A guide to preparing for retirement
November 29 2023
Plan the next stage of your journey with confidence
Retirement can deliver some of the best years of your life, but only if you properly prepare for it. A successful retirement is about more than just organising your money. Instead of viewing it as retiring from work, think about it as moving on to the next stage of your life. That puts a whole new spin on what you need to consider and how you approach it.
This guide is designed to highlight some of the key things you should think about now, and can help you determine what to do now to make the most of your future years.
- Where are you now?
- Where do you want to be?
- How can you get there?
- How we can help
1. Where are you now?
Take stock of your current situation
The first step towards achieving the lifestyle you want in retirement is to assess your current situation. It's important to have a good understanding of how much you're spending, and how your savings stack up against your debts.
What's your cash flow like?
Do you save regularly or do you live from one payday to the next? This is a good indicator of your cash flow. Can you make any changes to save a little more each month? Even small savings now can help make a difference to your long-term finances.
Try using a budget planner. Setting up a good budget allows you to get an accurate reflection on your true spending patterns and often provides an eye opening experience on where your money is really going. They can help you monitor your spending and find ways to save more. Try the one at moneysmart.gov.au
Assets and liabilities
Write down all your investments, including your super balance. You can quickly check your ESSSuper account balance by visiting Members Online. Use the online calculator to compare how much you have with ESSSuper and how much you may need when you retire.
With our Lifetime Supermodeller you can also see how long your super may last and if it will be enough to finance your retirement goals.
Calculate your debts. Do you own your home? Or are you paying a mortgage or renting? Do you have any other loans? Are there restrictions on when you can access any of your assets? Once you know what your debts are, look at ways to reduce or even clear them. This is a key consideration when planning for retirement and superannuation maybe one way to eliminate debt.
Learn more using our calculators
Do you make personal contributions to your super?
Most Defined Benefit fund members have the option of contributing different rates to their fund. Do you know if you're contributing at the rate needed to help you achieve your 'Maximum Benefit Multiple'? If you do contribute at the maximum rate have you considered contributing more to another superannuation account?
ESSSuper has the Accumulation Plan which accepts concessional superannuation contributions.
Learn more about growing your super
Check your current contribution rate
To check the contribution rules of the ESSSuper fund you're in, simply log into Members Online.
Here's a checklist to refer to, to help keep track of what you may want to do and what you've done.
☐ Attend an ESSSuper webinar
☐ Find out more about the different investment options
☐ Nominate beneficiaries (binding or non-binding)
☐ Look for lost super
☐ Consider consolidating your super into one fund (please see section 3B, below)
☐ Know how much you're contributing. Can you put a little extra aside?
☐ Meet with an ESSSuper Member Education Consultant
☐ Make sure you're not under-insured.
2. Where do you want to be?
If you don't know where you're going, how will you know when you get there?
Retirement means something different to everybody. For some, it's about slowing down and having time to relax with family and friends. For others, it's a time to do all those things you've never had the time for, from further education to regular overseas holidays.
You've taken a good first step in assessing your current situation. Now it's time to think about what your life beyond work will look like and what you need to do in order to get there.
Why not write down what your ideal retirement looks like for you?
Discuss it with your partner or friends. Try to imagine what life might be like without the salary you currently receive. We all have different goals in retirement and different ideas about what a 'comfortable' retirement means.
Write down what's important to you, with the essential amount of money you'll need in retirement and the optional amount you may prefer. Here's some examples to get you going:
- New car
- Mobile phone
- Meals out
- Learning a new skill/hobby
- Holidays: both local and overseas
- Grandkids' education
- Health insurance
- Leave an inheritance
How much will you need to fund the lifestyle you want?
The 'ASFA Retirement Standard' can give you an objective idea of a savings target and what type of lifestyle it will provide in retirement. Take a look at the ASFA Retirement Standard.
While the figures may shock you somewhat, remember, there are other factors to consider. Such as whether you'll be eligible for the Age Pension, and not least, what you do between now and the day you retire. It's also important to remember that your lifestyle will differ from the next person, so what you need will be based on your lifestyle and life choices, again this is why we believe it is important to formalise your own budget to understand your needs.
Timing, as they say, is everything
Having a good idea about when you plan to retire and setting a realistic date can help bring into focus the things you can do between now and then to make sure you're properly prepared.
3. How can you get there?
What can you do now to prepare for the day you retire?
Planning for retirement is an investment in your future. By investing some time now to consider what you can do to prepare your finances, you can approach your new stage of life with every prospect of it being a happy and satisfying time.
A. Planning your future
Budgeting in retirement
Once you fully retire, you'll be living on a finite income. It's important to think about what that may mean for your lifestyle and spending habits.
- A budget planner can help you see where and how you spend.
- What is essential and what's optional?
- Prioritise what's important to you
- Think about how you can reduce wastage
- What will give you maximum enjoyment from your money?
