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How Might The New National Government Change KiwiSaver?

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Contributor:
Mary Holm
Mary Holm

Question:

I am somewhat confused by the National Party's proposed changes to KiwiSaver and how they might impact on me.

I am an 8 per cent contributor on a 100 per cent growth plan which I joined on October 23 last year. I am 64 years old, work three days a week and expect to continue working for another 18 to 24 months.

I intend to take the money out after the five years have elapsed - on or about October 2012. I acknowledge that it will not be a huge sum, but I may as well have the most that I can make it. To that end, between retirement and October 2012 I will make contributions to take advantage of any tax or other benefits.

How might the National Party's proposal impact on me? Any comment would be welcomed.

Answer:

Firstly, good on you for getting into KiwiSaver. It's a great deal for those in their early 60s - under whichever government.

Funnily enough, some of the changes the new Government plans for KiwiSaver from next April 1 won't affect you as much as many employees. The changes are:

* Employees will be able to contribute just 2 per cent of their pay if they wish. This will help people struggling to afford KiwiSaver. But you are already putting in more than the current 4 per cent minimum, so that doesn't affect you.

* The maximum tax credit for employees will be 2 per cent of their pay, even if they contribute more than that - unless National changes this proposal, and I do hope it does.

This will affect every employee who earns less than $52,150 a year - which may well include you, as a part-timer.

Under the current scheme, the tax credit equals the KiwiSaver's own contributions, up to $1043 a year. Some lower-income employees whose contributions don't total that maximum are putting in extra money so they can get the biggest possible tax credit - and that may be why you are putting in 8 per cent. But under National's plans, they won't be able to increase their tax credit by topping up their contributions.

Meanwhile, non-employees will still be able to contribute whatever their provider agrees to.

That means that when you retire you will be able to put in $1043 a year and get the maximum tax credit, but now you can't. Your situation highlights the silliness of this proposal.

* Compulsory employer contributions will still rise from 1 per cent to 2 per cent next April. But that's where they will stay, no longer rising to 3 per cent in April 2010 and 4 per cent in April 2011. However, it sounds as if you will be retiring in 2010 anyway, so it won't make a lot of difference to you.

While employers can always put in more than the compulsory amount, they will be less likely to do that under National. That's because, from next April, it is taking away the employer tax credit - which reimburses employers by up to $1043 per employee per year.

What's more, employer contributions above 2 per cent will be taxable, whereas currently the cut-off is 4 per cent. That means that if an employer should decide to generously give more than the minimum, its employees will get less benefit from it.

* Employers will be permitted to give non-KiwiSaver employees a pay rise to match the employer's contributions to KiwiSaver, as long as this is negotiated in good faith. A few months ago, the Labour government changed the law to forbid this.

If this happens in your workplace, you and others in KiwiSaver will miss out on that pay rise. Your non-KiwiSaver colleague gets money in the hand, while you get it in KiwiSaver. Note, though, that the non-KiwiSaver's pay rise will be taxed, whereas the contribution to your KiwiSaver account won't be.

* It's possible that it will be easier to qualify for the KiwiSaver first home subsidy under National.

Currently, you have to contribute 4 per cent of your pay for three years to get a $3000 subsidy, ranging up to five years for a $5000 subsidy. Given that many people will change to contributing just 2 per cent to KiwiSaver, I've asked Bill English if National will drop the subsidy requirement to 2 per cent, but he hasn't yet got back to me. Perhaps he's had a busy week or something.

I should note that all of the above is based on National's policy statement before the election. It's possible they will have second thoughts about some aspects - such as the 2 per cent cap on employees' tax credits - before changing the KiwiSaver Act. It's also worth noting that National has said it "will review KiwiSaver once it is bedded in, with a view to introducing a '3+3' alternative option in the future, if economic conditions permit". That means employees could choose to contribute 3 per cent of pay and their employers would also contribute 3 per cent. I like it - although some employers might not be so keen.

One other comment about your situation: Are you clear about your reasons for investing in a high-growth fund?

Normally, I wouldn't recommend that if you are planning to spend the money within less than 10 years, as there's a fair chance that the markets will fall and not have time to recover.

However, you might be intending to spend your KiwiSaver money later in retirement. Or it might be such a small portion of your total savings that you are just having a fling with the money, and won't mind much if it performs badly. Given that a fair chunk of it will be money from your employer and the government, perhaps you think, "easy come, easy go".

If neither of those situations applies, I suggest you leave the money so far contributed where it is - you don't want to bail out while the markets are down. But you could ask for new contributions to go into a conservative or balanced fund.

 

Mary Holm is the author of bestselling books on KiwiSaver and personal finance. She is also a highly praised seminar presenter. Her written advice is of a general nature, and she is not responsible for any loss that any reader may suffer from following that advice.     

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