NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Women may earn less than men, but they are the winning gender when it comes to retirement savings rates. All else being equal, female employees contribute 8.3% of their income to their 401(k) accounts, compared with contributions of 7.9% from male employees, according to an analysis of over 20,000 corporate retirement plans by Fidelity Investments.

Despite saving for retirement, 60% of women still fear they will outlive their savings. Creating and maintaining an investment strategy is essential to retirement readiness, but many women shy away from the task. "Women are more capable than they often give themselves credit for, and the same discipline that makes them dedicated savers can also be applied to investing," says Kathy Murphy, president of Fidelity's Personal Investing.

Working with a financial advisor can help bolster confidence and knowledge. "Investing involves a high degree of understanding of markets, economics and financial concepts," says Avani Ramnani, director of financial planning and wealth management for Francis Financial. Women tend to be uncomfortable making investment decisions if they don't have a firm understanding of these concepts, she explains.

Ramnani, a certified financial planner, educates her female clients on which investments make up their portfolios, and why. "This process is very similar to how one might work with their doctor," she says. "You don't need to be a doctor yourself, but you need to gain a good understanding of your condition, how to handle it and how to make sound decisions every day to stay healthy."

Advisors face challenges, however, since many women are reluctant to talk about financial issues. Some 77% of women feel comfortable discussing health problems with a doctor, but only 47% feel confident talking about money and investing with a financial professional. "This lack of confidence is really self-imposed. Our analysis of more than 12 million investors shows that women actually demonstrated stronger saving rates than their male counterparts and enjoyed better long-term investment performance when they did engage," says Murphy. "Unfortunately, too many women still hesitate to take control of their finances."

Target Date Funds

Understanding and evaluating individual stocks is time consuming, and wading through various mutual funds is rarely any better. It's no surprise that only 28% of women know how to select the right financial investments. An age-based investing approach is simple and a good place to start. "If you have a small amount to invest, and you are not very confident about making investment choices, a target date fund might work for you," Ramnani says.

Target date retirement funds have become a staple in retirement accounts, especially among young investors. These funds allow investors to choose one mutual fund based on their age and expected retirement date. As the time until retirement narrows, the target date fund rebalances from aggressive investments to more conservative options.

Investing Made Simple

If an appropriate target date fund is not available, creating an investment strategy that mimics the age-based approach is relatively simple. The key to target date investing is adjusting risk based on time horizon. Generally speaking, stocks are riskier investments and bonds are less risky investments. Younger employees have more time before they plan to retire, which means they can take bigger risks now. As employees get closer to their retirement age, risk should gradually be reduced.

To determine the right percentage of stocks to own in a retirement portfolio, subtract one's current age from 120. Invest that amount in a stock mutual fund, and the remainder of the portfolio in a bond fund. Using this formula, someone who is 25 years old would invest 95% of his retirement portfolio in stocks and 5% in bonds. Someone who is 50 years old would invest 70% in stocks and 30% in bonds. This approach works to a certain extent. "As your investment account grows, it is worthwhile to look at other investment options and to create a well-diversified portfolio that takes into account your particular needs," Ramnani advises. 

Enduring Market Dips

One of the biggest challenges with investing is overcoming the fear of financial loss when the market dips. During economic turmoil, the natural instinct is to sell investments to prevent further losses. Taking this approach can cripple retirement savings growth over time, especially if investors miss out on market gains because of excess cash in their portfolio. Establishing a long-term investment strategy means sticking to it, regardless of the day-to-day moves of the market.

"Making investment choices can be a daunting task," Ramnani says, but she encourages women to begin learning about money sooner rather than later. "They can always begin with the basics and move on to higher level concepts as their understanding grows," she says.

Investing in financial education could be a good move for employers. Women are interested in learning about investing, and 70% of women who are not currently working with an advisor would like to do so in the near future. The number one financial wellness benefit requested by employees is on-site educational courses offered during the workday. This presents a unique opportunity for employers to reduce employee stress, which is likely to lead to increased productivity.

"The key is to take action now to ensure that your money is working just as hard as you do, so you can achieve the goals and live the life you deserve," says Murphy.

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