5 Challenges Women Face When Planning for Retirement

Sheryll Yee
Sheryll Yee

10.30.19 in Wealth Planning & Investing

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes (989 words)


For such an important aspect of clients’ financial plans, retirement planning is far too often overlooked or underprioritized. Making this mistake can be detrimental, particularly to women, who encounter different obstacles and circumstances than their male counterparts do, which can significantly affect their quality of life in retirement. Below, I’ll address five challenges women face when planning for retirement, as well as provide ideas for how you can help your female clients overcome them.

1) Living Longer Than Men

According to a study done by the National Center for Health Statistics, today’s average life expectancy is 76.1 years for men and 81.1 years for women. The longer a client lives, the longer the money needs to last, and expenses for housing, general day-to-day care, health care, and food can add up quickly. Add in the uncertainty of social security benefits and the ongoing battle over health care, and it’s clear that most women can’t afford to leave their retirement future in the hands of the government or even their spouse.

Thankfully, there are alternative savings solutions for these expenses. A health savings account, for example, is a tax-advantaged account that does not expire and can be used for specific qualified medical expenses before and during retirement. Generally, contributions are tax deductible, the earnings accrue tax free, and distributions used for qualified medical expenses are also tax free. Clients may use withdrawals to pay for certain insurance coverage as well, including long-term care insurance, COBRA health care continuation coverage, health care coverage while receiving unemployment, and Medicare if they are 65 or older.

Clients could also try to maximize their social security retirement benefits. Although benefits can begin at age 62, if a client were to wait until age 66 or 67 (depending on the year she was born), it would get her closer to receiving the full benefit amount. If clients can wait until age 70, this will maximize the benefit even more.

2) Working Against the Wage Gap

Often, when someone first enters the workforce, saving for retirement can seem like the lowest priority, while more immediate goals and concerns, such as paying down debt or saving for a house or family, take precedent. This is a mind-set worth changing, however, and perhaps even more so for women.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, published by the Business Insider in April 2019, women earn an average of 80.7 cents for every dollar men earn, which can cause them to save less for retirement through the years and can even affect their social security and pension benefits. But overcoming this hurdle can be as simple as starting to save early. Clients should be setting up retirement savings plans—whether an employer-sponsored plan or an alternative option—as soon as they start their careers. The earlier one begins saving, the longer the time horizon is for growth.

3) Not Having a Retirement Plan

As many women are the primary caregiver for their household, they may work only part-time or not at all, which means they may not have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

But an employer-sponsored plan isn’t the only way to save for retirement. Individuals with earned income or who file jointly with a spouse who has earned income can open IRAs. For 2019, an individual can put away up to $6,000 in an IRA, plus make a $1,000 catch-up contribution if age 50 and older. If a client wants to do even more, suggest pursuing self-employment. With the internet at our fingertips, anyone can create a business or take on a side hustle to generate income, therefore opening the door to establishing an individual 401(k), SEP, or SIMPLE plan, all of which have higher contribution limits than IRAs.

4) Having a Lower Risk Tolerance

In an article published by Investopedia in June 2019, it was found that women tend to make more conservative investment decisions than men. Some studies show that it may be because of the wage gap, while others imply that it’s instinct to preserve as much of their retirement plan as possible. No matter the reason, in certain scenarios, this can hinder the ability for an account to grow.

Although an advisor must act in the best interest of the client, sometimes it may be wise to encourage a risk-averse client to take a less conservative approach with her investments. Educate these clients about their options. For someone who is near retirement, a conservative approach is most likely appropriate. But younger clients could likely withstand more aggressive accounts, as they would have more time to recover any losses.

5) Preferring Not to Discuss Finances

Finances, estate planning, and retirement planning can be difficult topics of conversation. Some clients may consider them too personal, or they may be intimidated by the subject matter. It can be especially difficult for women if they aren’t the primary breadwinner or do not handle the finances in a household. In fact, in a 2018 MarketWatch article, 61 percent of women said they would rather discuss details of their own death than of their money, and only 41 percent indicated they understood their investments well, compared to 56 percent of men.

To help a client overcome the intimidation of speaking with a retirement professional, it may help to find ways to make the subject matter more approachable and to avoid using industry jargon. You can also use simple, client-friendly visuals to help explain certain pieces of information you are trying to relay.

Finding the Best Way Forward

The challenges women face when planning for retirement can be daunting, but sometimes the only way out is through. Talk to your female clients about what they’re experiencing, and encourage them to be open and honest with you about their concerns and questions. By providing them with expert advice and industry knowledge, you will help your clients face these challenges head-on and come up with solutions for both their gender-specific and individual needs.

This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice.

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