Gay people earn more, owe less

December 6, 2012: 1:37 PM ET
gay piggy bank
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans earn more, save more and have less debt, a Prudential study shows.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are better at managing their money than the average American, new research shows.

They earn more, save more, have less debt and are better prepared for retirement, according to a Prudential survey of more than 1,000 LGBT respondents.

Respondents not only reported significantly higher annual incomes -- $61,500 compared with the national median of $50,054 -- but they also carried about $4,000 less in debt than the average American and had $6,000 more in household savings. They were even slightly more likely to have jobs in the first place, with an unemployment rate of 7% versus the national rate of 7.9%, Prudential found.

A combination of factors play into this, said Michele Meyer-Shipp, chief diversity officer at Prudential. To start, LGBT individuals are generally well-educated, with more than half of respondents receiving at least a bachelor's degree, and tend to live in higher-income areas, she said.

"It flows down -- you have a higher level of education, access to higher paying jobs in areas where there are good salaries, and more disposable income to allocate to things like saving and retirement," Meyer-Shipp said.

Related: Same-sex couples could see tax windfalls

Uncertainty about the future of gay rights likely also prompts many members of the LGBT community to be especially prudent with their money, Meyer-Shipp said.

Among their top financial concerns, respondents cited a lack of Social Security or pension survivor benefits, legislation that negatively affects LGBT finances and unfair tax treatment.

Thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman, same-sex couples are barred from getting many of the same federal benefits that opposite-sex married couples receive, including survivor benefits and certain tax exemptions.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to hear a DOMA case for the first time, and if it strikes down the law, these benefits would become available to married same-sex couples.

Related: 'We just want equal benefits'

"The LGBT community has unique concerns, so when you're planning you've got to be more cautious about where you're putting your money and how much you're saving," Meyer-Shipp said.

According to the survey, LGBT people build up significantly more equity in their homes -- a median of $77,000 compared to the national median of $62,000. And, among LGBT pre-retirees ages 55 to 68, about 65% are currently saving for retirement in employer-sponsored retirement accounts, compared to 53% of the overall population. Yet, a mere 14% say they are confident about their financial preparedness, versus 29% of the general population.

Other studies conducted by the Census Bureau and Experian have come to similar conclusions about the strength of LGBT Americans' finances, but a recent Gallup poll of more than 120,000 adults conducted this summer actually found that LGBT individuals tend to have lower incomes and to be less educated than the general population.

Related: Firms make financial planning more gay-friendly

Most will agree, however, that the LGBT community is a largely untapped -- and potentially lucrative -- customer base when it comes to financial planning because of the complexity of their finances and unique needs.

While many financial firms are beginning to take steps to cater to this group, Prudential found that the majority, or 63%, of respondents feel underserved by financial firms, saying that the financial industry's attention to their needs is below average.

"There absolutely is an opportunity here," said Meyer-Shipp.

How would your financial situation change if DOMA is overturned? E-mail blake.ellis@turner.com to share your story.
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