Which would you prefer: a 7% or 12% return on your super?

It seems like a simple enough question. If you had a balance investment option in your super, would you choose a 7% or 12% return? Yet, before you decide it’s a no-brainer, it’s worth probing a little deeper into what could cause this 5% variance, as the reporting returns are not standardised.

Let me explain.

Using the mortgage industry as an example, when you consider look at taking out a home loan, the lender will normally quote two interest rates. The first is the principal interest rate, which might be around 4.86%. However, right next to it will be the ‘principal and interest comparison rate’, which might be around 5.25%.

You might reasonably ask, what do home loan interest rates have in common with superannuation?

Well, home loan providers have historically been really great at disguising the real cost of a mortgage. Even today, they might advertise a very cheap interest rate, but then they load up the product with fees throughout the life the loan, or top and tail it with some expensive loan application or exit fees. A comparison rate was introduced as a way for loan applicants to quickly determine the total costs of a loan, by factoring in most of the fees and charges incurred during the life of the loan. Essentially, it allows lenders to easily make an informed, like-for-like comparison of the true costs of this financial product.

The issue with superannuation is there is no standardised reporting or common ground. Personally, I believe that for the ‘Mysuper’ option, standardised reporting is well overdue. The government introduced these low-cost, default investment products were introduced into the superannuation industry to enable consumers to easily select which investment option might be best for them, given a range of variables.

So, getting back to the 7% or 12% question; it is important that you understand the drivers for such discrepancies. It’s probably time that government decided to introduce changes to avoid the barely disguised tricks of superannuation funds, such as calling a product a ‘balance fund’, but investing the assets at a growth asset allocation (refer to our recent article, Could Your Hostplus Index Balanced Fund be a disappointment?). They might also provide a great return, but then hike up the administrative fee structure and other costs that might not be reflected in the net return reported.

So, similar to the mortgage industry, super funds get up to a number of shenanigans. For financial professionals and expert investors, these are often easily spotted, but to the majority of average, day-to-day investors, it is a bit of a minefield.

I feel that the idea of a comparison rate return is a sensible approach, as if super funds are over-inflating an investment option with risky assets, they would be required to standardise the returns. ASIC and/or APRA could set strict formulas between growth-based assets and defensive assets.

In addition, all funds would be required to adjust their reported return as if the asset allocation was a true balanced investment, which would be 50/50 between growth-based asset to defensive assets. This would mean that investors would have a fairer way to assess the true merits of a super fund, and also be able to have a sensible discussion on their overall net return.

Until this occurs, however, investors will continue to be bamboozled by the returns offered by super funds.

Before selecting an investment option or super fund, it’s important that you seek suitable advice from a qualified, practising financial planner and, of course, I recommend AJ Financial Planning. Contact us today.

Australia’s Retirement Age is headed higher

Australia is set to claim the mantle as the nation with the oldest retirement age in the developed world following Joe Hockey’s federal budget announcement on 13th May 2014. The new plan will see the retirement age for Australians born after 1966 increase from age 65 to 70 and is set to ensure that by 2035 our age pension age will have reached 70. Retirement Pic1 Australia first introduced the age pension in 1909 which was for males aged 65 years and over. At the time, the life expectancy of a male was 55.2 years making the likelihood of receiving a pension quite small. Interestingly 1909 also marked the advent of corporate income tax in Australia so where there’s a benefit payment there’s also a tax!   The qualifying age for the pension today for both men and women is 65 and the life expectancy for men is 80.6 and 84.8 for women. We are living on average 25 years longer than our ancestors of 100 years ago but the system in place & eligibility criteria is very different. Today it is possible for a couple aged 65 years and over to have assets of up $1,126,500 (excluding their family home) and be eligible to receive a part age pension.   There is a key demographic shift taking place in our economy as the baby boom generation closes in on retirement. The ratio of working-age Australians to people aged over 65 currently stands at 5:1. This ratio is expected to decline to under 3:1 by 2050 as the baby boomers reach their retirement years. To give give this some global context, in Japan, a nation widely recognised for it’s ageing population, they currently has a ratio of just under 3:1. The economic reality for Australia is a lack of tax-paying workers to support the social security needs of our baby boom generation.   In addition to our immigration policies to grow the working population, the key strategy of government has been the promotion of a semi or fully self-funded retirement using superannuation as the primary retirement funding vehicle. The tax concessions available for people accumulating wealth inside super and people drawing an income from their super (both pre & post retirement) are very attractive. The maximum rate of tax on investment earnings on assets held within the super is 15% falling to 0% when a person is aged over 60 and drawing an income.   It’s important to note the key difference between the age pension age and the age at which people can access their superannuation for retirement funding. The table below illustrates that most people can access their superannuation benefits from age which is sooner than age pension age 65 (increasing to 70) Retirement Pic 2 Your AJ Financial Planning adviser will be able to assist you to not only maximise the tax advantages of your super assets, but also structure your affairs to provide maximum lifestyle & income flexibility both while building wealth & when drawing an income in retirement.