I being single. You see it on license plate frames and bumper stickers, and hear it in conversation.

To most, it symbolizes a certain amount of freedom. But that doesn't mean single investors who are (or need to be) accumulating assets have no concerns.

It's true that married couples with children have more immediate financial worries such as paying for college tuition and a home. And while singles might not have those pressing needs, they are concerned about planning for a comfortable retirement, says David Furmanski, a Merrill Lynch rep in Tucson, Ariz.

Jack Ellison, a broker with Sentra Securities in Palm Springs, Calif., agrees: The lack of a spouse directs singles to stay ahead of the marketplace because there is only one person producing income. If a working couple made a fairly decent living, Social Security may be enough in later years. But a single person has to plan ahead and rely on investment income to supplement their retirement.

Ditch the Stereotypes

Don't assume all singles are carefree, aggressive investors. Risk postures depend on age and individual tolerances.

Furmanski's younger single clients tend to be more adventurous. The younger they are, the less pressure they feel to preserve assets, he says. They tend to be comfortable taking a risk. They know their goals and objectives, and they don't have to worry about what their spouse thinks.

However, Ellison has mostly older clients who tend to be conservative investors. They realize they don't have as much to risk as, say, a household, because there is only one income, he says. In a two-person household, one partner may be aggressive with his or her portfolio while the other may be conservative and, in the end, there is some sort of balance. Singles don't have the luxury of having two portfolios working for them.

Some singles change their stripes once they partner up. I've seen conservative investors become aggressive once they're married and have more money to work with, says Michelle Smith, a First Union Securities broker in New York.

Singles should be especially concerned about taxes, Furmanski says. Single people tend not to have the mortgage write-off because most singles don't own homes. Any transaction or change in income can have significant tax implications.

Insurance First

Brokers say older single people realize they are totally responsible for themselves until death. That makes health and disability coverage important.

Janice Chapman, a broker and CFP at Raymond James Financial Services in Mineola, N.Y., first recommends insurance to cover disability or long-term medical care. Long-term disability can wipe out anything you've made through investments so you need insurance to protect your investments, she says.

Jim Glenn, a First Union Securities rep in San Antonio, Texas, agrees that disability insurance should be a single person's No. 1 financial priority. I tell all my single clients to get disability insurance. I do. It's expensive but necessary.

I've known some brokers who have built up big portfolios for clients, but if the client becomes disabled, invested assets are the first thing to go, he warns.

Glenn, who is divorced and runs investment seminars for recently divorced people, puts investments in fourth place on a checklist of options for single clients. He says single people should purchase disability insurance, establish an emergency fund and max out their IRA and 401(k) accounts before investing elsewhere.

The Quasi-Spouse

Since single people have no significant other, they should be encouraged to bounce ideas and strategies off their investment professional.

I'm acting as a life partner on all financial matters, Glenn says. Lease or buy a car? Find a more expensive place? I get calls all the time from clients wanting my opinion.

Eileen Proud of Proud Financial Services, a Sentra Securities branch in Tucson, Ariz., specializes in financial planning for divorcees and women. Sometimes clients need to be reassured that they're not alone, she says. I provide the expertise and knowledge they need to make a decision.

You have to be the go-to person when a client wants to talk, Smith says. Often, spouses were not the sounding board in many marriages. But women coming off a divorce certainly need someone to talk to about their investments.

And what happens when a single client decides to wed? Make every effort to meet and get to know the intended spouse, Furmanski advises. That's a big deal. Your client has now become me and my spouse with new risk tolerances and spending parameters.

Proud urges her marrying clients to keep some autonomy over their money. Older adults tend to be set in their ways and keeping personal investments separate may be the best way to preserve harmony.

Should a single person die without a will, his or her estate will probably go to any living parents.

Have a will, says Jim Glenn, a First Union Securities rep in San Antonio, Texas. The state should not decide who gets your money. You may want to send a nephew to college.

Singles may think they don't need an estate plan, but they do if they want to direct their assets. Some single people have special projects or causes, and they tend to be very charitable, says Michelle Smith, a New York-based rep also with First Union who specializes in advising single women. The estate should be part of the overall financial plan.

  1. Be patient. These clients often take longer to make decisions. That may mean more time or an extra appointment before they commit, says Jack Ellison, a broker with Sentra Securities in Palm Springs, Calif.

  2. Walk in their shoes. If you're not single, remember what it was like to have only one income and limited contingency plans. Younger or career-focused singles can have abrupt changes in their lifestyles.

  3. Offer yourself as a sounding board. Singles don't have partners. Some want reassurance about their choices while others need to be reined in.

  4. Set long-term investment goals. Singles may not have as many immediate financial drains as families do. Coach them on how to structure a portfolio to get where they want in the future, says Janice Chapman, a broker and CFP at Raymond James Financial Services in Mineola, N.Y.

  5. Don't forget the financial plan. Everything costs more with one income, and tax deductions may be limited. Funnel enough into retirement accounts, reserve three to six months of living expenses in the bank and buy disability insurance to cover loss of income. Planning is especially needed after divorce, job changes and marriage.

Registered Representative welcomes your comments on this story. Contact Senior Writer Tom Nelson at Tom_Nelson@Intertec.com or call our editorial department at 800/621-0720.