Debt versus super
If you're approaching retirement and you still have a mortgage, should you pay off the debt or put the money into your super? The answer is not black and white, and depends on a number of factors, including your personal circumstances and preferences.
- Do you plan to pay off your mortgage before you retire?
- Will you use some super to pay it off?
- Will you need to access some of these funds before you retire?
- Do you have savings outside super, such as an emergency fund, to call on if unexpected expenses arise?
- Do you have any other high-interest debt that needs to be repaid?
Of course, it doesn't have to be one or the other. If you're unsure we recommend you speak with a Financial Adviser*.
B. Boosting your super
Contributing as much as you can (as long as you don't exceed the current yearly concessional contribution caps), is the key to making the most of your super. You can check your current contribution rate by logging into Members Online.
If you're in a Defined Benefit fund you may be able to move to the maximum contribution rate or take advantage of catch up rates. Any increase in contribution rates at any time in your working life will increase the rate for that period at which your Defined Benefit is accrued. If you have an Accumulation Plan account, you can change personal contributions at any time. For members who joined before or on 1 July 2007, increasing your contribution rate will void grandfathering of the contribution caps. This means your contributions and those of your Employer will be subject to the contribution caps. This may also mean you may incur additional tax. Refer to the relevant PDS or handbook for more information.
If you have an Accumulation Plan account, you can change personal contributions at any time.
Learn more about contribution caps
Before or after tax contributions
You can make contributions to super in a number of ways, and each has its benefits.
After tax contributions are contributions you make from your take home pay, after income tax has been deducted and you have not claimed a tax deduction for them. These are known as non-concessional contributions.
Contributions made before tax, known as concessional contributions, are often referred to as 'salary sacrifice'. Salary sacrifice is a voluntary arrangement between you and your employer. If your employer agrees to participate it means you'll be able to allocate and elect how often some of your pay, goes straight into your super instead before it's taxed.
For Defined Benefit Members, employer contributions made to the Defined Benefit pool and any salary sacrifice contributions made to/or in respect of your Defined Benefit are referred to as Notional Taxed Contributions (NTC) and are classed also as concessional contributions.
Learn more about growing your super
Which way is right for you?
Check our Salary sacrifice calculator to see which approach may suit you, then look at our Small change, big savings calculator.
Learn more using our calculators
Grow your super with an Accumulation Plan
An ESSSuper Accumulation Plan account may boost your super, allowing you to make additional contributions, consolidate other super funds, and if appropriate take out insurance with your superannuation.
Find and consolidate your super
By consolidating funds you could:
- Save on multiple fees – you may be paying multiple administration fees for different funds
- Reduce the risk of paying multiple life insurance premiums that will erode your retirement savings
- Easier to manage – having all your super in one place can save time and hassle.
You should check any insurance arrangements that may be forfeited, or any other effects this transfer may have on your benefits, before rolling your money into one fund.
Learn more about consolidating your super
Making spouse contributions
If your spouse's income is less than the income threshold and you make an after tax contribution to your spouse's super account, you may be able to claim a tax offset.
Learn more about spouse contributions
Get a co-contribution from the government
Often referred to as the 'Government co-contribution', or simply 'co-contribution', this is an additional contribution paid by the Australian Government as a reward to low income earners for making an after tax personal contribution to their super. If you are a low income earner, meet the eligibility criteria and have provided your TFN to ESSSuper, the ATO will automatically pay a co-contribution to your super account.
Learn more about super co-contributions
Remember your contribution limits
The Federal Government sets limits (called contribution caps) on the amount of concessional and non-concessional contributions made to all of your super accounts in a financial year. If you exceed these caps, extra tax applies.
Contribution caps also apply to Notional Tax Contributions (NTC). Defined Benefit members can calculate their NTC using the calculator on our website.
Learn more about contribution caps
C. Transitioning into retirement
As you approach retirement you may start thinking about reducing your working hours and easing into retirement. Once you reach your preservation age you can access a transition to retirement income stream to supplement your income.
Whether you receive any tax savings through a transition to retirement strategy will depend on your individual circumstances. The benefits of transitional income streams is largely dependent upon your age, taxable income and your personal cash flow position. This strategy is designed to increase your cash flow position in order to meet your lifestyle goals, or in some instances may be used to reduce your income tax liability and boost your superannuation savings while still meeting your income needs. Should you require further information on what products ESSSuper have to support a transition to retirement strategy please contact one of our Member Education Consultants. Or if you want to know whether this may be an appropriate strategy for you, please make an appointment with one of our ESSSuper Financial planners.
Investment returns don't directly affect the benefit you receive from a Defined Benefit fund. However, if you have an Accumulation Plan account or an Income Stream account, returns are based on your selected (or default if you make no choice) investment option performance.
You may have different goals for these funds. Often this depends on how close you are to retirement. ESSSuper offers a range of member investment choice options for Accumulation Plan, Beneficiary Account and Income Stream members to select from in order to meet their objectives. Underpinning the investment options there are foundational principles that we adhere to.
