If you've worked hard and built a nest egg to enjoy in your later years it's not enough to just let superannuation take care of your future. There are things you need to think about and do to ensure you get the best out of your retirement.
The lead up
The last few years of work are a crucial time to build up superannuation balances that may still be suffering the effects of child-raising, mortgage-paying and life's general unexpected surprises. And there are some strategies that can help.
This is where you elect to have your boss pay more of your pay than the superannuation guarantee [9.5 per cent or whatever arrangement you have] into your super fund. "If your marginal tax rate is 19 per cent [charged on earnings from $18,201] or more, the 15 per cent rate paid on super contributions is preferable," said financial planner James McFall of Yield Financial Planning.
Salary sacrifice could be smarter than paying down the home loan. Lower tax, low interest rates and the current high super returns mean "you could be better off going into super than into a mortgage offset account," Mr McFall said.
Remember though, the maximum you can contribute to super and get this tax break is $25,000 a year.
Boosting your better half's balance
There is a nifty arrangement called transition to retirement that you can use when you reach preservation age and are entitled to access your super. It allows you to take a tax free super pension while you are still working and effectively cuts your tax bill.
Share out the love and the super balance. Photo: Getty
You can then recycle the extra cash back into your own, or your partner's superannuation. That is a great way of helping your partner save if their balance is significantly below yours, said Michael Abrahamsson, a certified financial planner with Flinders Wealth.
Celebrating the age gap
For those who punch above their weight by having a much younger partner, there could be an advantage on retirement. When the older partner retires and applies for the age pension, the super balance of the younger partner still working is not included in the assets test.
That means they might get a pension, or more of a pension than would be the case until the younger party reaches pension age. In that situation the extra cash could also help build the younger person's super, Mr McFall said.
Ask someone who knows
There's lots to think about as you run up to retirement. Once you stop work you will have to choose the allocation you want for your super, whether you want to take a lump some for some or all and how much you want to draw down in a pension.
Good advice will make retirement much more enjoyable. Photo: Getty
"You need to get some good advice," Mr Abrahmsson said.
"A retirement plan for a couple might cost between $3000 and $6000." Advice will be cheaper in later years but it is still important as "life goes through many changes, even in retirement."
Most super funds will allow you to pay fees for superannuation advice from your fund. But Industry Super Australia warns that you should keep an eye on this as some funds have used the provision to milk members money for no service in the past.
How much should you take out?
Once you retire using an allocated pension the government demands you take out a minimum amount per year that rises with age and starts off at 4 per cent. An adviser can help you determine if you need more than that, Mr Abrahamsson said.
"We normally advise our clients to withdraw between 4 and 7 per cent of available assets to spend each year on a sustainable retirement," Mr Abrahamsson said.
"Be conservative and remember retirement can last 30 or 35 years these days compared to 20 years a couple of decades ago."
See Integral Private Wealth's video on taking your superannuation
Retirement is a big emotional change. "You've been working hard, you've been time poor and saving for retirement. Suddenly you have available cash and time and the first five years of retirement are more expensive than people expect," he said.
"There can be overseas travel, spending on the house, buying a caravan and helping the grandkids."
Pay out the mortgage?
In a time when home mortgage rates can be 3 per cent or less and super funds have been returning double figures, it could look attractive to keep your mortgage in retirement rather than pay it out when you get your super. But you have to have the emotional wherewithall to do that.
"Nine out of 10 people are more comfortable with no debt and if you can sleep at nigh you have a better retirement," Mr Abrahamsson said.
"The psychological impact of being debt free is quite empowering."