Does your retirement super need to be ‘Zengosaidan’?

I often like to read ‘peculiar’ books that give me some insights into different ways of thinking. I recently came across a book review in The Monocle Minute. It inspired me to buy the book: A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind by Shoukei Matsumoto (Penguin Books 2018). Now, I am not Buddhist, but I did find this little book an interesting read. In particular, it spoke about the concept of Zengosaidan, which is defined as ‘… a Zen expression meaning that we must put all our efforts into each day so we have no regrets, and that we must not grieve for the past or worry about the future … Don’t put it off till tomorrow …’

I found this idea thought-provoking – particularly when I consider my daily work, which is retirement planning. Because at some point, most people in Australia will stop working and retire. For a lot of them, they will need an asset base to fund this stage of their life. Best-case scenario, they will be 100 per cent reliant, or partially reliant, upon these funds.

However, despite this reality many people drift through life without placing much emphasis on, or at least paying attention to, the preparation required for saving for later life.

Now, I am not saying everybody needs to become an expert in retirement planning. I think the important distinction is we should become engaged with our impending retirement and ensure that when the day arrives, we have no regrets.

We often take a ‘no regrets’ approach to life experiences such as holidays, ticking off the bucket list or achieving other major lifetime goals. However, shouldn’t we be turning our attention towards what steps might need to be taken to ensure that our retirement savings are maximised during our career and particularly in the lead-up to retirement?

Today, the only discussion we often hear about retirement is having ‘no regrets’ about spending the kids’ inheritance and driving off into the distance.

It’s probably time this conversation matured.

I think this philosophy of ‘no regrets’, or Zengosaidan, needs to be front of mind as we approach retirement. For example, consider the following mental checklist:

  • Do you have enough to live on in retirement – for the whole of your retirement?
  • Have you maximised all possible options within your retirement strategy to ensure that you are well placed when you retire?
  • Looking at your retirement picture, what are the financial trade-offs if you make particular financial decisions today?

Believe it or not, virtual reality can make this process a lot easier. In a few years’ time I will be able to sit with a client, get them to put on a virtual reality headset, and then pull up a picture of what they might look like at retirement age. This might help them appreciate what they need to do to help the older-looking them in retirement. Potentially, we can create a real-live model of what retirement will look like if they do nothing, compared with what it will look like if they put into action the recommended steps to maximise their financial position opportunities.

Until this technology catches up with us, though, we will need to use our own imagination for the time being. I think, however, it is important that you keep in mind the following: When you stand at the threshold, about to take the leap from your working life into retirement, and reflect on what you have achieved, you want to be confident that you have optimised your financial situation, so the next chapter of your life can be everything you wished for and more.

Like all great ideas, it’s important that when you think about retirement planning, you don’t go it alone and seek advice from a practising and suitably qualified financial planner and, of course, I recommend AJ Financial Planning.

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.

Is it better to retire on a $350k super fund, or a $900k super fund balance?

When it comes to retirement most people believe more is best, but is this always the case? Have the Centrelink changes that came into effect last year distorted reality; has the $350k super fund become the new $900k – without all the extra effort of squirrelling away so much for retirement?

Let’s assume we know two couples who are about to retire. One couple has a balance of $350k; the other has $900k. Both couples want a modest living standard in retirement, with an income stream of around $50k p.a.

The first couple with a combined balance of $350k can expect to receive an income stream of around $21,000 p.a. Potentially, they might also receive the Age Pension if their combined assets – excluding their home – sits under the threshold of $380,500. The projected Age Pension is likely to pay them a combined income of $35,573. Thus, they will end up with a total combined income of $56,573. It is likely that at a 6% drawdown rate, their superannuation will not be eroded too fast, so it should be possible for them to keep pace with inflation during their remaining lifetime.

In addition to receiving the Aged Pension, this couple will also receive all the benefits and concessions that normally come with it, such as discounts on utilities, medicines, etc.

The second couple has a combined super balance of $900k. Like the first couple, they own their own home. But as their combined asset balance exceeds the maximum Centrelink threshold of $837,000, they are not eligible for the Age Pension.

This couple will commence an income stream from their superannuation balance and, assuming a similar 6% drawdown limit, they will be eligible to draw a combined retirement income of $54,000 p.a. If their super fund’s performance remains reasonable, this should also last them until life expectancy and keep pace with inflation.

