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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 does the age pension work?

Most Australians who are of retirement age can qualify for the age pension. However, depending on the size of your assets and post-retirement income, you might be entitled to only a reduced pension. In some instances, you might not be entitled to any pension payments.

How does superannuation affect the age pension?

Most Australians who are of retirement age can qualify for the age pension. However, depending on the size of your assets and post-retirement income, you might be entitled to only a reduced pension. In some instances, you might not be entitled to any pension payments.

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 is the age pension's income test?

These are the rules for most people who want to claim the standard pension:

Single people

  • If your income per fortnight is up to $168, you’re entitled to a full pension
  • If your income per fortnight is over $168, your pension will reduce by 50 cents for each dollar over $168

Couples

  • If your income per fortnight is up to $300, you’re entitled to a full pension
  • If your income per fortnight is over $300, your pension will reduce by 50 cents for each dollar over $300

These are the rules for most people who want to claim the transitional pension:

Single people

  • If your income per fortnight is up to $168, you’re entitled to a full pension
  • If your income per fortnight is over $168, your pension will reduce by 40 cents for each dollar over $168

Couples

  • If your income per fortnight is up to $300, you’re entitled to a full pension
  • If your income per fortnight is over $300, your pension will reduce by 40 cents for each dollar over $300

For most people, the age pension cuts off if your fortnightly income exceeds these thresholds:

Category Fortnightly income
Standard pension for singles $1,944.60
Standard pension for couples living together $2,978.40
Standard pension for couples living apart due to ill health $3,853.20
Transitional pension for singles $2,038.00
Transitional pension for couples living together $3,317.00
Transitional pension for couples living apart due to ill health $4,040.00

How do you claim superannuation?

There are three different ways you can claim 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, or 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

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.

How much superannuation do I need?

According to the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA), here is how much you would be able to spend per week during retirement:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $465 $668
Comfortable $837 $1,150

Here is the superannuation balance you would need to fund that level of spending:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $50,000 $35,000
Comfortable $545,000 $640,000

These figures come from the March 2017 edition of the ASFA Retirement Standard.

The reason people on modest lifestyles need so much less money is because they qualify for a far bigger age pension.

Here is how ASFA defines retirement lifestyles:

Category Comfortable Modest Age pension
Holidays One annual holiday in Australia One or two short breaks in Australia near where you live Shorter breaks or day trips in your own city
Eating out Regularly eat out at restaurants. Good range and quality of food Infrequently eat out at restaurants. Cheaper and less food Only club special meals or inexpensive takeaway
Car Owning a reasonable car Owning an older, less reliable car No car – or, if you do, a struggle to afford the upkeep
Alcohol Bottled wine Casked wine Homebrew beer or no alcohol
Clothing Good clothes Reasonable clothes Basic clothes
Hair Regular haircuts at a good hairdresser Regular haircuts at a basic salon Less frequent haircuts or getting a friend to do it
Leisure A range of regular leisure activities One paid leisure activity, infrequently Free or low-cost leisure activities
Electronics A range of electronic equipment Not much scope to run an air conditioner Less heating in winter
Maintenance Replace kitchen and bathroom over 20 years No budget for home improvements. Can do repairs, but can’t replace kitchen or bathroom No budget to fix home problems like a leaky roof
Insurance Private health insurance Private health insurance No private health insurance

How much superannuation should I have at age 40?

The amount of superannuation you should have at age 40 is based on how much money you need to have at retirement. That, in turn, is based on how much money you expect to spend each week during your retirement. That, in turn, depends on whether you expect to lead a modest retirement or a comfortable retirement.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) estimates you would need the following amount per week:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $465 $668
Comfortable $837 $1,150

Here is the superannuation balance you would need to fund that level of spending:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $50,000 $35,000
Comfortable $545,000 $640,000

These figures come from the March 2017 edition of the ASFA Retirement Standard.

The reason people on modest lifestyles need so much less money is because they qualify for a far bigger age pension.

Here is how ASFA defines retirement lifestyles:

Category Comfortable Modest Age pension
Holidays One annual holiday in Australia One or two short breaks in Australia near where you live Shorter breaks or day trips in your own city
Eating out Regularly eat out at restaurants. Good range and quality of food Infrequently eat out at restaurants. Cheaper and less food Only club special meals or inexpensive takeaway
Car Owning a reasonable car Owning an older, less reliable car No car – or, if you do, a struggle to afford the upkeep
Alcohol Bottled wine Casked wine Homebrew beer or no alcohol
Clothing Good clothes Reasonable clothes Basic clothes
Hair Regular haircuts at a good hairdresser Regular haircuts at a basic salon Less frequent haircuts or getting a friend to do it
Leisure A range of regular leisure activities One paid leisure activity, infrequently Free or low-cost leisure activities
Electronics A range of electronic equipment Not much scope to run an air conditioner Less heating in winter
Maintenance Replace kitchen and bathroom over 20 years No budget for home improvements. Can do repairs, but can’t replace kitchen or bathroom No budget to fix home problems like a leaky roof
Insurance Private health insurance Private health insurance No private health insurance

 

 

What is the age pension's assets test?

