Women Display Unique Considerations for Financial Planning

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Money know-how helps women prepare for future; Bills.com CEO offers tips.

When it comes to financial planning, equality of the sexes is critical, says Brad Stroh, co-founder and co-CEO of free online consumer portal Bills.com (http://www.bills.com). Women can level the financial playing field by using money smarts, said Stroh, with seven ways to quickly sharpen their game.

"Women face different financial challenges than men do. For one thing, women on average earn nearly 35 percent less than men in similar positions,1" said Stroh. "For another, women may be more inclined to make life choices that can have a huge impact on finances -- from taking time off to raise children to losing work hours caring for elderly parents. Those decisions have ramifications for Social Security income and retirement savings."

Stroh suggested that women who heed the following seven pieces of advice will find themselves - and their finances - in better shape for the long-term.

1. Understand finances. Today, more and more women are financially savvy, and a large number of women manage their household's money. But, Stroh said, it is critical for both partners in a household to understand their financial situation, to create a budget outlining all income and expenses, to know how to pay bills and plan for the future, and to agree on a set of financial priorities.

2. Prepare for retirement. Many financial planners believe women's No. 1 challenge is preparing for retirement. "No matter what women earn, they should put aside a portion of their savings for retirement," Stroh said. "Invest the maximum in a company 401(k) plan, and save more in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) if possible. If there is the unfortunate possibility of a divorce, understand your state's laws when it comes to dividing retirement accounts."

3. Make decisions carefully. Every family must decide if a parent will stay home with children, and those decisions affect more than finances. But many families overlook the impact of leaving work on Social Security income, health insurance costs and other financial factors. "Consider not only the income, but the value of benefits and the psychological impact of returning to the workforce when deciding which parent -- if either -- will leave the workforce to care for children or others," Stroh suggested.

4. Choose careers thoughtfully. While common wisdom is that men earn more than women, in some fields women earn the same or more, according to the book "Why Men Earn More" (by Warren Farrell).2 In addition, a study published this year found that young women working in big cities earn more -- sometimes significantly more -- than their male peers.3
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5. Make wise marriage-money decisions. Choosing marriage? Best wishes! But don't leave good judgment at the altar. "Women should not hand over all financial decision-making to a partner, and they should know about (and share) their credit history with a prospective spouse," said Stroh, who also suggested that married women are wise to always keep a credit card in their own names and maintain a good history on that card. Some happily married spouses recommend maintaining three bank accounts: a joint account and one for each partner. Pay household bills from the joint account, but keep some individual funds, too.

6. Honesty is the best policy. "More than anything, be honest with your partner and urge the same so that you can address any money problems head on," Stroh cautioned. "Do not hide purchases or debt problems. If you do, you're just digging yourself a deeper hole."

7. Never think that you can't do it. Even today, many women are not taught about money and investing. "Educate yourself by reading, reviewing reputable personal finance education Web sites such as http://www.bills.com, and watching TV programs or speakers about investing," said Stroh. "Be cautious, but do not be discouraged."

Based in San Mateo, Calif., Bills.com is a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about complex personal finance issues and comparison shop for products and services including credit cards, debt relief assistance, insurance, mortgages and other loans. The company blogs about consumer finance issues at http://www.bills.com/blog. Since 2002, Bills.com has served more than 20,000 customers nationwide while managing more than $500 million in consumer debt. Bills.com is a division of Freedom Financial Network, LLC, whose co-founders and CEOs, Andrew Housser and Brad Stroh, have been named Northern California finalists in Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

1 http://www.aauw.org/research/statedata/index.cfm
2 http://money.cnn.com/2006/02/28/commentary/everyday/sahadi_paytable/index.htm
3 http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN0334472920070803

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