Single Women's Unique Challenges in Preparing for Retirement

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By Juliette Fairley

When 40-something Rita Sanders purchased her West Orange, New Jersey, home in July 2013, she secured a 15-year fixed mortgage at 2.375 percent.

"Thirty years is ridiculous to me," said the hairstylist. "I am not married, and it's unrealistic to think I will be working at the same intensity level in 30 years, so I want to pay off the loan sooner." Sanders' instincts are good, because a common challenge in retirement for women is being single or outliving their spouse -- often leaving them with a home but no liquidity.

"Every client is different, but, overall, financial advisers need to be aware of products that can help a single woman manage her home as it becomes a larger portion of her overall retirement portfolio," said Curtis Arledge, vice chairman of BNY Mellon, which recently launched a reverse mortgage business to address this trend.

"We believe that managing home equity will be an important part of retirement going forward and although reverse mortgages have not always been used appropriately, rules have changed around being able to tap into this equity later in life," he said.

End-of-Life Concerns

Eighty percent of women will be single in their final years and as a result endure a higher tax rate; to boot, they are likely to endure chronic sickness or a terminal illness because of their advanced age. Still only 18 percent of high-income women report having a long-term care policy in place compared to 27 percent of all other investors, according to "Women: Investing with a Purpose," study that Pershing released this month.

"Women need to think about investing differently than men, because they are statistically more likely to have higher medical costs," said Kim Dellarocca, managing director with Pershing. "As a result, they may need a different planning strategy that takes this into account."

But a persistent gender gap in confidence is partly what prevents women from speaking up and asking questions during financial consultations with advisers. "Women reported feeling frustrated around the adviser's overemphasis on product and portfolio and single professional women reported not enough questions being asked by the adviser around their unique situation," said Andrea Turner Moffitt, managing director at Hewlett Consulting Partners and co-author of the 2014 global study "Harnessing the Power of the Purse." "They are often boxed into traditional linear retirement conversations about what their assets might be used for in terms of family."

Different Approaches to Investing

In fact, 38 percent of professional women don't have children and may not have linear careers, according to the Pershing study. "A woman's desired level of understanding investment strategy can be different, which requires advisers to explore concerns, goals and trade-offs with greater directness and rigor," said Dellarocca.

Risk tolerance is a factor impairing the ability of high-income women to save enough money for retirement, with 35 percent appearing to be more sensitive to short-term losses, according to the Pershing study.

Only 2 percent were very aggressive investors in 2012, and 38 percent of high-income women specified that the adviser doesn't understand my risk tolerance as a reason to consider switching, compared to 30 percent of all other affluent investors. Other gaps that persist include women living longer in retirement, the need for them to invest earlier in life in a way that reflects longevity and exposure to inflation as well as their need for more post-earning income.
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