New TIAA-CREF resources help gay, lesbian employees

Many couples navigating new financial terrain following Supreme Court decision

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes financial planning?

It’s not a very romantic topic, but one that’s become increasingly important for gay and lesbian couples following this summer’s landmark Supreme Court decision, which legalized same-gender marriage.

As many University of Colorado employees see their rights and benefits expanded, Employee Services hopes they’ll take a look at new white papers and webinars on LGBT financial planning developed by TIAA-CREF, CU’s retirement plan service provider and record keeper.     

A record 450 people attended a July 1 TIAA-CREF financial education webinar called “Equally Prepared: Financial Planning for the LGBT Community,” which walked through legal protections now afforded to married gay and lesbian couples. The session’s popularity prompted TIAA-CREF to announce two additional webinars Sept. 17 and Nov. 4. (Click on the dates for registration information).

Cathy McCabe, Senior Managing Director of TIAA-CREF’s Field Consulting Group, says an internal team started working on LGBT-specific programming more than a year ago, and found the landscape quickly changing. 

“Over a year ago, or even a couple months ago, it was dependent on what state you lived in whether your marriage was recognized and what rights you had or did not have, so it was very confusing,” McCabe said. “We just thought it was really important with the landscape changing so quickly to develop a workshop to help educate and serve this diverse community who has specialized needs.”

In addition to the live webinar, interested CU employees should check out an on-demand version of the webinar and a white paper about the decision’s impact on retirement plans.

CU employees also are welcome to schedule a one-on-one financial consultation to discuss financial topics of their choice. McCabe said TIAA-CREF financial consultants across the country received additional training on LGBT financial planning needs. 

Scarlet Bowen, director of the LGBTQ Resource Center at CU-Boulder, hasn’t received many questions about new benefits and tax credits, saying the weight of the decision is still “sinking in” for some folks. She hopes gay and lesbian employees at CU start to feel more secure about their financial futures now that certain coverage is guaranteed. 

“I think the most important thing is realizing a lot of people in our community have been making financial arrangements and estate planning kind of ad hoc and piecemeal through a lot of different venues,” Bowen said. “Having gone through that one’s entire lifetime, it really is a kind of psychological adjustment.”

Married couples are entitled to more than 1,000 different legal protections, she said.  With basic rights guaranteed, TIAA-CREF representatives say they hope financial planning will become less complex for LGBT couples.

“The Obergefell (vs. Hodges) decision essentially leveled the playing field, so whether you are a member of the LGBT community or not, there are equal rights,” said Collen Carcone, Director of Wealth Planning Strategies at TIAA-CREF.

Major considerations center on tax filing status and estate planning – writing wills, appointing health care proxies and naming powers of attorney, Carcone said. Bowen echoed these topics, adding reviewing health care options, such as adding a spouse to a health care plan, also is important.

Though the financial considerations may be the same for all couples post-Obergefell, the decision could be life-changing for many gay and lesbian employees at CU. 

Cindy Pickett, the Senior Executive Aide to Senior Vice Chancellor and CFO Kelly Fox, has been with CU-Boulder for nearly six years. She says the decision provides relief for her and her wife, but now they need to rethink many of the careful legal and financial arrangements they made before Obergefell.

“It will be easier now, but I haven’t tackled it again,” she said of financial planning. “A lot of (protections and benefits) will be assumed.”

Still, the fight for equal protection has a long way to go, Bowen, Carcone and McCabe each emphasized. Many states don’t guarantee employment rights for LGBT folks, McCabe said, and transgender people face numerous obstacles accessing public accommodations and navigating government programs like Social Security, according to Bowen.

Colorado and CU have been on the forefront of LGBT issues, Bowen said. CU now covers gender-affirmation surgery under its health plan, and Colorado state law bars discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations, according to the ACLU.

Even with new financial challenges and considerations, the decision ushers in new opportunities, and more importantly, a sense of security. 

“It has opened up such a huge landscape of rights and protections that weren’t there before, so there’s going to be a lot of options and a lot of things (LGBTQ employees) can talk through with their accountant and financial advisers that weren’t available before,” Bowen said. 

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