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Retirement rules of the road for women

Longevity and fewer assets mean women need to start planning early

Start early, go for the max and know what you have.

No one wants to outlive their savings. But if you’re a woman, the odds are pretty good you might. On average, women can expect to have a longer lifespan and have traditionally had lower lifetime earnings than men, making their retirement planning especially urgent.

There are things you can do to mitigate this situation. Of course, the earlier you start saving, the better, and every little bit you do now counts.

Here are some tips for women (and men) to keep in mind as they advance toward retirement:

Take advantage of your company’s retirement plan: Many employers match some of the contributions you make to a company-sponsored retirement plan. You might not like having to sock away some of your income now, but it will pay off in the future. And, remember, you won’t miss the money, if you don’t see it in your paycheck!

Be careful when changing jobs: You may lose the retirement benefits you have earned if you leave your job before you are vested. However, once vested, you have the right to receive benefits even when you leave your job. Certain rules and taxes may apply depending on whether you take the money as a lump sum or reinvest it. Also, weigh the options available of what to do with the accumulated funds. Those usually include taking a lump sum payment, keeping the money with your former employer, or moving the money to your new employer.

Work as long as you can at the highest salary you can: This means higher Social Security benefits when you eventually stop working. This might also enable you to receive Medicare coverage without having to pay premiums when you’re retired.

Understand the effect of divorce and remarriage on Social Security: If you divorce but were married for at least 10 years, you are entitled to Social Security payments equal to 50% of your ex-husband’s benefits. You’ll lose that right if you remarry, but you’ll be entitled to collect payments based on your new husband’s benefits. A widow is entitled to her late husband’s benefits as long as she doesn't remarry before age 60.

Start your own retirement account and contribute regularly: This should be in addition to whatever retirement contributions you make through your employer.

Learn about your finances: Make sure you and your spouse discuss the household finances regularly and share some of the responsibility for paying bills. Know your assets and debts and learn to pay down debts by budgeting.