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  • Archive for the ‘Social Security’ Category

    Taking the First Step towards a Secure Financial Future

    Monday, February 1st, 2016

    CalculatorNow that the confetti has settled from New Year’s Eve celebrations, tax season is upon us, and you may have noticed a familiar document in your mailbox: your W2s.  Although preparing taxes can be an extra strain on what is an already busy schedule, it also presents an annual opportunity to evaluate your finances and think about long-term financial planning.

    Unlike not paying your taxes, nobody will come after you if you’re not planning for retirement—but that doesn’t make it any less essential. Failing to think about how you will continue to finance your lifestyle once you are no longer working can spell disaster in the final stages of life. The I’ll worry about it later attitude can mean putting off planning until it is too late.

    Facing retirement planning head-on can be daunting, but taking the process step-by-step can ease the intimidation factor. The first step in long-term financial planning is figuring out, based on your current financial picture, the difference between your expected retirement income and need. If this figure is calculated early, there will be plenty of time to take steps to close that gap. Research by EBRI shows that those who take the time to calculate that number- regardless of its size- feel more confident in their ability to afford a comfortable retirement.

    If you are married or have a partner, do this exercise together. However, women are likely to live longer than their spousesso keep in mind how your retirement income might change if your spouse passes away.

    The first step in calculating your expected retirement gap is totaling your expected sources of retirement income. There are usually three sources of retirement income, often referred to as the three legged stool: Social Security, employer-provided pensions or retirement plans, and personal savings and investments.

              1. Social Security: Social Security is an important source of retirement income, especially for women. To find out your Social Security benefit, sign up for an account at

              2. Pensions and Retirement Plans: Traditional employer-provided pension plans offer you a set amount each month after your retirement based on your salary and how many years you worked. 401(k) and 403(b)-type plans allow you to invest money in a fund that you will have access to when you retire.

              3. Personal Savings and Investments: Personal savings and investments may be spread throughout a number of accounts. This could include your home, however, since it is not a liquid asset, be careful how you calculate it, and consider whether you plan to rent or sell it after retirement.

    Refer to page 11 of WISER’s Financial Steps for Caregivers booklet for a worksheet that will help you add up your sources of retirement income.

    The second step in calculating your expected retirement gap is figuring out how much you will need in retirement. Many experts recommend expecting to need at least 85% of your pre-tax income in order to maintain your current living standard. WISER instead recommends 100% to take into account the longer life spans of women and to safeguard for unexpected healthcare costs.

    Calculate the difference between the numbers you found in steps one and two to find the gap between your retirement income and need. The good news is there are many easy-to-use online calculators that can help you with these steps. Check out the calculators tab at for a variety of retirement planning tools. Once you have that number, you can begin to take steps to close the gap, such as prioritizing investing and finding more ways to save.

    Whether you feel you are over-prepared or woefully unprepared for retirement, acknowledging the current state of your finances is a crucial first step towards achieving security during your later years of life.


    The Financial Impact of Widowhood

    Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

    Key to HomeAt WISER, we frequently hear from women who find themselves struggling financially after their husbands pass away; many of them saying “If only I knew…” when it comes to financial matters. Women’s longer life expectancy puts them at greater risk for running out of money in their older years, but other factors often compound this longevity risk and make the situation even more challenging.

    While more women today are becoming involved in their family’s long-term finances[i], those seniors who are experiencing widowhood now were part of a generation where women were less likely to be involved in their family’s retirement planning and investments. This can make the difficult experience of losing a spouse even harder for a widow who then does not know what assets she has or whether she will have enough money to live out the rest of her life.

    Surveys also show that women are less likely to trust financial advisors, and more likely to rely on family and friends for financial advice.[ii] Even when a couple has a financial advisor, if the husband dies, the wife may not feel comfortable working with the advisor alone. This is especially true if the advisor does not give her the same level of attention or respect, or communicate in a way that resonates with her.

    Finally, women do not understand their Social Security benefits as well as they should. Many women rely heavily on Social Security as a leading source of income in their later years, yet most are not familiar with even the basic rules of spousal and survivor benefits, nor do they understand what the different options are for claiming Social Security that can greatly impact their benefit.

    Recent research by WISER confirms many of the findings in this report. In 2013, WISER released A Survey of Recent Widows. Among some of its findings:

    *    Half of the widows lost at least 50% of their income when their husbands died.

    *    37% had difficulty both determining what they were entitled to receive from Social Security and initiating Social Security benefits after their husbands died.

    *    26% had difficulty locating bank accounts and investments and obtaining access to them after their husbands died.

    *    26% of the widows whose husbands were responsible for financial planning had to move to less expensive housing as a result of their spouse’s death.

    There is much that can be done to better educate and support women on their financial journey. It starts with encouraging women of all ages to get actively involved in their finances; helping them understand the basics and where to go for help; and building their confidence and motivation to take further action. Here are some key tips:

    *    Know what all the different financial accounts are that both you and your spouse have (bank accounts, investments accounts, Social Security benefits, insurances, loans, credit cards, etc.). You can access your Social Security statement online by going to;

    *    Organize all the necessary information about those accounts in one place and review them together (names of the financial institutions where accounts are held, passwords, contact information for any account representatives or agents, etc.);

    *    If you have a financial advisor, be involved with those meetings and conversations and make he or she is working with both of you;

    *    Educate yourself about the basics of finances and investing, including Social Security and how that may be impacted if you become a widow.

