Dear Savvy Senior:
What financial education resources can you recommend to help an unsavvy woman prepare for retirement? I am divorced, living on a tight budget, approaching retirement age and need some help.
While most Americans could stand to brush up on their financial knowledge, it's vital for unmarried women. Here's what you should know.
Retirement StrugglesIt's an unfortunate reality that unmarried women - whether they're divorced, widowed or never married - face far greater financial challenges than men in retirement. Why? Because women tend to make less money (77 cents for every dollar a man makes) and have shorter working careers (due to raising children and/or caring for aging parents) than men. And less money earned usually translates into less money saved and a lower Social Security benefit when you retire.
On top of that, women live an average of five years longer than men which requires their retirement income to stretch farther. And, according to studies, women also tend to be less knowledgeable and more intimidated about financial issues than men, which means they don't always handle their money as well as they should.
Because of these issues and more, it's very important that you, and women like you, become educated about financial matters. Here are some resources and tools that offer financial education that will help you better manage your money now, and prepare for retirement.
Resources for WomenA good place to start is with the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement. A savvy resource that offers easy-to-understand information on topics like money management, retirement planning, saving and investing, as well as Social Security, health care and more. It also provides a retirement calculator and checklists of things you need to know if you become divorced, widowed or a caregiver. You can find this information at www.wiserwomen.org or you can call 202-393-5452 and order their publications for a few dollars. Two other Web sites worth a look are www.msmoney.com and www.wife.org.
More HelpGo to MyMoney.gov, the U.S. government's Web site dedicated to financial education where you can get their free "My Money" tool kit that includes a variety of publications on saving, investing, protecting and getting the most for your money. You can order the kit online or call 888-696-6639.
The Employee Benefits Security Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Labor is another smart resource that offers a variety of free publications including the 62-page booklet "Taking the Mystery Out of Retirement Planning," and "Women and Retirement Savings" brochure. You can see them online at www.dol. gov/ebsa/publications, or call 866-444-3272 and have them mailed to you.
Also visit ChoosetoSave.org, a handy Web site that offers the Ballpark Estimate retirement planning worksheet, more than 100 online calculators, brochures, savings tips and links to resources to help you manage your finances.
Social SecurityWhile Social Security serves both genders, it can be a financial lifeline for unmarried women. To help you get a better grip on your options, the Social Security Administration offers an online resource specifically designed for women that covers how marriage, widowhood, divorce, self-employment, government jobs and other life or career events can affect your Social Security. It also offers information on SSI, Medicare benefits and provides calculators to help you figure out your future earnings at different retirement ages. You can access this information at www.socialsecurity.gov/women or call 800-772-1213 and order their free booklet entitled "What Every Woman Should Know."
Money ManagementThere are also a variety of new Web-based services that can help you better manage your money at no cost. Sites like Geezeo.com, Mint.com and Wesabe.com provide secure online tools that can help you automatically keep track of spending, set up budgets and goals, and swap tips with other users on how to save money.
Savvy Tips: If you need some hands-on help, consider getting a financial assessment or tune-up with a fee-only certified financial planner. Costs will vary from $100 to several hundred dollars but it can be very beneficial and can help you make a plan. See www.napfa.org, www.garrettplanningnetwork.com or www.cfp.net to locate a professional in your area. Also visit www.benefitscheckup.org to see if you're eligible for any government and/or private benefits like lower energy bills, tax relief, discounts on prescription drugs and more.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.