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Secure Act Law & Retirement for Women

Jenna Elliott, JD, LL.M.

Director of Estate Planning


  • The story of women and retirement presents several hurdles, as women live longer than men, get paid less, and don’t save enough for retirement.
  • The new SECURE Act brings significant changes to retirement. There are several strategies women can use to face the unique challenges that come with saving for retirement.
Woman calculates finances in retirement

When it comes to saving for retirement, women must overcome several barriers: women tend to live longer than men (age 81 vs. age 76)1, get paid less (82 cents for every dollar)2, and don’t save enough for retirement. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, women in the U.S. face a retirement savings gap of 10 years, meaning they should expect to live 10 years longer than the money they have saved for retirement.3


SECURE Act Changes to Help You Save More

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Act (“SECURE Act”) introduced new provisions which may give you more choices when it comes to saving for retirement and your other life goals. Here are some notable changes you should be aware of. (Visit our SECURE Act page to learn more).


How much do you need?

A study from the Transamerica Institute showed that both men and women believe they need to save $500,000 to feel financially secure in retirement.4 That $500,000 number may seem like a lot or too little—or maybe it feels abstract because it’s hard to connect a number like that to your daily life.

As part of the SECURE Act, retirement plan providers will now have to show your retirement account balances as it translates into monthly income. Seeing your retirement account balance as a monthly income stream may help you reframe the dollar amount as something more tangible. Similar to the way you would use your monthly income, or paycheck, to determine your cash flow, this monthly dollar amount may help in framing how much you’ll have during retirement.


You now have longer to save.

Are you seeing a theme? You can now save for retirement forever (or as long as you want to and can continue to work). The new retirement laws mean there is no age limit to when you can contribute to your retirement account, whether you have a traditional or Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Plus, you can now wait until age 72 (up from age 70) to take required minimum distributions from your 410(k) and traditional IRA accounts. This translates to more time to save, giving your retirement funds more time to grow, which is critical for women who need a larger nest egg to account for their longevity.


Support for new parents.

It’s no secret that having and raising children requires significant funds. The SECURE Act allows new parents to take penalty-free distributions from their retirement plans within a year of the birth of a child or adoption to cover related expenses, up to $5,000. The traditional 10% penalty would not apply for these distributions. These provisions may provide additional income for families when they need it most.


Retirement savings help for part-time workers.

Twenty-five percent of women work part time (34 hours a week or less) compared to 12 percent of men.5 If you’re part of the 25 percent, you now have more choices when it comes to saving for retirement. The SECURE Act now requires employers to offer 401(k) benefits to part-time workers who have worked at least 500 hours per year for at least three consecutive years.


More choices for small-business owners.

The SECURE Act makes it easier for small businesses to offer employer retirement plans. Small business owners can now join with other employers to set up and offer 401(k) plans with fewer liability concerns and less cost. With over 50 percent of businesses in the U.S owned by women, 6 this provision helps to lift all tides—women business owners and employed women. Small businesses typically have not offered retirement savings options, so the hope here is that more small business employees will be able to take advantage of employer-sponsored plans.


1 United States Life Tables, 2017, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 6/24/19.

2 Semega, Jessica, “Payday, Poverty, and Women,” U.S. Census Bureau, 9/10/19.

3 “Investing in (and for) Our Future” white paper, World Economic Forum, 06/19.

4 “19 Facts About Women’s Retirement Outlook,” Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, 11/19.

5 TED: The Economics Daily, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 12/1/17.

6 Women Business Owner Statistics, National Association of Women Business Owners

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