5 Tips to Save Your Finances in Divorce

On September 20th, Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt, bringing an end to Brangelina, Hollywood’s golden couple. Fortunately for these two, the break up won’t make much of a difference in their financial security, but that is not the case for the average family going through this painful experience.

Divorce rates in the US are actually down, according to data from Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan Economist. If current trends continue two thirds of marriages will never end in divorce. That is the good news. The bad news is for those relationships that do end in divorce the financial toll can be devastating.

The average cost of a divorce trial can run between $15,000 and $30,000. In some cities, the cost is much higher. But that is just the beginning. After the divorce, previously shared expenses are no longer shared. To maintain the same lifestyle after divorce as before will cost you about 30 percent more.

The financial impact of divorce can be particularly difficult for women. According to a 2009 US Census Bureau study, recently divorced women reported less household income than recently divorced men, and women were more likely to live in poverty. Three quarters of children of recently divorced parents lived with their mothers, and were more likely to be living in poverty than other children.

Divorcing late in life also has repercussions. Splitting retirement savings means both partners have less to retire on. While younger couples who divorce have time to rebuild their savings, those 50 and older don’t. Divorce impacts the total social security benefits paid to a household as well. Where the average social security income for couples who were continuously married was $22,607 in a 2010 study, the average for those who had been divorced and remained unmarried was only $12,000. For women who divorced after 50, the average social security income was less than $11,000, and 27 percent lived in poverty.

Money should not necessarily keep you in a bad marriage, but thinking through the financial impact of a break up a head of time can help maintain your financial security after. Here are a few things to consider before making the break, that can make life afterwards a little less difficult.

  1. Develop a post divorce budget. Mark gained custody of his two boys after his divorce and made spousal support payments for five years. The increased cash outlay didn’t keep him from pursuing his goal of an early retirement. Mark cut his other expenses to the bone while providing a stable and comfortable home for the boys. They didn’t have cable television or the latest in video games, but they enjoyed lots of time with their dad. As the spousal support payments declined, Mark was able to gradually reintroduce some luxuries and is on tract to meet his early retirement goal.
  2. Understand your financial situation before you start down the divorce path. If possible clear joint debt before you divorce. At the very least open new credit card accounts in your separate names and transfer the old balances between them. If you have car loans or other debt separate those as well. Regardless of who is supposed to pay the debt according to the divorce agreement, creditors can pursue you on joint accounts if your former spouse doesn’t pay. Chelsea found out the hard way that her husband had run up some large credit card bills without her knowing. After her divorce she spent two years working two jobs to pay off the debt.
  3. The divorce is not the place to get your revenge. No one wins, except the attorneys, when you use the legal process to inflict pain. Regardless of how hurt you feel, take the emotion out of the divorce. Consider it a business transaction. If you and your spouse can agree on how to divide your property, the cost of your uncontested divorce could be as little as $200, about 1 percent of the average contested divorce.
  4. If you own a house, it is likely a better idea to sell it before the divorce than for one spouse to get it in the divorce. If you get the house, you may get less in financial assets or you may have to buy your spouse out by refinancing. Either way, you’ll have less income and won’t have reduced your expenses. If you sell the house, the proceeds can be split and used for a down payment for each of you on a new home that will fit within your new smaller budget. If you agree to sell at a later time, you may create an opportunity for further conflict. Sharon and Russell agreed to keep their house in both their names until the kids were out of the house. Then Sharon would sell it, and they would split the proceeds. When Sharon was ready to sell, Russell refused to sign the transfer papers until Sharon made concessions to their divorce agreement.
  5. When dividing assets, keep an eye on future tax consequences. Traditional IRAs and 401(k)s will generally be fully taxable upon withdrawal, while Roth and non retirement accounts will not be. If you have both types of accounts take the tax consequences into account when dividing them. Once the accounts are divided, make sure to update your beneficiaries. Elaine was devastated when her husband’s IRA went to his ex-wife when he passed away because he had failed to change the beneficiary.

Divorce is painful and costly in so many ways. You have to establish a whole new life for yourself, and that means new hopes and dreams and financial goals. It’s easy to leave off that last one, but it’s a critical piece given how financially costly a divorce can be. Knowing your financial situation, developing new savings goals and creating a plan to get back on track while protecting yourself from future uncertainties will help you manage the divorce better and maintain your financial security after.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Decks Stacked Against Women When it Comes to Financial Security

Financially speaking, we women are screwed. Everything from pay and time in the work force to the cost of our cosmetics is stacked against us. That is why it is particularly important for women to take it upon themselves to understand their financial situation and their options, and have a plan for their future.

On average, women make just 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. As of the end of 2014, women in nearly every occupation and age group still made less than men according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of course there are a variety of reasons for this, and there are volumes to be written about it. But the simple fact of the matter is the pay gap means women are less able to prepare for their financial futures than men. Less pay means there is less available to save. Less pay also means a lower Social Security benefit, which is based on average pay over your entire career. Women are more likely than men to live on only Social Security after they stop working.

Women are more likely to take time away from work to raise children or care for a relative than are men, and they are nearly twice as likely to work part time. Every year missed reduces your Social Security benefit, and as with lower pay, if you have less income, there is simply less to save.

Apparently we’re also suckers for a good marketing pitch. A recent article on Vox.com highlighted a study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. The study found that everyday products that are marketed to women cost more than the same products marketed to men 42% of the time. Men’s products cost more only 8% of the time. Many of the products, like shampoo, have the same ingredients. Of course spending more than men on products we use every day cuts into our ability to save too.

