While women earn less and spend less time in the workforce than men, and while this sharply erodes their super contributions throughout their working lives, there are some simple steps women can take to boost their retirement savings.
Sadly, this is something too many women ignore. According to The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, the average super balance for women at retirement is just $213,140. In comparison, men retire with an average balance of $292,000 – almost 30 per cent more.
Low retirement savings are a key reason why more than 80 per cent of women retiring in Australia do so with insufficient funds to finance a comfortable retirement, with almost half relying on a male partner to support them in their later years.
How did we get here?
This extreme inequality is simply due to women earning and working less. Women in full-time work earn on average 18 per cent less than men, while almost half of all women in the workforce work part-time with an estimated 220,000 women missing out on any super contributions each year simply because they earn less than $450 a month – the lower threshold for super guarantee contributions.
Women also miss out on super contributions because they are often absent from the workforce for extended periods while on maternity leave or looking after loved ones, be they children or other family relatives.
When they do return to the workforce, it is frequently in casual positions or working for themselves, where the need to make super contributions is so often overlooked.
What can we do?
One solution lies with women taking control of their super and choosing the best possible super fund, which typically means low fees and good, low-risk investment options.
Regularly check what, if any, personal insurance premiums are paid from your precious super savings. While insurance is essential while you are raising a family, as you get older, you might find your need for insurance diminishes to a point where you don’t need it anymore. You may be able to cancel your coverage and with it the cost of premiums to your super. (Remember to always check with your financial advisor before cancelling any insurances.)
Make sure you take the time to consolidate your super accounts into one low-cost super fund. Visit the Australian Tax Office website to consolidate your super or ask your adviser to do this for you.
Wherever possible, ensure you continue to make contributions throughout your working life, starting as early as possible and not neglecting your superannuation during periods when you are out of the workforce, working on a part-time basis or self-employed.
Make sure you speak to your adviser before the end of the financial year to maximise your contributions, and in doing so, minimise your tax bill. Check whether it makes sense for your partner to make spousal contributions on your behalf.
If you expect your income to be less than $52,000 in a financial year, make sure you take advantage of the Federal Government’s co-contribution scheme. By putting just $20 a week of after-tax income into super, you will receive up to $500 from the Government directly into your super account as soon as you lodge your tax return.
That’s a guaranteed 50 per cent return on your money and the best investment you will ever make.
If you are earning less than $37,000 a year, you should receive the Federal Government’s low-income superannuation tax offset of $500. Both payments happen automatically, meaning you don’t have to apply or complete additional paperwork to receive them. Still, you should check your superannuation account to make sure these payments are there.
And, as a final fallback, remember if you are age 65 or older and sell a family home that you have owned for 10 years or more to downsize, you can contribute a further $300,000 into super—giving a much-needed boost to your super savings.
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