    Widowhood is a vulnerable period both emotionally and financially. The more we can help women (including ourselves!) prepare for this likely event, the better their chances for living out their retirement years with a sense of security and dignity.

    EXTRA! Important facts that every woman should know to prepare for the possibility of widowhood:

    *    A widow’s income may only be two-thirds of what it was prior to the spouse’s death. In fact, a recent GAO report found that the income of women near or in retirement dropped 37 percent as a result of widowhood.[iii]

    *    Federal pension law requires company and union pension plans to provide a joint and survivor benefit option. The right to the joint and survivor pension benefit can only be given up if the wife gives her permission in writing.

    *    When selecting the pension benefit at the time of the husband’s retirement, a wife needs to consider the options very carefully. The joint and survivor annuity offers a smaller monthly payment than other pension benefit options; however, for women who expect to depend on their husband’s pension as a source of income throughout their longer lives, this is generally a better option. Without the joint and survivor benefit, all pension payments will stop once the husband dies.

    *    Different rules apply to certain other retirement savings plans, such as 401(k)s. Death benefits from a 401(k) are generally paid out in a lump sum, which can be rolled over—tax-free—into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).


    This article is adapted from an essay written by Lara Hinz, WISER’s Director of Programs, that was featured in the Impact of Retirement Risk on Women, a report published by the Society of Actuaries and WISER.

    The “Campaign for a Secure Retirement:  Helping Millions of Americans Plan and Save for Retirement”  is a joint educational retirement campaign to encourage retirement planning and saving and to promote the online Social Security Statement, available through my Social Security, as an important retirement planning tool. 

    [i] Fidelity Investments, Couples Retirement Study. September 2013.

    [ii] TIAA-CREF, Financial Advice Survey. October 2013.

    [iii] U.S. GAO. Retirement Security: Women Still Face Challenges. GAP-12-699.  July 19, 2012.





    Campaign for a Secure Retirement: March Blog Series #3

    Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

    What Working Women Need to Know

    As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we celebrate all the incredible accomplishments and contributions that women have made and continue to make in every area of life.  The working world is no exception.  Yet despite gains in education and employment, statistics still show that women are paid less, have less money in savings, and are ultimately more likely to experience poverty in old age.  While some barriers to financial security are systemic, other barriers result from simple inaction or lack of information.  Working women are busy women, but we can’t ignore our retirement planning.  We all want to live with dignity and security in our later years, but that doesn’t come without proper planning and saving right now.

    A great place to get started is by making sure you can answers some key questions about your own retirement plans, as well as any plans your spouse or partner may have.  WISER’s “Working Woman’s Retirement Plan Checklist” can get you started.  Understanding your Social Security benefit is also an important part of this process.  You can access your Social Security statement online by setting up an account at “my Social Security.” Getting an estimate of your future Social Security benefits can help you figure out how much more you will need to save in order to have enough income in retirement.

    Social Security ArchMany employers provide a variety of benefits that go beyond the two biggest — health care and retirement plans.  Additional benefits may include: life insurance, disability insurance, long-term care insurance, and flexible spending accounts.  In the changing world of do-it-yourself retirement, it’s up to you to know what your employer provides, and take advantage of those opportunities that can protect your financial future.  For tips and ideas about how to make the most of your company benefits, check out WISER’s brochure, “20 Ways to Take Advantage of Your Company Benefits Plan.”

    If you do not have retirement benefits through your employer, considering opening an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), or learn about other ways to save and invest.  Our first blog in this series covers some of this information in more depth.  If you missed it, check it out now.

    Women also continue to be the primary caregivers, and many working women at some point in their lives may find themselves faced with having to reduce work hours or leave a job entirely in order to care for an aging parent or relative.  While there may not always be a choice to leave a job, it is important to do all you can to keep your own financial well-being on track while caring for someone else.  Use tools like  to see if your care recipient is eligible for other benefits and services that can help cover some of their costs and service needs.  Engage other family members in the care planning process in an effort to share both the physical and financial responsibilities so that they are not all placed on any one single person.  For more tips and resources, download “Financial Steps for Caregivers: What You Need to Know about Protecting Your Money and Retirement.”

    Thank you for joining our Women’s History Month blog series.  Let’s all make a little history ourselves in the coming year by planning, saving and getting on track for a secure financial future!


    The “Campaign for a Secure Retirement:  Helping Millions of Americans Plan and Save for Retirement”  is a joint educational retirement campaign to encourage retirement planning and saving and to promote the online Social Security Statement, available through my Social Security, as an important retirement planning tool.  Campaign partners include the Social Security Administration, America Saves, American Savings Education Council, and WISER.  If your organization wants to help others understand the importance of saving for retirement, take our pledge


    About Us

    WISER is a nonprofit organization that works to help women, educators and policymakers understand the important issues surrounding women's retirement income. WISER creates a variety of consumer publications including fact sheets, booklets and a quarterly newsletter that explain in easy-to-understand language the complex issues surrounding Social Security, divorce, pay equity, pensions, savings and investments, banking, home-ownership, long-term care and disability insurance.

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