Many women reach mid-life with a significant superannuation shortfall. But it’s not too late to turn things around. Actions now may help set up a more secure retirement.
When was the last time you checked your super balance? The hard fact is that Australian women retire, on average, with 35 percent less super than men.1
Shockingly, one in three women across all age groups have no super at all.2 Reasons for this include self-employment, working casually or part-time in jobs where the hours worked aren’t enough to qualify for employer contributions, or having never been in paid employment.
Beyond having no super at all, there are several reasons why women find themselves well behind men in the balance stakes by the time they reach their forties and fifties. Typically, they’ve taken time out of the workforce to have children, and then chosen to only return part-time while raising them. Women are also more likely than men to become unpaid carers for ageing parents and relatives. During these busy ‘sandwich generation’ years, personal financial planning can take a back seat to more immediate family needs.
And then there’s the gender pay gap – the difference between male and female average earnings. It currently sits at 13 per cent in Australia, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.3
Because of these factors, many women head towards retirement without enough savings to support even a modest lifestyle – particularly if, for whatever reason, their spouse or partner’s super is taken out of the equation.
Making ends meet in your later years
Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Unexpected events like illness, job loss and relationship breakdown may cause significant financial challenges down the track if you don’t take steps now to secure your future. On top of working towards an adequate super balance, this is where having a plan B to provide support – for example, ensuring you are appropriately insured – is important. As is being actively involved in the financial planning decisions in any relationship.
For many Australian women, it is a lesson that comes too late. The number of homeless women aged over 55 has spiked in recent years – up 30 per cent between 2011 and 2016, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission.4 Risk factors for homelessness in later life, according to the Commission, include experiencing economic disadvantage or family or domestic violence, lack of family support, mental health issues, relationship breakdown and the death of a partner.
Many women in these situations have little or no super or savings and live precariously, struggling to cover bills and basic expenses via Centrelink payments and, once eligible, the Age Pension.
Simple steps you can take today
It’s a sobering prospect – but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re in the workforce, either full-time, part-time or casually, you can turn things around. Boosting your super savings in the second half of your working life can make a big difference to your final balance and the lifestyle you’ll be able to enjoy when you stop working.
Reviewing your outgoings and assets – including how much is in your super account – can help you understand your position and create a plan to get back on track.
Tracking down any lost super, via ATO Online Services, and consolidating multiple accounts into one will make it easier to monitor your balance, and may prevent your super being eroded by several sets of fees and duplicate insurance premiums. You can bring your super together by lodging an online consolidation request and your super provider will do the rest. Alternatively, you can organise this yourself at the ATO website. One thing to note: consolidating super accounts can result in the cancellation of insurance policies and loss of other benefits. Before you do so, it’s important to check these details or seek advice.
Considering your personal circumstances and adjusting your superannuation account investment option, if appropriate, may also help your balance grow more quickly.
Sorting out a super shortfall
It’s not uncommon for women in their forties and fifties to enjoy a second wind in their careers, as their children achieve independence and start to make fewer demands on their time and the family budget.
If this is you, you may find it’s an ideal time to start making additional voluntary contributions to your super. You can do this in a number of ways. For example, you can ask your employer to make a regular deduction from your salary, or you could make personal contributions from your take-home pay.
Topping up your balance won’t just build your retirement nest egg, either; it could help you to manage tax.
Contributions you make with pre-tax dollars, such as salary sacrifice contributions, are taxed at a maximum of 15 per cent for most people up to the contribution caps.5 (High income earners may have to pay an additional 15 per cent tax on these contributions). You may also be able to claim a tax deduction for personal contributions you make to super. Depending on your income level, this can be a smart way to help manage your tax and maximise the amount you’re saving for retirement.
Looking ahead to a more secure tomorrow
Catching up on your super can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s still time to tackle the issue, and doing so will help provide you with a more comfortable retirement when the time is right for you. And, if you haven’t contributed up to the limit in a previous year, you may be able to make larger contributions now or in the future to give your retirement savings an extra boost.
It’s okay to feel worried and intimidated, but don’t let that stop you from stepping up to secure a better future. Financial independence starts with you.
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1 Australian Bureau of Statistics (15 December 2020), based on median data of superannuation balances for Australians aged 55-64, Gender Indicators, Australia, accessed 24 March 2021, https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/people-and-communities/gender-indicators-australia/latest-release
2 Better Retirement Outcomes: a snapshot of account balances in Australia, Ross Clare, June 2019, https://www.superannuation.asn.au/
3 Workplace Gender Equality Agency, February 2021, https://www.wgea.gov.au/data/fact-sheets/australias-gender-pay-gap-statistics
Disclaimer: The information contained in this communication is general in nature and does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider whether it is appropriate for your personal circumstances prior to making any investment decision.