Ask Noel

WE CONTRIBUTE to our super fund's default balanced option. We do not need access to this money for 10 to 15 years. We've been advised that while there may be high short-term volatility, balanced investment will probably achieve higher returns in the long-term, compared with a more conservative cash option. Do you think this advice still holds, given the GFC?

WE CONTRIBUTE to our super fund's default balanced option. We do not need access to this money for 10 to 15 years. We've been advised that while there may be high short-term volatility, balanced investment will probably achieve higher returns in the long-term, compared with a more conservative cash option. Do you think this advice still holds, given the GFC?

The balanced-fund option will almost certainly include local and overseas shares, which should give a much better return over 10 to 15 years than if you stayed in the cash option. Just make sure you have an overall mix of assets inside and outside super that suits your goals and risk profile.

I have $150,000 across three super accounts and will be rolling them into the one account to save fees. With diversification important to reduce risk, would it be advisable not to roll over into the same fund my partner is in? I've heard UniSuper may not be able to meet commitments to its defined-benefit members. Is money in an accumulation scheme at risk if the defined-benefit members are not able to be paid in full? Are the monies separate or would the accumulation members suffer to pay for any defined-benefit shortfalls?

Provided the fund is run by one of the major institutions, you should have no risk of the manager itself going broke but, in any event, the assets should be held in the name of the custodian. However, you need to keep in mind that an individual fund can fall in value dramatically if its underlying assets do. This is why you need to take advice to ensure your asset allocation fits your risk profile. In a defined-benefit fund, the risk is borne by the employer in an accumulation fund, the risk is borne by the member.

I'm a widow and lost a great amount of super last year. I take the minimum amount each month. I also get a part-pension. I'm told it is possible to put part of the money into a term deposit within the super system, which, as the market picks up, can then be moved back into the shares.

There are cash options inside the super environment but you need to take advice to ensure they are equivalent, both in risk and return, to term deposits themselves. Unfortunately, there are some "cash" options that pay low returns and also can fall when the market does. The best way to access a term deposit within super is to use a master trust or else take out a term deposit within your own self-managed fund.

I'm 58-year-old woman who was out of the workforce raising a family and 15 years later went through a divorce. I gained a university degree as a mature-age student and returned to full-time work. Much of the advice I read is directed at people with lots more super. I have seven years until retirement but have only $54,000 in super. Is this enough for a transition-to-retirement scheme? My investment option is 100 per cent growth. Should I change to an option with less risk?

In view of the small amount you have, there is little to be gained by starting a TTR pension. You will need to talk to a financial adviser who will be able to do the calculations for you but it seems to me that your best option would be to salary-sacrifice as much as you can into super. In view of your age, a better investment option for you may be a more conservative one than 100 per cent growth.

My super contributions are in a diversified option. Some experts are predicting another GFC. I'm 50 and considering early retirement. I'm thinking of switching my super to a balanced option. Is it a good move?

There are as many people optimistic about 2012 as there are those who are pessimistic. My advice is to agree on an asset allocation with your adviser that suits your risk profile and stick with it. Ensure you have enough in your cash option for any planned expenditure in the short to medium term.

I'm a married self-funded retiree receiving no Centrelink benefit except for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. I'm thinking of withdrawing all my super and putting it in term deposits to avoid uncertainty, having suffered considerable losses in the GFC. Is there a limit to how much I can withdraw as a lump sum in any financial year? Do you see any pitfalls in doing this apart from maybe paying a little tax? I'm trying to avoid the 16.5 per cent death tax for non-dependants.

There is no limit to the amount of super you can withdraw tax-free once you reach 60 and, while I agree it's prudent to avoid the 16.5 per cent death tax by exiting the super system before you die, you don't want to do it before you need to. You have given no indication of your age but keep in mind that cash is not expected to produce the same long-term returns as a diversified portfolio. Therefore, the potential cost of being out of the market may be higher than any tax you may be forced to pay by leaving the super system.

Advice is general readers should seek their own professional advice.

Contact noel.whittaker@whittaker macnaught.com.au. Follow him on Twitter: @noelwhittaker. Questions to: Ask Noel, Money, GPO Box 2571, Qld, 4000, or see moneymanager.com.au/ask-an-expert.

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