NEW YORK ( BankingMyWay) -- The United States still values its marriage culture, with 58.4 million married couples living in the country this year. That's 19% of the population, only a slight drop from the 21.5% of the population that was married back in 1980, according to calculations from U.S. Census Bureau figures. But marriages do come and go, and Americans can expect different financial challenges whether they are married, single, divorced, living with a domestic partner or widowed. So says the MetLife Mature Market Institute in its study Planning Tips: Focus on Family Types and Financial Well-Being. In it, the Institute says that the so-called "traditional family" is losing ground, with alternative forms of family taking their place:
The American family is changing. In fact, household makeup in general is changing -- today, the percentage of people living alone is at an all-time high, now representing the second-largest American household type after married couples. The "traditional family" of husband, wife and children, all from a first marriage, is a smaller percentage than ever before. For the first time since Census data collection on families began in 1940, fewer than half of all households (48%) are husband-wife households (first and second marriages). Other types of households, such as same-sex couples, opposite-sex nonmarried couples and single parents with children have increased in percentages.There is no cookie-cutter approach to financial planning across disparate family groups, MetLife ( MET) says. What one family headed by a single mother faces is significantly different than what a husband-wife household faces. To that end, MetLife uses the study to offer specific advice to different family groups to help cope with varying family financial issues. "The economy has been difficult for almost everyone, but different family types have different concerns and there are individualized ways to handle them," notes Sandra Timmermann, director of the institute. "Singles should be particularly disciplined about saving and planning for the simple reason that they don't have the same safety net. Couples with children have to consider the expenses of raising them, subsidizing higher education costs and perhaps, assistance later on. Divorced individuals and those in second marriages have still more financial considerations." Here, straight from the MetLife report, are specific tips on how different families can improve their financial standing and lay the groundwork for a secure, comfortable retirement. (Some tips not included below in all groups, such as creating a will, estimating your Social Security income or having long-term health care insurance, are considered by MetLife to be universal and should be undertaken no matter what the state of your family.) Couples in a first marriage:
- Save using a combination of financial products to create guaranteed lifetime income for both spouses.
- Communicate openly about financial expectations and differences. Set goals and spending budgets for pre- and post-retirement spending.
- Recognize the impact of supporting others when planning for retirement.
- Have legal documents that define obligations and resource ownership, considering previous and current spouses and children from both marriages.
- Keep in mind that supporting other family members may affect your own retirement savings and future financial security.
- Learn about special issues related to saving for retirement and planning for lifetime income for your family structure. Nonmarried partners may not have the same employee benefits rights as married couples. Determine your rights and those of your partner.
- A will is essential for division of assets among your partner, children and other family members in accordance with your wishes.
- Consider financial products that provide retirement protection, such as long-term care insurance and those offering a steady stream of guaranteed income for life.
- Seek professional legal and financial advice to determine which estate planning and retirement plan documents should be revised after the loss of a spouse.
- Special consideration is needed to assess your financial resources and prospects for financial security in retirement. Seek the help of financial professionals and an attorney.
- If your income is low or will be low in retirement, consider delaying Social Security to increase your monthly income in retirement and be aware of public benefit programs that may help.
- Start planning and saving for retirement as soon as possible, even if you can only save in small amounts initially.
- Understand the value of your employee benefits and take advantage of them; they can help you better prepare for retirement.
- Establish ongoing sources of steady guaranteed income throughout your retirement.