The value of your assets affects whether you can qualify for the age pension – and, if so, how much.

The following assets are exempt from the assets test:

  • your principal home and up to two hectares of used land on the same title
  • all Australian superannuation investments from which a pension is not being paid – this exemption is valid until you reach age pension age
  • any property or money left to you in an estate, which you can’t get for up to 12 months
  • a cemetery plot and a prepaid funeral, or up to two funeral bonds, that cost no more than the allowable limit
  • aids for people with disability
  • money from the National Disability Insurance Scheme for people with disability
  • principal home sale proceeds you’ll use to buy another home within 12 months
  • accommodation bonds paid on entry to residential aged care
  • any interest not created by you or your partner
  • a Special Disability Trust if it meets certain requirements
  • your principal home, if you vacate it for up to 12 months
  • granny flat rights where you pay more than the extra allowable amount

For full pensions, reductions apply when your assessable assets exceed these thresholds:

Category

Home owners

Non-home owners

Singles

$253,750

$456,750

Couples living together

$380,500

$583,500

Couples living apart due to ill health

$380,500

$583,500

Couples with only one partner eligible

$380,500

$583,500

For part pensions, reductions apply when your assessable assets exceed these thresholds:

Category

Home owners

Non-home owners

Singles

$550,000

$753,000

Couples living together

$827,000

$1,030,000

Couples living apart due to ill health

$973,000

$1,176,000

Couples with only one partner eligible

$827,000

$1,030,000

For transitional rate pensions, reductions apply when your assessable assets exceed these thresholds:

Category

Home owners

Non-home owners

Singles

$503,250

$706,250

Couples living together

$783,000

$986,000

Couples living apart due to ill health

$879,500

$1,082,500

Couples with only one partner eligible

$783,000

$986,000

How much superannuation should I have?

The amount of superannuation you need to have at retirement is based on how much money you would expect to spend each week during your retirement. That, in turn, depends on whether you expect to lead a modest retirement or a comfortable retirement.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) estimates you would need the following amount per week:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $465 $668
Comfortable $837 $1,150

Here is the superannuation balance you would need to fund that level of spending:

Lifestyle Singles Couples
Modest $50,000 $35,000
Comfortable $545,000 $640,000

These figures come from the March 2017 edition of the ASFA Retirement Standard.

The reason people on modest lifestyles need so much less money is because they qualify for a far bigger age pension.

Here is how ASFA defines retirement lifestyles:

Category Comfortable Modest Age pension
Holidays One annual holiday in Australia One or two short breaks in Australia near where you live Shorter breaks or day trips in your own city
Eating out Regularly eat out at restaurants. Good range and quality of food Infrequently eat out at restaurants. Cheaper and less food Only club special meals or inexpensive takeaway
Car Owning a reasonable car Owning an older, less reliable car No car – or, if you do, a struggle to afford the upkeep
Alcohol Bottled wine Casked wine Homebrew beer or no alcohol
Clothing Good clothes Reasonable clothes Basic clothes
Hair Regular haircuts at a good hairdresser Regular haircuts at a basic salon Less frequent haircuts or getting a friend to do it
Leisure A range of regular leisure activities One paid leisure activity, infrequently Free or low-cost leisure activities
Electronics A range of electronic equipment Not much scope to run an air conditioner Less heating in winter
Maintenance Replace kitchen and bathroom over 20 years No budget for home improvements. Can do repairs, but can’t replace kitchen or bathroom No budget to fix home problems like a leaky roof
Insurance Private health insurance Private health insurance No private health insurance

When did superannuation start in Australia?

Australia’s modern superannuation system – in which employers make compulsory contributions to their employees – started in 1992. However, before that, there were various restricted superannuation schemes applying to certain employees in certain industries. The very first superannuation scheme was introduced in the 19th century.

How do you access superannuation?

Accessing your superannuation is a simple administrative procedure – you just ask your fund to pay it. You can access your superannuation in three different ways:

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

However, please note that your superannuation fund will only be able to make a payout if 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

The preservation age has six different categories:

Date of birth Preservation age
Before 1 July 1960 55
1 July 1960 – 30 June 1961 56
1 July 1961 – 30 June 1962 57
1 July 1962 – 30 June 1963 58
1 July 1963 – 30 June 1964 59
From 1 July 1964 60

There are also seven special circumstances under which you can claim your superannuation:

  • Compassionate grounds
  • Severe financial hardship
  • Temporary incapacity
  • Permanent incapacity
  • Superannuation inheritance
  • Superannuation balance under $200
  • Temporary resident departing Australia