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Expert's tips to rebuilding superannuation nest egg after financial struggle

Those struggling financially may pay an even bigger price in retirement if they've had to access their superannuation early.

The primary purpose of superannuation is for retirement. However, in very limited circumstances, it may be possible to access some of your super balance earlier, like if you hit financial hardship.

The ATO (Australian Taxation Office) has recently reminded people that illegal early access schemes that aim to circumvent the rules can have significant financial consequences. But, during the pandemic, some Australians were eligible to withdraw up to $20,000 from super.

That $38 billion is estimated to have significant economic cost in the future and impact super balances in retirement far more than people expected, according to recent analysis from the Super Members Council.

There are a bunch of ways you can get your superannuation looking as good as possible before you retire. (Source: Getty)
There are a bunch of ways you can get your superannuation looking as good as possible before you retire. (Source: Getty)

Do you have a story? Email yahoo.finance.au@yahooinc.com

So, if you’ve had to dip into your super before you’ve retired to help you through tough times, is there anything you can do to help to get your retirement savings back on track?

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There’s no doubt that many are still doing it tough and the thought of directing much needed money into super today may not be right for you. The good news is that when the time is right, there are some strategies that you could implement without compromising your standard of living today. You also can stop, start and change your strategy to suit your circumstances if your needs change.

Here are my 5 quick tips to boosting your super savings which could make all the difference if you’ve accessed your super before retirement.

Who could this work for?

This may be appropriate if you have sufficient cash flow to divert some of your pre-tax salary to super. Even small incremental amounts add up over time, which also gives the power of compounding returns the chance to work harder for you.

How does it work?

Salary sacrifice is an arrangement between you and your employer, where your employer contributes some of your future pre‑tax salary, wages or bonus directly into your super fund. You nominate the amount or percentage of your regular salary to contribute and can vary the arrangement if your circumstances change.

This can be a disciplined way to save for retirement, as the amount will be contributed by your employer before you receive your regular pay. However, if your income or expenses aren’t consistent or predictable, there are other ways to contribute that might suit you better.

Salary sacrifice contributions are generally taxed at the concessional rate of up to 15 per cent, rather than your marginal tax rate, which could be a lot higher (unless you have income from certain sources that exceeds $250,000, where an additional 15 per cent tax is payable, which is called ‘Division 293 tax’).

By paying less tax, you can make a larger investment for your retirement. You could even consider diverting the additional tax savings to super to boost your savings further. By making regular additional contributions to super, you’re helping build up your account balance again.

Important information

Salary sacrifice contributions are treated as ‘concessional contributions’ (CCs). CCs also include employer contributions and personal contributions claimed as a tax deduction. A cap applies to CCs. Breaching the cap may lead to additional tax penalties. In 2023/24 financial year, this cap is $27,500 (increasing to $30,000 from 1 July 2024). Your personal CC cap may be higher if you haven’t fully utilised your CC cap each year since 1 July 2018. This is explained below in tip 5.

Who could this work for?

If you earn less than $58,446 pa in 2023/24 and have the cash flow to make a personal (after-tax) super contribution of up to $1,000 pa (which is less than $20 per week), you may be eligible for an additional super top up from the Government, known as the co-contribution.

Strategy at a glance

If you meet the requirements and make personal (after-tax) contributions of up to $1,000 pa, the Government will contribute up to $500 into your super account. By receiving additional help from the Government, your savings may be boosted even faster.

The amount you’re entitled to will vary based on your income and the total of your annual personal contributions. If you’re entitled to the maximum co-contribution, this means your super contributions increase by $1,500 pa from this strategy alone – and there are other strategies that you may be able to utilise to give your savings an even bigger boost.

To help you calculate the amount of Government co-contribution you may be entitled to, see the ‘Super co-contribution calculator’.

Important information

You need to ensure you satisfy the eligibility criteria to contribute, as well as be entitled to the co-contribution. Generally, this means that you’ll need to be aged less than 71 at the end of the financial year, lodge a tax return, earn at least 10 per cent of your income from employment, and have a ‘total super balance’ less than a set limit (which is currently $1.9 million).

Also, you must not have exceeded your ‘non-concessional contributions’ (NCC) cap. Personal (after-tax) contributions count towards your NCC cap. In addition to not being eligible for a co-contributions, breaching the cap may lead to additional tax penalties.

Who could this work for?

If you’re a couple, and one of you earns less than $40,000 pa, a super contribution made by one person into the super account of the spouse earning below this income limit could provide the contributing spouse with a tax offset. Spouse contributions can be a great way to grow your super as a couple and to be ‘rewarded’ via a tax offset for saving for retirement. You could use these tax savings to provide an even larger super savings boost, helping to fund additional contributions in the next financial year.

Strategy at a glance

If you make an after-tax contribution into your eligible spouse’s super account and they earn less than $40,000 pa, you may be entitled to a tax offset of up to $540. A tax offset reduces your tax payable.

To qualify for the full offset of $540 in a financial year, you need to contribute $3,000 or more into your spouse’s super account and your spouse must earn $37,000 pa or less (which includes includes assessable income, reportable fringe benefits and reportable employer super contributions).

A lower tax offset may be available if you contribute less than $3,000 or your spouse earns more than $37,000 pa but less than $40,000 pa.

Important information

A spouse contribution counts towards your spouse’s non-concessional contribution cap and must be within this cap to entitle you to the tax offset.

Who could this work for?

This might be right for you if you’re able to make personal after-tax contributions to super. Unlike salary sacrifice contributions, personal deductible contributions can be made with your take home (after tax) pay or savings.

You can do this regularly, or you could even wait until closer to the end of the financial year, which could provide greater flexibility and planning options if you have irregular income or expenses and need to review your circumstances before committing to a regular contribution.

Strategy at a glance

This strategy involves making a personal super contribution during the year, and after following some important steps (including notifying your fund within certain time frames that you intend to claim a deduction for the contribution), claiming a tax deduction for the amount when you complete your tax return. Depending on your circumstances, this may even result in you receiving a tax refund at the end of the year. You could use this tax refund to further boost your retirement savings by making another super contribution in the following year.

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By making additional voluntary contributions to super, you’re helping to rebuild your account balance. What’s more, making tax-effective super contributions can be a great way to boost your cashflow even more. It could also help you to manage capital gains tax and if you have unused CCs (see tip 5) you could make larger contributions and claim an even larger tax deduction.

Important information

These contributions are treated as CCs and count towards your CC cap. Exceeding your cap may result in additional tax liabilities.

Who could this work for?

If you haven’t fully utilised your annual CC cap since 1 July 2018, you may have accrued ‘unused’ CCs that could enable you to make larger contributions in a future year. Unused CCs can be carried forward for up to five years.

Strategy at a glance

If you meet the eligibility criteria and have accrued unused CCs, you may be able to top up any compulsory employer contributions by making:

  • personal contributions that you claim a tax deduction for, or

  • salary sacrifice contributions.

You could do this for example:

  • when you receive a bonus

  • once you have sufficient cash flow to divert regular pre-tax salary to super

  • when you receive a refund from your tax return, or

  • with proceeds of sale from an investment or other asset, or a windfall.

Important information

These contributions are treated as CCs and count towards your CC cap. Exceeding your cap may result in having to pay additional tax.

You can check what unused CCs you have accrued my logging into the ATO service on myGov. You’ll also need to meet other eligibility criteria.