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May 07 2012

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For Mother’s Day, discuss mom’s financial future

By Jason Alderman

On Mother’s Day, children of all ages thank their moms for the many sacrifices made during their childhoods – and well beyond, considering how many adult children still hit up their moms for a loan or free babysitting.

Unfortunately, for many mothers sacrificing extends well beyond sleepless nights and boring recitals. Women frequently leave the workforce during prime earning years to care for families. Consequently, they often fall behind on pay increases and promotions, so their retirement accounts and Social Security benefits are usually much smaller than men’s. Plus, women live an average five years longer than men so their already smaller income must stretch even further.

I’m not trying to bring everyone down, but rather to suggest that your best Mother’s Day gift this year might be to initiate a frank discussion about your mom’s personal finances and how she can better prepare for the future. Here are a few topics you might discuss:

Put retirement savings first. You can always borrow money to pay for college or a house, but you can’t get a loan to pay for retirement. If she’s still working, make sure your mom is enrolled in a 401(k) plan or an IRA and saving as much as possible.

Social Security benefits. Even if your mother didn’t pay into Social Security through work, she’ll be eligible to collect benefits as long as her spouse did. And, if she qualifies under her own work record as well as your dad’s, she’ll generally receive the higher benefit amount of the two.

The longer your mom waits to draw Social Security, the larger her monthly benefit will grow. Social Security “full retirement age” is 65 for those born before 1938 and increases gradually to 67 if born after 1959. If she meets eligibility requirements, your mom can begin drawing reduced benefits beginning at 62; however, doing so will cut her benefit amount by up to 30 percent. However, by postponing benefits until after full retirement age, her benefit will increase up to 8 percent per year, up to age 70.

Also keep in mind:

  • Widows can tap Social Security benefits as early as age 60 (50, if disabled). And spousal benefits are available if she’s divorced, provided the marriage lasted at least 10 years, she remains unmarried and is at least 62.
  • Although many states don’t tax Social Security benefits, the federal government counts them as taxable income. So, depending on your mom’s overall retirement income, she could owe federal tax on a portion of her benefit. IRS Publication 915 has full details.
  • If your mom begins drawing benefits while still working, they could be significantly reduced depending on her income. Read “How Work Affects Your Benefits” at www.ssa.gov for details. (Note: The reductions aren’t truly lost since benefits will be recalculated upward at full retirement age.)

Social Security has a great website for women with information on retirement, disability and other issues – in English and Spanish (www.ssa.gov/women).

You can help your mom estimate her retirement needs by using their Retirement Estimator, which enters her earnings information to estimate projected Social Security benefits under different scenarios, including retirement age and future earnings projections (www.ssa.gov/estimator).

Discussing finances isn’t as much fun as a picnic in the park, but your mom will appreciate your looking out for her financial future.


Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.

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