HomeFinanceSuperannuationAfter a lifetime studying superannuation, here are 5 things I wish I'd...

After a lifetime studying superannuation, here are 5 things I wish I’d known earlier

Susan Thorp, University of Sydney

Amassing the wealth needed to support retirement by regular saving is a monumental test of personal planning and discipline. Fortunately for most Australian workers, the superannuation system can help.

Superannuation uses the carrot of tax incentives, and the sticks of compulsion and limited access, to make us save for retirement.

There are benefits to paying timely attention to your super early in your working life to get the most from this publicly mandated form of financial self-discipline.

I’ve been researching and thinking about superannuation for most of my career. Here’s what I wish I knew at the beginning of my working life.

1. Check you’re actually getting paid super

First, make sure you are getting your dues.

If you are working, your employer must contribute 11 per cent of your earnings into your superannuation account. By July 2025, the rate will increase to 12 per cent.

This mandatory payment (the ‘superannuation guarantee‘) may look like yet another tax but it is an important part of your earnings (would you take an 11 per cent pay cut?).

It is worth checking on, and worth reporting if it is not being paid.

The Australian Taxation Office estimates there is a gap between the superannuation employers should pay and what they do pay of around 5 per cent (or $3.3 billion) every year.

Failing to pay is more common among the accommodation, food service and construction industries, as well as small businesses.

Don’t take your payslip at face value; cross-check your super account balance and the annual statement from your fund.

A woman checks a computer and a piece of paper closely.
Cross-check your super account balance and the annual statement from your fund. Shutterstock

2. Have just one super account

Don’t make personal donations to the finance sector by having more than one superannuation account.

Two super accounts mean you are donating unnecessary administration fees, possibly redundant insurance premiums and suffering two times the confusion to manage your accounts.

The superannuation sector does not need your charity. If you have more than one super account, please consolidate them into just one today. You can do that relatively easily.

3. Be patient, and appreciate the power of compound interest

If you’re young now, retirement may feel a very distant problem not worth worrying about until later. But in a few decades you’re probably going to appreciate the way superannuation works.

As a person closing in on retirement, I admit I had no idea in my 20s how much my future, and the futures of those close to me, would depend on my superannuation savings.

Now I get it! Research shows the strict rules preventing us from withdrawing superannuation earlier are definitely costly to some people in preventing them from spending on things they really need. For many, however, it stops them spending on things that, in retrospect, they would rate as less important.

But each dollar we contribute in our 30s is worth around three times the dollars we contribute in our 50s. This is because of the advantages of time and compound interest (which is where you earn interest not just on the money initially invested, but on the interest as well; it’s where you earn ‘interest on your interest’).

For some, adding extra ‘voluntary’ savings can build up retirement savings as a buffer against the periods of unemployment, disability or carer’s leave that most of us experience at some stage.

4. Count your blessings

If you are building superannuation savings, try to remember you’re among the lucky ones.

The benefits of super aren’t available to those who can’t work much (or at all). They face a more precarious reliance on public safety nets, like the Age Pension.

So aim to maintain your earning capacity, and pay particular attention to staying employable if you take breaks from work.

What’s more, superannuation savings are invested by (usually) skilled professionals at rates of return hard for individual investors to achieve outside the system.

Many larger superannuation funds offer members types of investments – such as infrastructure projects and commodities – that retail investors can’t access.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) also checks on large funds’ investment strategies and performance.

A woman holds her baby while walking in the park.
Pay attention to staying employable if you take breaks from work. Shutterstock

5. Tough decisions lie ahead

The really hard work is ahead of you. The saving or accumulation phase of superannuation is mainly automatic for most workers. Even a series of non-decisions (defaults) will usually achieve a satisfactory outcome. A little intelligent activity will do even better.

However, at retirement we face the challenge of making that accumulated wealth cover our needs and wants over an uncertain number of remaining years. We also face variable returns on investments, a likely need for aged care and, in many cases, declining cognitive capacity.

It’s helpful to frame your early thinking about superannuation as a means to support these critical decades of consumption in later life.

At any age, when we review our financial management and think about what we wish we had known in the past, we should be realistic. Careful and conscientious people still make mistakes, procrastinate and suffer from bad luck. So if your super isn’t where you had hoped it would be by now, don’t beat yourself up about it.

Do you have anything to add to the list of things you’d wished you’d known about super decades ago? Share them in the comments section below.

Susan Thorp, Professor of Finance, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Were there any things about super you wish you’d known earlier? Are there any questions you have about super now? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Are more taxes on super on the cards?

The Conversation
The Conversationhttps://theconversation.com/au/who-we-are
The Conversation Australia and New Zealand is a unique collaboration between academics and journalists that is the world’s leading publisher of research-based news and analysis.


  1. Super is wonderful, isn’t it? But what about a HOME OF ONE’S OWN, which is far more valuable in retirement than cash in a super fund? Around 12% of what an employer can afford to pay a worker is now going into super. That’s 12% less income the employee has to spend on a home. Now, I agree retirement savings shouldn’t be spent on an unnecessarily expensive home, but the current system is patently STUPID.

    Couple X has $600K in super but no home of their own. If they could draw just $200K of that for a deposit, they would still have $400K in retirement funds and could start paying off a mortgage. But no! They have to wait until they retire, at which time they might have $1 million in super and the house that is $600K today is now $1.5 million. Even if it has only inflated to $1 million, they only have enough to buy it to live in through retirement and they will have nothing left. Whereas if they could buy it today, they would pay it off instead of paying ever-increasing rent, possibly improve it (potentially enabling them to downsize later and put more into super) and they would have comfort and security NOW, plus a much healthier retirement nest egg and lower living costs in retirement.)

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