Learn more about our investment approach
What sort of investor are you?
To get an idea of your risk tolerance, check out our Investment risk profiler calculator and answer a few simple questions. This tells you what sort of investor you are and suggests an investment approach that may suit investors with similar investment risk profiles.
Learn more using our calculators
Will you get the Age Pension?
Receiving the Age Pension (full or part) may be important to your retirement plans. The trouble is the eligibility rules keep changing. Essentially, you need to meet the age criteria and satisfy the Age Pension Assets Test and the Income Test. The amount of Age Pension you receive is based on the lowest entitlement as calculated by both tests. If you end up with no government pension based on one of the tests, then you're not eligible. To find out more, contact Centrelink at servicesaustralia.gov.au or on 132 000.
D. Peace of mind
There are a few ways you can plan for the future through your super.
Do you need insurance?
Whether you need life insurance as you approach retirement depends on your circumstances. How would you, or your family cope if you weren't able to work anymore?
- Is your salary critical to achieving your super goals?
- Are you still paying a mortgage or do you rent?
- Do you have dependants or grandkids you want to help?
Insurance through super
Having insurance through your super means the premiums can be lower than purchasing life insurance outside super due to group discounts and premium deductibility within the fund. Visit the ESSSuper website and check out the interactive Insurance premium calculator (available on our calculators page) to estimate the level of premiums you might pay for additional cover.
ESSS Defined Benefit fund members receive access to default Death and Disability benefits as part of their active membership of the ESSS DB. The amount of your death and TPD benefits are based on your contribution rate history, age at joining ESSSuper, full/part time status and the type of work you do. If you want more cover, and have an Accumulation Plan, you can apply for additional life insurance cover through the ESSSuper Accumulation Plan.
Insurance cover is subject to eligibility criteria and other terms and conditions in the Policy. Please note the cost of the premium will be covered as part of the fees and charges of the Accumulation Plan and please read the read the ESSSuper Accumulation Plan Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) for more information.
Read our PDS and handbooks
No-one likes to think about the possibility of death or becoming incapacitated. So making a will is often low on the 'to do' list. If you passed away unexpectedly without a will, you may leave a complex burden on those you love at the very moment they're in need of support.
It's much better for everyone if you make clear your intentions in the event that something happens to you. This is the key to good estate planning.
An up-to-date will and Power of Attorney
Take the time to review your will and make sure it still reflects your wishes, as priorities can change over time. Also consider setting up a medical and financial Power of Attorney to ensure your affairs are well managed, should you be unable to make important decisions for yourself.
Who gets your super if you die?
Super is one of your major assets. You can determine who receives your super by making a binding death benefit nomination. You can nominate one or more beneficiaries and what proportion they will each receive. Binding death benefit nominations have special considerations and to remain valid they need to be renewed every three years.
If you don't make a binding death benefit nomination, the ESSSuper Board will determine who your super benefit goes to. Alternatively, you can make a non-binding nomination of beneficiaries and the ESSSuper Board will consider your personal circumstances at your time of death before distributing your benefit.
Log into Members Online to nominate your beneficiary
4. How we can help
Understanding your fund and how it works to make the most of it
ESSSuper exists to help our members secure the best for their future. We have a lot of information, education, and advice resources to make it easy for you to get the help you need.
Who can you speak with?
If you have any question about super, your first call should be to one of our Superannuation Consultants.
Webinars run for you
We also run regular webinars throughout the year, on a wide range of super topics that you can attend from the comfort of your home.
Find out more and register your place at a webinar
Member Education Consultants - the experts in your fund
As an ESSSuper member you also have access to our experienced Member Education Consultants. They understand the type of work you do, and are the experts in your fund.
In a video call from the comfort of your home or virtually in your workplace, Member Education Consultants can provide information and general advice about even the most complex questions about your super, including:
Find out more about virtual appointments
- Understanding your benefits
- Explaining your resignation and retirement options
- Exploring ways you can boost your super.
What if you need personalised financial advice?
If your Member Education Consultant determines your situation is more complicated or you think you need personal financial advice, they’ll refer you to one of our Financial Advisers.* A Financial Adviser can take a look at your overall financial position and help you plan the best way to achieve your financial goals.
A Financial Adviser can help:
- If you’re planning for retirement
- If you’re contemplating a career change
- If you need advice on multiple super topics
- If you want to discuss and structure your benefits to matters outside of super such as tax or possible Centrelink benefits
- If you want to discuss other investments outside of superannuation (for example you receive a lump sum such as inheritance).
Our Financial Advisers can help you develop a comprehensive tailored financial plan, or provide advice on a single topic. Your first virtual appointment is obligation free. This meeting will help determine what level of advice is right for you and what fees may apply.
Learn more about financial advice
Not sure what information or advice you need?
Our expertise is always close at hand
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