For nearly three decades, Cindy Hounsell, who is president of WISER, the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, has been leading the charge in helping women secure their financial futures. Hounsell, a lawyer and retirement expert, testifies before Congress, trains advocates around the U.S., and writes and speaks widely on the need for women to prepare for retirement. In this lightly edited conversation with Associate Editor Mary Kane, Hounsell elaborates on women’s challenges, including the complications of caregiving, the financial literacy deficit and the impact of widowhood.
Women are more likely to take on the role of full-time caregivers. What is the financial cost to them?
When I first started doing this, caregiving advocates would say to me, “People love their caregiving job. They do this because they love their parent. You can’t talk about finances.” But I started talking about it. I’d do events with aging advocates and people would come up to me afterward, like a schoolteacher who said, “I quit my job with benefits to take care of both parents, and now the state is taking the house for all the money they owe. I’m 64 years old. Where am I going to get a job?” A lot has been written about this. You’re not going to get another job with benefits. These people have nothing left because someone they loved got sick. I think a lot about them.
What are some of the ideas being considered to support caregivers?
We are talking more about family caregiver agreements. Families are beginning to understand that caregiving has to be about more than just one person. We’re beginning to hear that the other siblings are pitching in financially. I’ve even seen examples where the other family members bought the family house for the sister who quit her job to do the caregiving.
What’s interesting is that we also see a lot of younger women who are daughters quitting their jobs to be caregivers for their parents. But we’re hearing from a number of older women who tell them don’t quit your job. You’re sacrificing something for a responsibility that needs to be shared with the rest of the family.
What role does financial literacy play in retirement planning, especially for women?
You have to educate yourself. You have to learn the language. You have to be on the lookout for every source of income you are counting on in retirement, and you have to be sure the accounts or insurance will actually be there for you. You need a financial planner or a financial counselor to go through all that with you, or at least ask those questions. And we don’t believe it’s ever too late to start planning. If you’re living in a big house and you can’t afford the taxes, then you need to think about moving. You have to do something. There are still decisions you can make so your retirement life will be easier.
How should women prepare for their financial lives when they become widows?
Over the years, I’ve heard story after story about widows not getting survivor benefits or pension benefits they should have had. They didn’t sign up for it properly, or they didn’t handle it correctly in a divorce. They leave money on the table that they are going to need. We urge women, and the children of these women, because they are going to end up with some of that burden, to start talking about this.
What are some specific strategies older women can consider to prepare for a more secure retirement?
People say you should really work to age 70. If you think you can’t and you are pushing to get to age 66 and get your full benefits, maybe try staying at your job at least another year or two. Or if you can’t put the maximum each year into your IRA, at least put a little bit in. These are hard decisions, but there are things you can do. Don’t just say you don’t want to deal with them, and do nothing.
Small Businesses Hit Extra Hard by Higher Interest Rates
The Kiplinger Letter On average, small business owners are paying interest rates in the range of 9.1%, per the NFIB.
By David Payne Published
How Much Does It Cost to Move?
Finding out how much it costs to move and budgeting correctly is essential when you're planning to buy or rent a property. Here’s what you need to know.
By Tom Higgins Published
Four Tips for Renting Out Your Home on Airbnb
real estate Here's what you should know before listing your home on Airbnb.
By Miriam Cross Published
Five Ways to a Cheap Last-Minute Vacation
Travel Procrastinator? No matter. You can pull off a fun and memorable getaway on a moment's notice — without breaking the bank.
By Vaishali Varu Published
Is a Medicare Advantage Plan Right for You?
Medicare Advantage plans can provide additional benefits beneficiaries can't get through original Medicare for no or a low monthly premium. But there are downsides to this insurance too.
By Jackie Stewart Published
How Much Life Insurance Do You Need?
insurance Instead of relying on rules of thumb, you’re better off taking a systematic approach to figuring your life-insurance needs.
By Kimberly Lankford Published
When Is Amazon Prime Day?
Amazon Prime In 2023 Amazon had two Prime Day events — one in July and another, called Big Deal Days, in October. We expect 2024 to follow the same schedule.
By Bob Niedt Last updated
How to Shop for Life Insurance in 3 Easy Steps
insurance Shopping for life insurance? You may be able to estimate how much you need online, but that's just the start of your search.
By Kaitlin Pitsker Published
What You Must Know About the Different Parts of Medicare
Medicare Medicare can be complicated but we've got you covered. Here is a quick guide to the different benefits provided through each part.
By Jackie Stewart Last updated
5 Ways to Shop for a Low Mortgage Rate
Becoming a Homeowner Rates are high this year, but you can still find an affordable loan.
By Daniel Bortz Published