InvestSMART

Find your super sweet spot

We're encouraged to grow super savings throughout our working lives, but having too much super can work against us. Here's how to find your super sweet spot.
By · 4 Apr 2024
By ·
4 Apr 2024 · 5 min read
comments Comments
Upsell Banner

“How much super do I need?” It’s a common question, and a grey area for many Australians. That’s not surprising. A quick online search shows a variety of ‘rules of thumb’ about how much super we need in retirement. What many people don’t realise is that having too much in super can work against us. 

The age pension taper trap 

As our super system matures, retirement incomes are increasingly likely to be made up of a blend of the age pension plus returns on super. 

The catch is that super is included in the pension assets test. The more you have in super, the less you could receive from the pension. 

As the table below shows, a couple who own their home can have up to $451,500 in assets (including super) to receive a full age pension. From there, the pension reduces as asset values rise, cutting out altogether once a couple’s combined assets top $1,012,500.   

Age pension asset test thresholds for homeowners

 

Lower threshold 

Upper threshold 

Singles 

$301,750 

$674,000 

Couples (combined) 

$451,500 

$1,012,500 

Source: Services Australia

The challenge is working out the level of super that lets you maximise the combined income from super and age pension payments – in other words, your super sweet spot. 

The thing to watch for is the ‘taper rate trap’. This applies when the value of your assets lies between the minimum and maximum pension thresholds. In other words, you’re eligible for some sort of pension payment, just not the full amount.   

Under the taper rate, retirees lose $3 of fortnightly pension for every $1,000 of assets above the lower asset threshold.  

For example, a single retiree with assets of $302,750, which is $1,000 above the full pension benchmark, will have their pension entitlements cut by $3 each fortnight. Over the course of a year that works out to $78.  

This may not sound like much. However, for some retirees the taper rate can mean missing out on thousands of dollars in pension payments each year.  

To compensate for this loss of income, a retiree would need to earn a return equal to 7.8% on those assets that exceed the maximum pension payment. 

It may be possible to achieve that return in some years depending on your choice of investments. It’s a solid return to notch up year after year though, and it’s likely to mean taking on more risk than many retirees may be comfortable with. 

What does a super sweet spot look like? 

This is an area where ETF provider Betashares has crunched some numbers. As the table below shows, a single retiree with $300,000 in super can expect to receive about $28,005 in annual pension payments plus returns on super of approximately $15,750. That’s annual income totalling $43,755. 

If the same retiree had amassed $600,000 in super, they would receive zero age pension, and earn returns on super of about $31,519 – that’s more than $12,000 less in annual income simply because they have a bigger nest egg. 

How less in super can mean more retirement income 

Value of super savings – single retiree 

$300,000  

$600,000 

Annual age pension payments 

$28,0051

$01

Annual income from super

$15,7502 

$31,5192 

Total annual income 

$43,755 

$31,519 

Difference in annual income  

$12,236 

Source: Betashares. Figures assume a single retiree, homeowner, aged 67. 1Pension payments impacted marginally by income test via deeming rates. 2 Assuming 5% return on investments.  

Is it still worth growing super? 

The taper rate can make it seem counterproductive to build your super balance. Remember though, as age pension eligibility thresholds change at least annually, there is no set-in-cement figure for your super sweet spot.  

Moreover, our ageing population makes it likely the rules around super and the pension will continue to evolve in the future. 

The upshot is that the taper rate trap isn’t a cue to stop growing your super. What matters is that you are aware of the issue as you head towards retirement. 

The Moneysmart website features a calculator that provides an estimate of likely retirement income based on accumulated super plus pension payments.  

If you’re close to hanging up your work boots, it’s worth talking to Centrelink’s free Financial Information Service on 132 300, or speaking to a financial adviser.  

It’s all about tapping into every resource to make informed decisions and plan ahead. 

 

Share this article and show your support
Effie Zahos
Effie Zahos
Keep on reading more articles from Effie Zahos. See more articles
Join the conversation
Join the conversation...
There are comments posted so far. Join the conversation, please login or Sign up.