Raise the topic of superannuation next time you have a few friends around for a barbecue and you’ll get a range of reactions. Some people will look at their watches and ask “Is that the time?“, some will pour themselves extremely large drinks, some will slip into a type of coma, others will become completely absorbed by a spoon or salt shaker, and a few will say “I think super is okay because people keep telling me it is, but I’m not really sure why.” The majority will tell you that it is confusing, keeps changing and is all too hard.
Well, I’m one of those people who keeps saying super is okay, and what I am going to try to do here is explain why. And I hope as you read this your mind won’t drift off to a palm-fringed beach on a tropical island. Bring it back here if it does, because, confusing as super may be, it’s worth knowing about. Indeed, if you play your superannuation cards properly, you will actually be able to accompany your mind to that tropical paradise when you retire, as well as doing many other things you have only dream about during your working life.
What is superannuation?
Basically, superannuation is designed to provide for us financially in retirement. It’s built up over our working lives from contributions made by our employers and, hopefully, topped up out of our own pockets. It’s also taxed lightly – both to encourage our active contribution towards it and to increase the size of its pay-out at the end.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s confusing, your money is locked away for a very long time, and the Federal Government continually fiddles with the rules. While this may bring us no joy, the fact is, we need super.
Consider this: in 2001 we have around six people in the work force for every person in retirement. That’s a large pool of taxpayers from which to fund the aged pension. But, because we are having longer and having fewer children, by 2030 there will be only there people working for every retired person.
Let’s look at it another way. Today we have around 8.267% aged 65 or more populations. In 19 years’ time, when I reach 65 there will be just under 10% of us! Already pensions are a major funding burden, accounting for more than 30% of the Federal Budget, so can you imagine what it’s going to be like then? Either taxpayers in the future will have to be taxed to within an inch of their lives if the aged pension is to remain at its present (modest) real level, or (far more likely) the pension will fall.
But “What about the value of the family home?“, I hear you say. Who cares about a pension if you’re sitting on good real estate? Okay, but do you really want to find yourself at retirement with no option but to sell the home you’re perfectly happy living in and don’t wish to leave? And after you’ve sold and put aside sufficient proceeds to live off comfortably for the rest of your life, you will be faced with taking a very substantial downgrading in the type of housing or the location you can afford. No, relying on the value of your home is not the way to plan for your retirement.
A comfortable retirement can only be funded by a separate next egg of investments, which has been built up for that purpose during your working life. And your success in building up a suitably sized nest egg will depend on your success as a saver. The reason is very clear. If you don’t save, you don’t invest, and if you don’t invest you will have nothing (apart from your home) to retire on.
The problem is, however, that we are not good savers. Certainly earlier generation who lived through tougher times were much better at it than we are. That’s why, I am sure, the Government has decided to force us to save, and the way they have chosen to implement this is through compulsory superannuation.
The key word here is compulsory. If there was only voluntary superannuation there’s little chance we’d contribute enough for it to do what it supposed to do – provide for a comfortable retirement and head off a society increasingly burdened by taxation to pay for the aged.