Strategies for the five ages of KiwiSaver

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By Rob Stock, Stuff.co.nz | Interviewed Geoff Wilson, KiwiSaver Adviser

There are five ages of KiwiSaver.

Each of them calls for different strategies to get the best from New Zealand's $50 billion savings scheme offers.

"There seems to be a policy of set and forget," says Geoff Wilson, registered financial adviser from Stewart Group.

"People jumped into KiwiSaver, many when the $1000 kickstarter was still available for their kids, and what happened was they became disengaged."

And so their KiwiSaver, and those of their children, was left to prosper, or track sideways, ignored, and unloved, according to Wilson.

But if people think more about KiwiSaver as a savings scheme with different opportunities for each of their five ages of their economic lives, they might find it easier to use it to their maximum benefit, Wilson says.

FIRST AGE OF KIWISAVER: Birth to end of university

In this age of a person's life, KiwiSaver is all about their parents' aspirations for them.

Many opened KiwiSaver accounts for their children when there was a $1000 kickstarter contribution from the government on offer.

The National-led government got rid of that in 2015, and fewer people chose to open KiwiSaver schemes for their young ones, seeing little point.

At the end of February, there were 308,600 children aged 17 or younger in KiwiSaver, down from 326,200 the previous year, Inland Revenue statistics show.

Wilson opened accounts for his children, the oldest of whom is now 13 years, both to get the kickstarter for them.

"My children contribute. I get them to pay for it through their pocket money," he says.

Their contributions are small, between $20 an $30 a month and they won't have a deposit for a first home by the age of 18, but they are learning about saving habits and investing, he says.

A growth-oriented fund, heavy on investments in company shares, is best for children, as they have a long investment time horizons.

A KiwiSaver account can also allow relatives like grandparents to make contributions that are locked away until being used to help buy a home, which is the first opportunity people have to take money out of KiwiSaver, unless they emigrate, or run into financial hardship.

But parents should not feel duty-bound to make any contributions for their children.

KiwiSaver is important, but parents with debts, or no emergency fund, have more pressing financial priorities, Wilson says.

SECOND AGE OF KIWISAVER: The student loan/deposit/foundation years

The foundation years for many people are a time of low personal responsibility, and an opportunity to pay down student debts, build their skills, and start amassing money for the eventual purchase of a house.

All being well, young people will start earning, and gaining two pools of "free" money, the contributions from their employer, and the "member tax credits" from the government worth up to $521 a year. To get that amount, people have to contribute at least $1042.86 in the KiwiSaver tax year running from July 1 to June 30.

In the foundation years KiwiSaver is all about the dream of home ownership, because KiwiSaver money can be used to help fund the deposit on a first home.

Many young couples saving for a home also qualify for KiwiSaver homestart grants of up to $10,000 each. But to qualify for a grant, a person needs to have been saving for at least three years.

"Typically you would see people wanting to accrue as much as possible, and be in more growth-oriented funds, but with the proviso that when they get nearer the time they would want to draw it out, they lock in their gains by moving into a more conservative fund," Wilson says.

People considering heading overseas for six months or more on an OE need to remember interest will start to be charged on their student loans (currently 4 per cent), and penalty interest will be charged (at 8 per cent) if they miss payments.

THIRD AGE OF KIWISAVER: The mortgage years

Not everyone experiences the mortgage years. Some remain life-long renters.

But for those who do have a mortgage and KiwiSaver at the same time, it is all a question of finding the right balance, says Wilson.

"It's about balancing the need to pay down debt with long-term accumulation of savings," he says.

Many people have a capacity to do both at the same time, he says, even if only to ensure they get any matching employer contributions into KiwiSaver, and the member tax credit.

Building savings outside of the family home is also a form of diversification, Wilson says, and people can move their contributions up, or down, depending on their fortunes.

"People are not necessarily aware that Kiwisaver is fairly flexible," he says.

People can chip in 3 per cent of their salary, or 4 per cent, or 6 per cent, or 8 per cent, or 10 per cent.

There's a growing concern that many people will not have finished paying off their mortgage by the age of 65, so the need have a mortgage strategy as well as a KiwiSaver strategy is high.

FOURTH AGE: The charge towards retirement

This is the time when KiwiSaver really becomes what it was designed to be; the place where people amass their retirement savings.

People who start saving for retirement early in life have to contribute less, because compounding returns do a lot of the work for them, but many people ramp up their savings when they clear the mortgage and the children leave home, says Wilson.

"That would start around the 55 year mark, with 10 years to run to age 65, suddenly retirement looks like it is just round the corner. It does tend to focus the mind a little bit more," he says.

Relationship break-downs can push this out for some people, he says.

This is still a time for growth funds.

"Although people talk about 65 being the retirement age people who are fit and healthy are not contemplating needing their KiwiSaver until they are older than that," Wilson says.

Many will continue to work, and not need to touch their KiwiSaver for many years, Wilson says.

FIFTH AGE: The post-65 years

From July, people over the age of 65 who don't have a KiwiSaver will be able to open one.

A great many people over the age of 65 continue to save into KiwiSaver, figures collated by the Financial Markets Authority show.

At the end of March last year, there were 72,920 people aged 65-70 saving into KiwiSaver, and another 24,754 in the 71-75 age bracket.

People who are still working can continue making contributions. Some employers even make matching contributions for them.

Wilson says KiwiSaver operates like a wealth management account for people over the age of 65, keeping their money invested, or drawing regular income of as little as $100 a fortnight from it.

And people are needing to make their money last longer.

"When men turn 65, they have an 80 per cent likelihood of living to 90. For women it's age 94," Wilson says.

That can mean for some people, KiwiSaver money is still long-term money, Wilson says, and they continue to use funds at the higher end of the growth scale, while others use more conservative KiwiSaver funds.


  • The information provided, or any opinions expressed in this article, are of a general nature only and should not be construed or relied on as a recommendation to invest in a financial product or class of financial products. You should seek financial advice specific to your circumstances from an Authorised Financial Adviser before making any financial decisions. A disclosure statement can be obtained free of charge by calling 0800 878 961 or visit our website, www.stewartgroup.co.nz