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Here's the biggest fear women have about money

In a survey, 20 percent of our readers said their biggest fear was having too much debt, and 19 percent felt it was outliving their money.
/ Source: TODAY

There's no question women have come a long way when it comes to making money. We're leading in graduation rates, starting twice as many new businesses and have regained all the jobs we lost during the recession (men have 2.1 million to go).

And yet women still lag behind in a lot of important ways. The wage gap, when coupled with the fact that women often take breaks to raise kids and care for older parents, means that when we hit retirement, we have less money saved and need it to last 7 years longer.

Women also have less financial confidence and greater fears. In a survey, 20 percent of our viewers said their biggest fear was having too much debt, and 19 percent felt it was outliving their money.

woman paying bills

We're kicking off a new series, Her Two Cents TODAY, with what you told us are your greatest fears — and how to overcome them. Here are some of them:

FEAR No. 1: Running out of money before you run out of time

Over the past three decades the average lifespan of women has increased from 77 to 83. There's no escaping the numbers when it comes to dealing with this fear. By the time you retire, you want to have 10 times your annual income socked away. That, coupled with Social Security, should enable you to maintain your standard of living for at least another 30 years.

If you look at your numbers and you see there is no chance of getting there, look at the categories where you're spending the most — typically housing, transportation, and food/eating out — and challenge yourself to make big changes immediately, then put the money away for tomorrow.

RELATED: 3 ways to make money last through retirement

FEAR No. 2: Losing a spouse or partner

When the fear is financial, it's because we've become too dependent, either on the person's income or the fact that the person is running our financial lives. If it's income, make sure you have enough life insurance. Generally, a term insurance policy (much cheaper than permanent life insurance) that covers 8 to 10 times your annual living expenses plus enough to pay off the mortgage and pay for college will do it.

If you're petrified because that person is running your financial life, it's a sign that you need to start playing a bigger role in managing your own money. Sit down with your spouse or partner and ask to have a discussion about where the money is and how it's being managed. Read a book, make an appointment with a financial advisor, or listen to my new podcast to help bring you along.

RELATED: Job-hunting tips for moms who want to go back to work

FEAR No. 3: Becoming a 'bag lady'

"Bag Lady Syndrome" is a term that's been around since the 1970s. Twenty-two percent of respondents to our poll said they fear becoming a bag lady — and research from Allianz puts that number even higher among women who earn more than $200K a year.

If you have it, chances are it's because you saw someone you know — a parent, aunt, older friend — struggle with money toward the end of life. Use data you know to be true about your life to see your situation clearly: retirement savings, mortgage payments, credit card debt, emergency cushion, your job and family support. If your data points to areas in which you need to improve, make a plan to do that.

FEAR No. 4: Losing my job

Honestly assess your position at work. Re-read your last performance evaluation or, if you haven't had one, ask for a sit-down with your boss to talk through how you're doing. If that gives you pause, work on the things where it's clear you're not keeping up with expectations. Simultaneously, prepare for the what-if. Update your resume, LinkedIn and social media. Get out there and start having lunches, coffee and conversations with the people who might be the link to your next job, whenever it comes around.

FEAR No. 5: Never getting out of debt

Credit card debt is a chronic problem in America — and the people who have credit card debt have an average of nearly $16,000 according to NerdWallet. The quickest, cheapest way out of debt is the debt avalanche method: You line up all your debts and put all your extra money toward the one with the highest interest rate while making minimum payments on the rest. An app like ReadyForZero, which is free, can help you stay on track.

RELATED: Credit card debt is nearing $1 trillion. Here's what you should do

Do you fight with your spouse or partner about money? Tune in tomorrow when we'll tackle your biggest money fights.