Australia's pension system ranks high but has a hazy future

Australia's pension system ranks high but has a hazy future

Australia has been awarded third place in an international ranking of the world’s best performing pension systems, behind Denmark and the Netherlands, according to the 2015 Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index.

Despite this, Australia’s overall rating has dropped from 79.9 in 2014 to 79.6 in 2015 with the system’s sustainability dragging down the overall mark. While scores for size and integrity of our system were well above average, it fell short in providing measures to future proof our system such as increasing workforce participation of older workers and reducing government debt.

“Our seven-year snapshot highlights the importance of measures such as adjusting the state pension age, increasing workforce participation amongst our ageing population, or funding additional contributions for future retirement income,” said Dr David Knox, author of the report and Senior Partner at Mercer.

The index has been running since 2009 making it a useful tool for longer-term assessment of changes to legislation and regulations. This includes planning for future challenges including the increase in the average length of pensions from 16.6 years to 18.4 years which has taken place over the last seven years.

The Federal Government will be progressively lifting the pension age to offset this increase in life expectancy but it will be a couple of years yet before we start to see the effects of this change.

How can we make our system more sustainable?

With future projections suggesting a continued decline in the sustainability of the Australian pension Amy Auster, Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Financial Studies, has called for action to increase the sustainability of the system for future generations.

“A critical take-away from this year’s report is the reminder that pension systems are like cargo ships that require a lot of lead time and preparation to safely adjust their course,” Ms Auster said.

Suggestions from Mercer include encouraging an increase in labour force participation rates and introducing a mechanism to increase the pension age as the life expectancy continues to grow in Australia.

Other recommendations include the introduction of a requirement that part of the retirement benefit be taken as an income stream and increasing the minimum access age to receive benefits from private pensions.

“Extending the years that individuals spend in the workforce is one of the most positive ways of developing sustainable retirement systems when life expectancies are increasing,” Dr Knox said. 

“While there is a natural limit to the participation rate at older ages, with most countries still below 70%, the scope for significant increases across the world remains, which would improve the sustainability of many pension systems,” Dr Knox added. 

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Learn more about superannuation

How can I withdraw my superannuation?

There are three different ways you can withdraw your superannuation:

  • Lump sum
  • Account-based pension
  • Part lump sum and part account-based pension

Two rules apply if you choose to receive an account-based pension (also known as an income stream):

  • You must receive payments at least once per year
  • You must withdraw a minimum amount per year
    • Age 55-64 = 4%
    • Age 65-74 = 5%
    • Age 75-79 = 6%
    • Age 80-84 = 7%
    • Age 85-89 = 9%
    • Age 90-94 = 11%
    • Age 95+ = 14%

If you want to work out how long your account-based pension might last, click here to access ASIC’s account-based pension calculator.

What are the age pension's age rules?

Australians must be aged at least 65 years and 6 months to access the age pension. This eligibility age is scheduled to increase according to the following schedule:

Date Eligibility age
1 July 2019 66 years
1 July 2021 66 years and 6 months
1 July 2023 67 years

How much money do you get on the age pension?

Pension payments can be reduced due to the income test and asset test (see ‘What is the age pension’s income test?’ and ‘What is the age pension’s assets test?’).

Here are the maximum fortnightly payments:

Category

Single

Couple each

Couple combined

Couple apart due to ill health

Maximum basic rate

$808.30

$609.30

$1,218.60

$808.30

Maximum pension supplement

$65.90

$49.70

$99.40

$65.90

Energy supplement

$14.10

$10.60

$21.20

$14.10

TOTAL

$888.30

$669.60

$1,339.20

$888.30

What will the superannuation fund do with my money?

Your money will be invested in an investment option of your choosing.

How do you set up superannuation?

Before you set up a superannuation account, you’ll need to check if you’re allowed to choose your own fund. Most Australians can, but this option doesn’t apply to some workers who are covered by industrial agreements or who are members of defined benefits funds.

Assuming you are able to choose your own fund, the next step should be research, because there are more than 200 different superannuation funds in Australia.

Once you’ve decided on your preferred superannuation fund, head to that provider’s website, where you should be able to fill in an online application or download the appropriate forms. You’ll need your tax file number (assuming you don’t want to be charged a higher tax rate), your contact details and your employer’s details (if you’re employed).

How much is superannuation?

Superannuation is currently 9.5 per cent – which means that your employer must pay you superannuation equivalent to 9.5 per cent of your salary.

