Showing posts with label pensions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pensions. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty in retirement

Some years ago I went to an investment adviser, gave him my financial details and asked if I had enough super to do me in retirement. He didn’t answer, just laughed. I think he thought that someone with my amount of savings shouldn’t have needed to ask.

Truth is, no matter how high or low the standard of living we’re used to, just about all of us worry that we haven’t saved enough to keep it going in retirement. No matter how much we’ve put away, it’s only human to feel a twinge of guilt that we could have saved more. And how much is enough?

The superannuation industry has spent decades convincing us our savings are inadequate, and pressing the government to raise the rate of compulsory super contributions. The “retail” super funds run by the banks keep doing this, but so do the not-for-profit industry funds.

It was they who persuaded the Rudd government to phase the rate up from 9 per cent of wages to 12 per cent by 2025.

But now, at long last, a report by John Daley and Brendan Coates, of the Grattan Institute, has hit the headlines exposing the Great Super Lie. In the words of its title, Money in retirement: More than enough.

The report’s careful and detailed analysis finds that, contrary to everything we’ve been told, the vast majority of retirees today, and in future, are likely to be comfortable financially.

The institute’s own modelling shows that, even after allowing for inflation, most workers today can expect a retirement income of at least 91 per cent of their pre-retirement income. This is way above the 70 per cent level that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recommends its member-countries aim for.

But how can reality be so at variance with our perception of it? Because the super and investment-advice industries have laboured long and hard to convince us we should be saving more.

Why have they done this? Because every extra dollar we save through super, whether voluntarily or compulsorily, is a dollar they get to take a small bite out of – every year until we eventually take it and spend it.

They call it “clipping the ticket”. The financial services sector abounds with people who’ve thought of another reason to clip our ticket. That’s why its top people are the highest paid of them all, the envy of medical specialists and barristers.

How have they misled us? As the report explains, by exploiting our inability to anticipate how much we’ll need to last us in retirement.

ASFA – the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia – is the chief offender. It publishes and updates a measure of the minimum amount you’ll need at retirement to live at a “comfortable” standard. If you don’t have that much then, by implication, you’ll be un-comfortable.

Trouble is, it’s designed to reflect a lifestyle typical of the top 20 per cent of retirees today. So, in truth, it’s telling the bottom 80 per cent they haven’t saved nearly enough to have in retirement a standard of living far higher than they ever enjoyed while working.

Obviously, when estimating how much you’ll need, you have to allow for inflation over the likely period of your retirement. Some in the industry exaggerate this by using the expected growth in wages – rather than prices – as their inflation measure, knowing that wages grow faster than prices and living standards rise over time.

After being misled for so long, you probably find it hard to believe your savings are – or will be – more than adequate, so let me explain.

First, most people will have more income than they realise. Most people will be eligible for a full or part age pension, which is increased in line with wages rather than prices, meaning it grows faster than inflation over time.

By now, most people are retiring with a significant amount of super saving. It was always envisaged that most people would retire with some combination of age pension and super.

About 80 per cent of people over 65 own their own home (a huge saving) and most have savings and investments outside the super system.

Second, people spend less money in retirement than they used to, and than they expect to. That’s why the OECD says you need only 70 per cent of your pre-retirement income to be comfortable.

The retired pay less income tax on the same income, whatever it is. They don’t make super contributions, they don’t have mortgages (though those who rent privately are the big exception to the rule) and they don’t have kids to support.

They eat out less (partly because they have more time to cook), drink less alcohol, spend less on transport (no trips to work) and replace clothing and furniture less often. Medical costs are a lot higher, but are largely covered by the government.

And it’s not just that when you’re retired you have less need to spend than when you’re working. It’s also that you spend less as you get older. Spending tends to slow when you reach 70, and decreases rapidly after 80.

Still not convinced? Get this: surveys show the retired worry less than the working about paying bills, many actually save some of their income and often leave a legacy almost as large as their nest egg on the day they retired. Sounds comfortable to me.
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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How Labor is taking on the greedy elderly

Talk about missing the point. The media spent all last week working themselves into a lather over Labor's newly announced policy to abolish cash refunds for unused dividend imputation credits. (If you have no idea what that means, it probably wouldn't affect you.)

