fairfieldfinadvisors.com

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