Thursday 14 September 2006

Boosting your savings painlessly (for wage slaves)

Vanguard Australia had an interesting article last week describing a savings technique that I've been using myself for several years to painlessly boost retirement savings. The basic idea is to increase your savings by a tiny percentage each year - doing it so gradually that you never notice the extra amount you're putting away. That way you don't miss what you've never had (in terms of disposable cash flow), so it's entirely "painless".

I increase my savings rate each June by a fraction of what I expect my pay rise to be for the coming year - arranging to increase my payroll deduction into Superannuation via Salary Sacrifice before the pay rise comes into effect.

Incidentally, savings via a superannuation (retirement) account will get an even bigger tax concession from 1 July 2007 with the move to reduce the rate of tax on end benefits to 0%. So, if you're taxable income is more than $25,000 pa contributing via salary sacrifice means paying 15% contribution tax rather than 30%, and from next July there'll be no tax on your retirement income stream from superannuation. The savings are of course even more worthwhile for higher income earners on a higher marginal tax rate.

A couple of things to watch out for:
* maximum pre-tax contributions from 1/7/2007 are expected to be $50,000 per annum, and this includes the 9% Superannuation Guarantee Levy amount your employer already contributes. But this would only affect very high income earners!
* another $150,000 per year can also be contributed as an undeducted contribution. So it may be worthwhile moving some existing savings into your superannuation account. However, this strategy wouldn't be suitable for your "emergency" fund, as super can't normally be withdrawn until you reach retirement age. There's also a risk that the rules could change again before you withdraw the funds during retirement!
* check that your employer won't reduce the SGL amount they contribute if you salary sacrifice - the SGL amount should be based on your nominal salary, rather than the reduced amount left after deducting the salary sacrifice. Most employers are fine with this (they should be - salary sacrifice actually saves them money by cutting the amount of payroll tax they have to pay!) but technically they only have to pay SGL based on your wage.

Marginal Tax rates 2006-07

Taxable Marginal Tax Saved by using
Income Tax rate Salary Sacrifice
$0 – $6,000 Nil not a good idea!
$6,001 – $25,000 15% nothing up front, but the savings in super are tax sheltered.
$25,001 - $75,000 30% 15%
$75,001 –- $150,000 40% 25%
Over $150,000 45% 30%

(nb. these rates don't include the 1.5% medicare levy)

I was sacrificing 9.8% of my salary last year, and this year used my pay rise to increase it to 12.7%. Due to getting a small (3%) pay rise and the cut in income tax rates, I still ended up with a few dollars a week more in my pay packet - enough to cover the increased petrol prices at least. From now until I retire (approx. 20 years) this will mean around $50,000 extra going into my super account. This should add around $75,000 to my superannuation balance at retirement!

ps. For lower income earners (<$30,000) it's important to still make a $1000 "after tax" contribution so that you get the free money (co-contribution) on offer from the government. You can probably do this via B-Pay straight from your bank into your superannuation account, and the tax office will automatically determine your eligibility and arrange for the co-contribution when you lodge your tax return. For those earning between $30,000-$50,000 the co-contribution phases out. You still get $1.50 from the government for every $1 you contribute, but the maximum amount reduces, so you should contribute less than $1,000 if you earn >$30,000. eg. If you earn $40,000 you'd get the maximum $900 co-contribution if you made a $600 "after tax" (undeducted) contribution. The ATO has a simple
available on their website. It's funny to note that a lot of the financial press regularly gets this wrong - suggesting that you still have to make a $1,000 contribution to get the maximum available co-contribution, even if you earn over $40,000!

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