Singles' lives not so simple

Friday, November 23, 2001

NEW YORK -- David Bergman sees financial pluses and minuses to being single.

A divorced real estate salesman from Scotts Valley, Calif., the baby boomer especially likes the ability to make decisions without anyone second-guessing him.

"I'm in control of what I spend and what I don't," he said. "Right now, I'm thinking of buying a BMW convertible."

On the other hand, Bergman, 40, acknowledges, "it also means everything is up to you," from deciding how to save for his 10-year-old son's college education to planning for a retirement he hopes will include travel.

America's singles -- people who never married, who divorced or who lost spouses -- total nearly 82 million, or 40 percent of adults 18 and over, according to Census Bureau figures. Baby boomers, with their higher divorce rates and longevity, which tends to produce more widows, are projected to push the ranks of singles to some 106 million, or 47 percent, by 2010.

Singles of any age often face discrimination in employment, housing, credit, child custody and taxes, says Thomas F. Coleman, executive director of the American Association for Single People in Glendale, Calif.

That can result in disproportionately higher costs than married couples face: A couple with two incomes generally has an easier time qualifying for a mortgage. The cost of a single hotel room or cruise ship reservation is often little different from a double. Special trusts that couples use to shelter their money from estate taxes won't work for singles.

"If you're single, the burden is on you," Coleman said. "You've really got to make plans. No one else is going to do that for you."

Savings a plus

One thing singles can do to compensate is to save more.

"A single person in his or her 40s should be putting away 20 percent of gross income," said Ben Baldwin, an insurance specialist in Arlington Heights, Ill. "If someone is doing that, I'll feel good about his future security."

Baldwin also suggested that singles more than couples might need help from financial planners and investment advisers.

"With a couple, one is usually good and sensible and keeps them both on track," Baldwin said.

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