The ‘superannuation guarantee’, as it is known, has been at 9.5 per cent since the 2014-15 financial year. It is scheduled to rise to 10.0 per cent in 2021-22, 10.5 per cent in 2022-23, 11.0 per cent in 2023-24, 11.5 per cent in 2024-25 and 12.0 per cent in 2025-26.

What are the age pension's residence rules?

On the day you claim the age pension, you must be in Australia and you must have been an Australian resident for at least 10 years (with no break in your stay for at least five of those years). The following exceptions apply:

  • You’re exempt from the 10-year rule if you’re a refugee or former refugee
  • You’re exempt from the 10-year rule if you’re getting Partner Allowance, Widow Allowance or Widow B pension
  • You can claim the age pension with only two years of residency if you’re a woman whose partner died while you were both Australian residents
  • You might be able to claim the age pension if you’ve lived or worked in a country that has a social security agreement with Australia

What are ethical investment superannuation funds?

Ethical investment funds limit themselves to making ‘ethical’ investments (which each fund defines according to its own principles). For example, ethical funds might avoid investing in companies or industries that are linked to human suffering or environmental damage.

How does superannuation work?

Superannuation is paid by employers to employees, at least once every three months. The ‘superannuation guarantee’ is currently 9.5 per cent – which means that your employer must pay you superannuation equivalent to 9.5 per cent of your salary. The guarantee is scheduled to rise to 10.0 per cent in 2021-22, 10.5 per cent in 2022-23, 11.0 per cent in 2023-24, 11.5 per cent in 2024-25 and 12.0 per cent in 2025-26.

Superannuation is generally taxed at 15 per cent. However, if you earn less than $37,000, you will be automatically reimbursed up to $500 of the tax you paid. Also, if your income plus concessional superannuation contributions exceed $250,000, you will also be charged Division 293 tax. This is an extra 15 per cent tax on your concessional contributions or the amount above $250,000 – whichever is lesser.

You can withdraw your superannuation when you meet the ‘conditions of release’. The conditions of release say you can claim your super when you reach:

  • Age 65
  • Your ‘preservation age’ and retire
  • Your preservation age and begin a ‘transition to retirement’ while still working

 

What superannuation details do I give to my employer?

When you start a job, your employer will give you what’s called a ‘superannuation standard choice form’. Here’s what you need to complete the form:

  • The name of your preferred superannuation fund
  • The fund’s address
  • The fund’s Australian business number (ABN)
  • The fund’s superannuation product identification number (SPIN)
  • The fund’s phone number
  • A letter from the fund trustee confirming that the fund is a complying fund; or written evidence from the fund stating it will accept contributions from your new employer; or details about how your employer can make contributions to the fund

You should also provide your tax file number – while it’s not a legal obligation, it will ensure your contributions will be taxed at the (lower) superannuation rate.

Am I entitled to superannuation if I'm a part-time employee?

As a part-time employee, you’re entitled to superannuation if:

  • You’re over 18 and earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month
  • You’re under 18, you work more than 30 hours per week and you earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month

What fees do superannuation funds charge?

Superannuation funds can charge a range of fees, including:

  • Activity-based fees – for specific, irregular services, such as splitting an account after a divorce
  • Administration fees – to cover the cost of managing your account
  • Advice fees – for personal investment advice
  • Buy/sell spread fees – when you make contributions, switches and withdrawals
  • Exit fees – when you close your account
  • Investment fees – to cover the cost of managing your investments
  • Switching fees – when you choose a new investment option within the same fund

How do I choose the right superannuation fund?

Different superannuation funds charge different fees, offer different insurances, offer different investment options and have different performance histories.

So you need to ask yourself these four questions when comparing superannuation funds:

  • How many fees would I have to pay and what would they cost?
  • What insurances are available and how much would they cost?
  • What investment options does it offer? How would they match my risk profile and financial needs?
  • How have these investment options performed historically?

How do you open a superannuation account?

Opening a superannuation account is simple. When you start a job, your employer will give you what’s called a ‘superannuation standard choice form’. Here’s what you need to complete the form:

  • The name of your preferred superannuation fund
  • The fund’s address
  • The fund’s Australian business number (ABN)
  • The fund’s superannuation product identification number (SPIN)
  • The fund’s phone number
  • A letter from the fund trustee confirming that the fund is a complying fund; or written evidence from the fund stating it will accept contributions from your new employer; or details about how your employer can make contributions to the fund

You might want to provide your tax file number as well – while it’s not a legal obligation, it will ensure your contributions will be taxed at the (lower) superannuation rate.