However, being over the Centrelink threshold means that this couple is not eligible for any of the discounts and benefits that normally accompany the Age Pension, although they will also not be affected by any government changes that might occur in the future to Centrelink thresholds.

They could also draw down a higher income stream earlier in their retirement, to enjoy travel and entertainment, etc. Then as they age their need for cashflow might not be as great, so they can gradually ‘ease off the throttle’ and reduce their balance to the $350k mark, and be in a similar situation to the first couple.

So the next time you are feeling a little underwhelmed about your retirement picture, it’s important to give consideration to all options that might be available to you. Sometimes, bigger may not be better. Or, you might be better off sitting at the $900k balance, possibly spending the difference on home improvements, travel, a new car etc. Later you could drop to the Age Pension limit, and even if you receive just $1 from the Age Pension, it still means you qualify to enjoy the other benefits that come with this government offering.

Before delving into a retirement strategy, it’s important you take your personal situation into account and seek advice from a qualified financial planning professional. Of course, we recommend AJ Financial Planning.

Navigating retirement funding: Is superannuation such a great idea?

Superannuation and retirement have always gone hand in hand. Yet recent budget announcements around taxation, contribution caps and other proposed changes have caused a stir and understandably, some Australians may be reconsidering the merits of superannuation.

Presently, retiree couples with a low income or seniors tax offset can each earn around $74,000–$83,580 p.a. before they start paying any taxation on income outside of their superannuation environment.

Let’s say, for example, that a couple’s capital was all invested in a term deposit. Based on today’s interest rates, they could each have around $2.7 million in a term deposit before paying any taxation.

Alternatively, if they invested their money in a share portfolio, each portfolio would have to be worth around $1.67 million before they had to pay any taxation.

So the question is, with all the confounding complexities around super; is it really worth the headache?

The other question is, will the proposed changes have much of an impact on the general retirement population? The budget announced a $1.67 million cap per person on a superannuation fund (combined $3,340,000 per couple) before any taxation comes into play. Anything above this may be subject to a 15% accumulation taxation on earnings.

For most Australians, this excess will likely move from their superannuation into their personal names once the measures are potentially introduced.

As you can see by these limits, for most retirees around Australia, taxation will only start to be a factor if they hold more than $4.94 million in combined assets, excluding their own home (both inside and outside of super).

On the other hand, if you only have a couple of hundred thousand in superannuation at retirement, does it make sense to have a superannuation fund with all the hassle of fees, regulation changes and complexities, etc., or are you better off just having the money invested in your own name?

Part of this answer will depend on the capital gains element of your portfolio, i.e., how much is generated on an ongoing or a forecasted basis in the future. The biggest benefit for superannuation is that if it is in pension phase, under the proposed limits from a capital gains standpoint it will be 100% tax-free.

Moving forward, I suspect that most people will look to manage their legislation risk—the risk of the government changing their mind—by holding some assets inside of superannuation, and some outside of superannuation.

This will also assist with distributing the tax base across both structures, and keeping a foot in both camps should there be any changes.

However, like most strategic financial planning, you have to consider all the above factors in context to your personal situation. You will also need to consider the benefits of salary sacrifice contribution into superannuation, or deductible contributions, as well as a whole range of other factors in determining which path is best.

Please also remember that before embarking on any investment or strategic financial planning decisions, you should always seek professional guidance from a licensed financial planner. Of course, I recommend AJ Financial Planning.

50’s and super – what’s important to know…..

I was recently went around the corner from my office to eat at an Italian restaurant. It was one of those restaurants where the entire menu is in Italian.  Now my Italian is sketchy at the best of times, but what was a little more tricky was the menu items.  Normally when you look at a menu you can quickly identify a couple fail safe options, this place however had me stumped. This restaurant was one of those places when I read the menu and went “Gosh! I can’t find anything!”  Then when I looked more carefully some of the items listed start out sounding really nice… but then halfway through the description they added something funky!! So what’s this got to do with super and being in your 50’s? Stay with me….. When it comes to your 50’s and superannuation you start to get access to a whole heap of options for your consideration. However, like the Italian restaurant, sometimes they all sound interesting initially but once you get into the finer detail you need to make sure that you are not getting anything unexpected. So that you don’t end up feeling stumped like I did at the Italian restaurant, I thought I would give you a couple of tips on what you should be considering: 1. If you are in your 50’s and have some debt, you may be better of salary sacrificing the income into super than paying down the debt.  The main reasons are:

  • By salary sacrificing the money into super you may be taxed less
  • At retirement you could draw a lump sum out and clear the debt out.

