Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Behind the Retirement Curve

There is still a great deal of discussion surrounding the fact the women are further behind the retirement curve than they should be. It is estimated that women will need $240,000 in retirement funds compared to $170,000 needed by men. These estimates, in my opinion need some fine tuning. Nonetheless, even if current 401(k) balances are taken into consideration, both groups are still far behind where they should be.

Consider this: Amongst the facts available concerning retirement, one number stands out. The cost of healthcare, the unknown possibility that at some point during your retirement you will need much more than Medicare can provide, will be close to $100,000. This means that both men and women will be left with far fewer dollars to subsist on than they have anticipated.

Consider this: Women still face individual hurdles in the workplace. This gap in pay is closing but not for the reasons you might think. Men faced the biggest problems during the recent downturn and women saw the biggest opportunities in landing any newly created jobs. But were those jobs as good as they should have been?

It has long been a fact that the vast number of women entering the workforce do so at a lower pay grade than their male cohorts. They will find more jobs in smaller businesses and because of that and those employers, they may find the options to save for retirement smaller. In many instances, these smaller businesses have less than adequate 401(k) plans, some merely a shell of of what larger corporations offer.

It is also a problem for women employed in larger companies with adequate 401(k) plans in part because the plan matches are smaller and are not expected to return to pre-2008 levels anytime soon.

It is also well-known that women will not be paid as much as men are or have been paid for similar jobs. USA Network founder Kay Koplovitz suggested recently that women simply don't ask for what they feel they deserve. It might have something to do with the fact that women "lean back" in the initial stages of their careers, looking toward the possibility that they will eventually take time off to begin a family. This false start often gives them fewer chances to achieve a robust retirement and to ask for the money they think and should deserve. Ms. Koplovitz suggests they take the reins of their plans "first, harder, and faster". Taking time off: use an IRA to keep invested.

Consider this: The auto-enrollment of new hires, the majority of which seem to be women, has seen the participation levels in 401(k)s increase. But studies have shown that these new participants invest too conservatively when they are young, giving up some of the much needed risk they should be taking in the early stages of their careers.

Consider this: Women will live longer and even more frightening, may live longer alone.
There are no easy remedies. Yet some come to mind. Yes, women need to invest more and more often. They shouldn't let any career interruption keep them from investing. They should be requesting their employers add annuities to their 401(k)s in part because these products, tucked inside these plans cannot discriminate based on the sex of the contributor. This isn't so outside the plan where actuaries step in and calculate this potential longer life into their equations.

Yes, first, harder, faster is a good mantra to embrace when looking to the future. But women need to ask for better pay, more education about the investments they need, a little more risk and more importantly, retirement plans tailored to their specific needs.

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