The FINRA Investor Education Foundation found that Americans in general are fairly illiterate when it comes to finances, but women’s knowledge of financial matters and financial fitness is lower than that of men. The 2012 study found that 55% of women and 51% of men have no rainy day fund, and 39% of women versus 31% of men would have a hard time raising $2,000. Women are less likely to have a retirement account than men and less likely to own investment securities like mutual funds, stocks or bonds. In a five question financial literacy quiz that was part of the survey, women answered fewer than three questions correctly (men answered just more than 3 correctly). The questions covered concepts like compound interest, inflation and risk. To test your knowledge you can take the same quiz.

This is not OK Ladies! We’re going to live five more years than our male counterparts. We have to get smarter in order to make sure those years are financially secure. Despite the lower lifetime earnings, we actually need to save more. Here are five important things you can do to improve your chances for financial security.

1) Take charge of your own financial future. Surveys indicate that less than half of couples create a plan for their financial security together. Be an active part of planning for your future.

2) Have a budget. If you are spending all that you take home, you are failing to pay one very important bill – the bill for your future financial security. Make sure your savings target takes into account you living longer than your spouse, and consider it as one more bill that you need to pay. Pay that bill first!

3) Understand what you have. Make sure that both you and your spouse are aware of all of the accounts you have, their balances and how they are invested. Review your estimated Social Security benefits to understand how gaps in employment will impact your benefit.

4) Don’t be afraid of the stock market. To maximize your savings, you are going to have to invest in the stock market. Yes, it does go down sometimes – about one in every four 12 month periods, in fact. But it has never failed to recover. Stocks are perfectly appropriate for long term investments, such as retirement savings.

5) Seek help. There is no reason you have to plan for your retirement on your own. You wouldn’t rewire your house by yourself. You would hire an electrician. There is no shame in hiring a professional to help where you don’t feel comfortable. Many financial planners work on an hourly or project fee basis. There are also many great free resources on-line.

The things women need to do to become financially secure are really not different from what men have to do, but women face special challenges due to lower lifetime earnings and longer expected lives, not to mention more expensive shampoo. The decks may be stacked against us, but that hasn’t kept us from other great endeavors, and it shouldn’t keep us from financial security either. Take care of yourself by getting involved in your own financial life. Understand the issues, what you have and what you need, and take the steps to secure your own financial future.

Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Financial Security Harder to Find for Women than Men

The other day, my husband was watching an old episode of The Golden Girls while eating breakfast, and I caught a bit of it. I was shocked to learn that the characters were in their early 50’s, making me a golden girl – ugh! In this particular episode, Rose, played by Betty White, had been laid off from her job, and Dorothy (Bea Arthur) and Blanche (Rue McClanahan) were commiserating. None of them could go more than one or two missed paychecks without facing a crisis. A number of Golden Girls episodes deal with the characters’ precarious financial situations, which unfortunately, is a common story in America.

Women face particular challenges when preparing for retirement. They are more likely to have taken time off work to be a caregiver to children or older parents than men, which reduces both current income for saving and future social security benefits. The TransAmerica Retirement Survey of Workers reported that 45% of working women are working part-time vs 24% of men.  Part time positions often don’t have access to company retirement plans, and even full time working women still make about 18% less than men, making it harder to save.

Women on average, will live five years longer than men, so their need to save for a secure retirement is even more acute than it is for men. Yet across the board women are saving less. In its Global Investor Pulse Survey, BlackRock found that of those who had begun to save for retirement, women had accumulated $41,900 less than men. The EBRI Retirement Confidence Survey, found that 44% of unmarried women had savings of less than $1,000. Single women on the verge of retirement have a savings shortfall amounting to $5,250 of income per month, vs Men whose average shortfall is $2,833. Not surprisingly, women are less likely to feel confident about their financial security in retirement than men. While women are saving less, they’re investing their savings more conservatively, with about 63% of their holdings in cash or similar investments according to the BlackRock survey. More conservative investments means lower returns, and a further shortfall in savings.

What can women do? Here are five important things women can do to improve their chances for financial security.

1) Take charge of your own financial future. Surveys indicate that less than half of couples create a plan for their financial security together. Be an active part of planning for your future.

2) Have a budget. If you are spending all that you take home, you are failing to pay one very important bill – the bill for your future financial security. Consider your savings target as one more bill that you need to pay, and include it in your family budget.

3) Understand what you have. Make sure that both you and your spouse are aware of all of the accounts you have, their balances and how they are invested. Review your estimated Social Security benefits to understand how gaps in employment will impact your benefit.

4) Don’t be afraid of the stock market. To maximize your savings, you are going to have to invest in the stock market. Yes, it does go down sometimes – about one in every four 12 month periods, in fact. But it has never failed to recover. Stocks are perfectly appropriate for long term investments, such as retirement savings.

5) Seek help. There is no reason you have to plan for your retirement on your own. You wouldn’t rewire your house by yourself. You would hire an electrician. There is no shame in hiring a professional to help where you don’t feel comfortable. Many financial planners work on an hourly or project fee basis. There are also many great free resources on-line.

The things women need to do to become financially independent are really not different from what men have to do, but women face special challenges due to lower lifetime earnings and longer expected lives. That means women must get educated about what it takes to be financially secure, and they must take an active part in planning and saving for their future.