An App That Makes Financial Sense for Older LGBTQ Adults

An App That Makes Financial Sense for Older LGBTQ Adults

SAGECents, available through the advocacy group SAGE and funded by Wells Fargo, addresses economic stability and stress in the aging LGBTQ population.
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Monday, March 15, 2021 - 11:00am

CAMPAIGN: Financial health

CONTENT: Article

Like many people, Frank Liu and Donna Sue Johnson worry about being able to take care of themselves and their partners as they age. But as members of the LGBTQ community, they’ve sought financial guidance that takes into account unique concerns faced by LGBTQ elders. Johnson, for instance, experienced many years of economic inequities. This is common among women who, like Johnson, are in their 60s or older and in same-sex relationships. Research says they experience nearly twice the poverty rate of older married opposite-sex couples, and earn about 79 cents for every dollar earned by married men in opposite-sex relationships.

Although she was raised in an upper-middle class family where academic excellence was encouraged, Johnson, now a retired licensed clinical social worker and a disabled veteran, says finances were rarely discussed in her formative years, and she got a relatively late start on financial planning.

“I worked, paid bills, worked overtime, paid bills, and was able to maintain an apartment and a vehicle,” said Johnson, who also joined the U.S. Air Force and received a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University, as well as the highest credential in social work as a licensed clinical social worker.

Johnson, who lives in Manhattan, said she was preoccupied by the day-to-day. “Homeownership, savings, and my credit score were just not on my radar, but they are now,” she said.   

Liu, whose position as a creative director in the brand/advertising industry took a hit due to the pandemic, has laid out careful financial plans. Still, he is aware of the bureaucratic difficulties that people in same-sex partnerships can encounter when dealing with their partners’ estates.

“That potential volatility where finances are concerned is very real,” Liu said. “And with the health risks of the pandemic layered on top of that concern, it's something I'm thinking about a lot.”

Seeking financial guidance that speaks to their particular concerns, both Johnson and Liu have consulted the SAGECents app, a new digital financial wellness tool specifically geared to the estimated 3 million LGBTQ Americans currently over 50. Wells Fargo is the primary sponsor of funding for the platform from SAGE, the nation’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ elders through advocacy and services.

“The SAGECents program has helped Wells Fargo round out how we address the financial needs of LGBTQ elders,” said John Lake, the LGBTQ community segment leader for Wells Fargo marketing. “This program gives us an opportunity to focus on the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community as they face the urgent challenges brought on by the pandemic and other root causes.”

As an app, Lake noted, the program allows SAGE to expand its focus on improving the lives of older LGBTQ adults in a virtual space. Based on the technology and offerings of the LifeCents app, SAGECents offers user-friendly and inclusive financial planning tools and resources. Its chat features, game-like format, and topics speak to the needs and preferences of older LGBTQ adults and it can also pair users with certified, LGBTQ-proficient financial counselors.

“Through SAGECents, folks are learning what benefits are available to them through Medicare. And they're also learning how to create a health proxy and a living will,” said David Vincent, SAGE chief program officer. “It’s all about critically important financial resources and capabilities for older adults to have during this horrible pandemic.”

The pandemic just adds to the complexity of financial challenges faced by SAGE’s constituents. According to a SAGE survey, Vincent said, more than 50% of people in the 55+ LGBTQ community say they are “very” or “extremely” concerned that they don't have enough money to retire, compared to 36% of non-LGBTQ older adults. Additionally, more than 50% believe that they will have to work in their retirement years, compared to 27% of the non-LGBTQ population.

“A lifetime of earnings discrepancies can present several factors that are important to look at when you're thinking about how to help people age more successfully,” Vincent said. 

In addition to systemic issues that have affected earnings for the LGBTQ population, the tool addresses other issues specific to the aging LGBTQ community that factor into financial stability, like living through the AIDS pandemic.

“Many people didn't project forward,” said Liu, who was also involved in the app’s development as a focus group member. “Especially if they were diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s/90s, they did not think they were going to live to retirement age. So they didn't really have the resources nor the mental space to plan ahead financially.”

Johnson also points out that some of her peers did not have the advantage of learning about finances from their families, as they may have been ostracized. It’s just another reason she is glad the app is available to her community.

“SAGECents gives you a roadmap, or a blueprint, so that you can have a life journey that's going to include financial management and help you move forward,” said Johnson, who also promotes the app in her work as a consultant for LGBTQ elder programs. “It doesn't matter how old you are. It doesn't matter how far behind you think you are. There's still an opportunity for you to do better and plan financially for the future."