This promise would be terribly unfair to dirt-poor self-funded retirees, we were told. And it was utter stupidity for Bill Shorten to drop such a monumentally unpopular proposal in the last week of the Batman byelection, which he was now safe to lose.

Except, of course, that Labor won comfortably, with little sign the policy had much effect.

The media smarties' greater failure was their inability to see the bigger picture: the next federal election is shaping as a battle between the generations, with Labor championing the put-upon young and the Coalition defending the privileged old.

According to Canberra conventional wisdom, this too is crazy-brave territory for Labor. The ageing of the population means Grey Power is our fastest growing political force.

Those of retirement age (which includes me) have little more pressing to do than to worry incessantly about their finances, and have developed an unshakable sense of entitlement ("I've paid taxes all my life ..."). Any concession they've been granted, no matter how unjustified or unaffordable, can't be taken back, we're assured.

Well, I'm not so sure.

As a political force, Grey Power has one huge weakness: of all the age groups, the over-65s are those least likely to change their vote. The great majority vote for the Coalition, so Labor doesn't have a lot to lose.

It's among the non-aged (sorry) that most swinging voters are found, and it's by picking up enough swingers that a party wins.

Haven't you noticed how, since 2013, the Coalition has been reacting to Labor's pro-younger policies by flying to the defence of the better-off old? The conservatives are allowing themselves to be "wedged" – separated from the majority of voters.

The Canberra smarties also used to believe negative gearing was politically untouchable. But Labor went to the 2016 election promising to curtail it – while the Libs predicted it would send house prices crashing – and came within a whisker of winning. Labor's persisting with the policy.

Labor went to that election with another pro-younger policy: cutting the tax breaks going to exceptionally well-off superannuants (including me). This time, Malcolm Turnbull, needing help to pay for his company tax cuts, produced his own, Treasury-crafted version of Labor's idea.

The issue didn't feature greatly in the election campaign, but after the Coalition had won, the exceptionally well-off superannuants in the Liberal heartland turned on Turnbull. This advantaged Labor by adding to the disunity in the Coalition's ranks. Turnbull modified his super changes, but not greatly.

And now Labor is planning to remove another super tax concession that goes overwhelmingly, but not exclusively, to superannuants with large share portfolios. The Coalition hasn't resisted the temptation to side with its well-off elderly heartland, nor have the media resisted the temptation to promote its (and the super industry's) misrepresentation of the policy as an attack on struggling retirees (who just happen to own a lot of shares).

How is this another of Labor's pro-younger policies? That will be easier seen if, as seems likely, Labor uses the saving to pay for a promise of income tax cuts for people earning less than $87,000 a year – few of which would go to the retired rather than to the workers who pay for the retired's largely income tax-free status.

If you think an election campaign based on conflict between the generations is not a good thing, I agree. Unless what you mean by that is that the better-off aged should be allowed to retain their relatively recently conferred tax advantages, and the taxpaying non-old should continue to lump it.

It's a pity John Howard and Peter Costello (the chap who kept issuing reports warning that population ageing would play merry hell with the budget) didn't worry more about future generational conflict when they spent most of their 11 years in office slipping new benefits for the aged, particularly self-funded retirees, into the budget.

They started with the private health insurance tax rebate (the biggest users of private health insurance services are 60 to 79-year olds) and moved on to giving the alleged self-funded retirees the "seniors and pensioners tax offset", also making it easier for them to get health cards and pay the pensioners' rate for pharmaceuticals.

In 1999, they gave negative gearing a huge boost by introducing a 50 per cent discount on capital gains tax. And they decided that anyone who paid so little income tax they couldn't take full advantage of their dividend imputation credits should be sent a refund for the balance.

On the younger side of the ledger, while they didn't invent HECS debts for university students, they greatly increased them.

Then, in 2007, Costello introduced sweeping super changes, making super payouts completely tax-free for people over 60. He also made a lot of supposedly self-funded people eligible for a part pension.

Since this largesse was quite unaffordable, Labor and Coalition governments have been chipping it back ever since.

Even so, we retain an income tax system where how much you pay sometimes depends on the size of your income, but other times on how old you are. And that's not going to lead to intergenerational conflict?
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