There are a heap of variables with this approach and it is important to crunch the numbers.  You may find that this may save you heap of tax and allow you to clear the debt too. 2. If you have reached preservation age and can access your superannuation, one thing you might question is do you either draw an income stream, a lump sum, or do nothing at all? For some it makes a lot of sense to commence a transition to retirement strategy.  This strategy is a way to reduce your overall tax position considerably.  Your super fund also becomes 100% tax free too. However if you are a high income earner, you may decide to hold off and start this until you hit age 60 years old. If you are retired you may choose to take a lump sum rather than an income stream as this may save you tax too due to a different tax treatment of lump sums over income streams. Once you reached a condition of release which for some can be as early as age 55, there are a heap of options available to you with your superannuation.  It is important to make sure you are maximising this as much as possible to reduce your tax, position yourself for retirement and maximise your capital. These points above are just a few of the things we consider when we look at your overall financial position to develop a Financial Plan. So unlike my restaurant experience, there is help available to make sure you aren’t getting anything unexpected in your financial future. Like all great ideas with Financial Planning however, it is important that you obtain professional advice before implementing any strategy – and we would of course recommend that you speak with our team at AJ Financial Planning.

How to know if a Self Managed Super Fund is right for you?

The Self Managed Super Fund (SMSF) sector is the fastest growing part of the superannuation industry as many Australians are choosing the ‘do-it-yourself’ route of an SMSF rather than your more traditional personal superannuation accounts and platforms. If you are considering a SMSF there are a few things to consider…. Is my balance high enough? Technically there is no real minimum for starting a SMSF, but in saying that, the ongoing costs make it an uneconomical option for lower balances. So what should my minimum balance be to start a SMSF? This question really depends a lot on what your accountant charges. Every year your SMSF needs to pay a $321 fee to the ATO which is a fixed cost. You will also need to pay for an external audit (that your accountant will usually organise) and your accountant will need to complete the annual reports and tax returns. These can cost anywhere from as low as $1,000 for a very simple SMSF to as much as $5,000 for more complex SMSFs with high charging accountants. Things that affect the accounting cost for an SMSF include:

  • Number of transactions in the SMSF, both in the cash account and in relation to purchases and sales
  • Number of different investments
  • If your accountant is able to automate transactions and reporting by having managed fund platforms or dividend recording software
  • If you are drawing a pension form the account
  • If you are contributing to the account
  • Type of investments e.g. property investments can be more complicated

So back to the question of how much do you need to justify the accounting costs?  Fees on superannuation funds typically range from 0.5% – 2.5% per year. To keep the numbers simple, if your current super fund charges 1% in fees and your accountant will charge you $1,000 to do the SMSF accounting then you could justify an SMSF with a balance of $100,000 or more. If your accountant will charge $3,000 and your current fund charges 1% then you probably want to have around $300,000 in super before the SMSF will be a cheaper fee option. Are you prepared for the responsibilities? With a SMSF you will be responsible for the decisions relating to your investments and for the ongoing compliance of the fund. If you are the type of person that just wants to let their super sit there and not look at the investments more than once a year, then a SMSF may not be for you – unless of course you use a financial adviser to manage your SMSF for you! So if you like to take control and take an active part of managing your money (with or without the assistance of a financial adviser) then a SMSF can provide this for you. Will an SMSF give me something that my current super fund can’t? If there are specific investments that you want to access, a SMSF is often the only realistic option for you. If you want to use funds in your superannuation to purchase direct property, direct international shares, precious metals and other non-traditional investments, you will usually find that you need to set up a SMSF. If you are happy only investing in managed funds with perhaps a few direct Australian shares, then you can often achieve the same result with a personal superannuation fund that has these options. For larger balances there may be a cost saving even if you are going to invest in managed funds and Australian shares, but you will have to do the sums. Still not sure if an SMSF is for you? If you would like one of the financial advisers from AJ Financial Planning to assess your personal situation and discuss whether an SMSF is appropriate for you, please email info@ajfp.com.au or give us a call on 03 9077 0277 and we can organise an initial meeting for no cost to you!