Even though women tend to save for retirement at higher rates than their male counterparts, they don't necessarily land in the best shape by the time they bring their careers to a close. Research from George Washington University tells us that women are more financially fragile today than they were a generation ago, because of high levels of debt and low savings levels.
Just how low are we talking? The median retirement savings balance among working women is just $34,000, according to data from Transamerica. And while that data doesn't break down by age, it's fair to say that plenty of women approaching retirement are looking at a nest egg that's nowhere close to where it needs to be.
If you're in your 50s or beyond and are looking at an underfunded nest egg, you should know that you do have options for salvaging your retirement. The key is to be strategic during the remainder of your career to make up for lost time.
Boost your savings rate
It's one thing for a 30-year-old woman to have just $34,000 amassed. But if you're 20 years older than that, or more, you'll need to do better if you want a shot at a financially secure retirement. Specifically, now's the time to ramp up your savings rate and max out whatever retirement plan you have access to.
If your company provides a 401(k), you're in luck, because workers 50 and over can contribute up to $24,500 annually. Do so for 10 years, and you'll add another $323,000 to your nest egg if your investments generate a somewhat conservative 6% average annual return. Keep in mind that the more you contribute to your 401(k), the more likely you are to snag whatever match your employer is willing to give you. And that's yet another way to boost your nest egg when you're running out of time.
Don't have access to a 401(k)? You can still save in an IRA, and if you max out for 10 years at $6,500 a year (the current limit for workers 50 and older), you'll have an additional $85,000 in your nest egg, assuming that same 6% return.
Be smart about Social Security
While Social Security can't fund your retirement alone, those benefits can play a big role in helping you pay the bills. So if you're behind on savings, you can compensate by delaying your benefits and boosting them in the process. Specifically, for each year you hold off on benefits past your full retirement age, which, for today's workers, is 66, 67, or 66 and a certain number of months, you'll boost your payments by 8% -- permanently.
Now the only catch is that this incentive runs out at age 70, so there's no point in delaying benefits past that point. But if your full retirement age is 67 and you wait until you turn 70 to collect benefits, you'll turn a $1,400 monthly payment into a $1,736 payment -- for life.
Work longer -- and in retirement
Many workers land on a retirement age and aim to leave their full-time jobs at that point. But if you're willing to extend your career, you'll get to collect a paycheck for longer, thus providing an opportunity to boost your savings, hold off on Social Security, and avoid dipping into your nest egg. Furthermore, don't discount the possibility of working in some capacity once you leave your full-time job. Whether you choose to consult for a few hours a week in your former field or start a business you're passionate about, retirement offers ample opportunity to work part-time and generate income. And that's a good way to make up for lost savings.
If you're an older female worker sitting on a less-than-stellar nest egg, let this serve as a wake-up call: Because women tend to live longer than men, they also tend to need more money. And the sooner you take steps to increase your savings, the less likely you are to run into financial trouble once retirement comes to be.