By many measures, women's lives have changed substantially in recent decades. According to a comprehensive government report called Women in America, although certain social and economic situations for women have improved, when it comes to personal finances, many women still face challenging hurdles.
Key report findings include:
In a nutshell: Women tend to earn less and live longer than men so at retirement they often have less in accumulated savings, receive smaller retirement and Social Security benefits (which are based on lifetime earnings), and must spread out their money over a longer time period. Clearly, women need to take charge of their financial wellbeing. Here are a few places to start:
Develop a budget. Many tools are available to help track income and expenses. To get started, either download a budget spreadsheet template or use interactive, online budgeting calculators. For example, Practical Money Skills for Life, a free personal financial management program run by my employer, Visa Inc., includes budgeting calculators for everything from back-to-school costs to holiday expenses to retirement.
When you're ready for the next level of managing your finances, investigate software packages and online account management services like Quicken, Mint.com, Yodlee and Mvlopes. Some are free, while others charge a one-time or monthly fee. Some, like Mint and Yodlee, can be accessed online or by smart phone; others, like Quicken, must be accessed from a dedicated computer.
Plan for retirement. Time is your biggest ally when it comes to retirement savings, so get cracking. Start estimating your retirement needs by using online calculators, including:
Expect the unexpected. An untimely illness, accident or death can devastate your finances. If you depend on someone else's income -- especially if you have children -- make sure you both carry adequate life, health and disability insurance. If you're self-supporting it's particularly important to be covered against accidents or disability, since even a brief period without income could deplete your savings.
Obtain credit in your own name. "Treated responsibly, credit can become a safety net for all women whether they are single, divorced or widowed," says Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).
Do your research. Many helpful personal financial education and management tools are available online, including:
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.
To participate in a free, online Financial Literacy and Education Summit on April 23, 2012, go to Practical Money Skills.
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