The AARP has just launched its Women's Leadership Circle and they did it with a keynote address by Ted Mathas, executive vive president of New York Life Insurance Company. Mathas detailed the state of retirement for women and mapped out the necessary steps needed to ensure a financially sound future for women and their families.

For one, he stated rather boldly that financial planning for retirement is, by definition, a women's issue. "The numbers don't lie: by age 85, there are twice as many women as men. And they need to be planning well in advance for their economic self-sufficiency." In short, women, he says, face far greater financial risk during retirement than men.

What are the reasons for such a statement? He ticked off the following:

· Life expectancy: Women live longer than men. Nearly one-third of all women who are age 65 today will live well into their nineties.

· Widowhood: The average age of losing your spouse in America is 55: Even though the majority of adult women are married, 85 percent of them will spend the last years of retirement alone.

· Financial Woes: Widowhood spells financial disaster for women. According to the U.S. Government, four out of five widows living below the poverty line were not poor before their husbands died.

· Retirement Plans: Women are less likely than men to work for an employer who offers a retirement plan. Because women are often the ones to leave jobs to care for children, they are also less likely to vest in pension plans or contribute as much as men to retirement savings plans.

He acknowledges that today everyone talks about asset accumulation; however, he notes that once retirement sets in, then it's no longer about accumulating assets but about a plan for spending and preserving assets. "Along with that plan, we need to be providing much better answers to the four big 'what if' questions women are asking about retirement."

1. What if I outlive my money?2. What if my investments lose money?

3. What if I have expensive medical bills?

4. What if inflation eats up my savings?

Mathas points out that those women who are looking at retirements lasting 20 years, 30 years, or longer, need a source of guaranteed income that they cannot outlive. But then comes a quasi-commercial. Remember, although Mathas is with an insurance company, he still tries to remain as objective as possible. He says that very few people realize they can convert a portion of their retirement savings into a guaranteed stream of monthly income for life. He emphasizes the fact that the introduction of guaranteed lifetime income products offers the tremendous reassurance of knowing that regardless of how long the person lives and regardless of the ups and downs of Wall Street, that individual will continue to receive the monthly income that has been promised.He explains further. "This can be a particularly valuable component of a retirement portfolio for women because it can replace the guaranteed monthly income from pensions and Social Security that's lost when a spouse dies. It also has none of the volatility risks of investments, and yet usually yields much greater annual returns, and these guaranteed lifetime income plans provide the greatest benefits to those who live the longest: women."

Mathas concludes that every retirement plan should include guaranteed income that the markets can't erode and that retirees can't outlive. "We have the understanding today, the financial tools, and the resources to restore the retirement promise. Whether this means encouraging people to begin saving a few dollars a week early in their careers, or building their own personal pensions later in life, none of this is impossible. None of this is beyond us."

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