Four tips for women to improve their finances

A look at four simple changes women can make today to improve their personal finances and prepare for the future

Love Money
Last updated: 5 April 2018 - 11.23am

The gender pay gap is not yet a thing of the past in the UK, though it is shrinking. It is at the lowest it’s ever been at just over 18%, but there is more work to do.

In order to help plug that gap, below are four steps women can take today in order to boost their finances.

Stay on top of State Pension rights

Many higher-earning parents, mothers in particular, are likely to be missing out on their State Pension rights.

According to Royal London Insurance, up to 38,000 women have missed out on a total of £278 million in eventual pension rights in the last two years alone.

The reason is that, when they choose to stop claiming Child Benefit, they miss out on the National Insurance (NI) credits awarded with the benefit that count towards their pension.

Stay at home mothers who claim Child Benefit get credits as if they were still at work, and that’s where some women are missing out when they choose not to claim.

Since January 2013, parents earning over £60,000 have had to return their Child Benefit back to the government through tax, and as a result many aren't even bothering to claim it in the first place.

That means the NI credits that would count towards the State Pension pot are likewise going unclaimed.

A parent who has not claimed Child Benefit for the last two years could lose £231 a year when they claim their State Pension, according to Royal London.

Women who are worried about their State Pension record should contact HMRC to check how many years of credits and contributions they have built up.

Some mothers will be able to make up the shortfall in NI credits when they return to work, while others might be able to make voluntary NI contributions.

If you’re a carer

Carers are also missing out by failing to claim NI credits available to them.

Government figures show that 95% of the 250,000 carers who could get NI credits towards their State Pension don’t claim them.

Thousands of carers could get a lower State Pension because they aren’t aware of these credits towards their State Pension.

Of the 6.5 million unpaid carers in the UK 58% – 3.34 million – are women.

If you have already reached State Pension age and have gaps in your NI record because of your time as a carer, you might be eligible for Pension Credit.

If you have not yet reached State Pension age, you can consider making up the shortfall by making voluntary NI contributions.

[Read More: how much does the State Pension top-up cost and should you do it?]

Plan your pension

Plan your pension (Image: Shutterstock)

As a whole, women are far less prepared for retirement then men, according to research by Scottish Widows.

It found that women still save less for retirement then men, while 71% of women don't know what size pension pot they will need to secure the income they hope for in retirement.

Even more worrying is the fact that up to 23% of women don't save for retirement at all, compared to 15% of men.

There is some good news though: the number of women saving adequately for retirement is rising, and currently stands at 52%, compared to 60% of men.

That said, there are still a number of factors that hold women back when saving for retirement.

The Fawcett Society, a group which campaigns for gender equality, has identified three main issues: time off for maternity which affects later income and pension contributions, mothers returning to work on reduced hours, and the significant cost of childcare.

In order to address this imbalance, women should arm themselves with information.

Pension calculators can help you work how much you should be setting aside.

Pensions should also be considered a priority from as early as possible.

Get out of debt

Obviously both men and women can have trouble with managing their debt.

However, research suggests that the impact of debt can be worse for women, who also take more time to get out of debt.

Of the 8.8 million people struggling with debt in the UK, 64% are women, according to the Money Advice Service, and around two thirds of insolvencies in the UK are declared by women.

According to the British Household Panel Survey, women take five years longer to pay off their student loans then their male counterparts, who usually get rid of them within 11 years.

This can be because the gender pay gap means women earn less than men, but they are also more likely to take more time off to raise a family.

In order to get your finances under control, work out a payment plan to deal with debt, and stick to a budget.

Remember help is out there if you are struggling to cope, many debt charities will help you get your debt under control for free.

[Read more: Best accounts for an emergency savings fund]

Get investing to make your savings work harder 

Women tend to be a little wearier of investing than their male counterparts.

About 80% of women do not have an investment portfolio, compared with 66% of men, according to research by TD Direct Investing.

The firm suggests this might have something to do with women being more cautious with their money than men: only 9% of women are willing to take financial risks, compared with 20% of men.

While there is obviously an element of risk involved, investing for the long-term will almost always beat the return offered from savings accounts.

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