How to look after your super according to your age

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Most women have a bit of catching up to do when it comes to their superannuation.

The median super balance for a woman in their early sixties is just $159,600, compared to the male median of $210,800, according to Industry Super Australia. What's more one in four women retire with no super at all.

Here are strategies for women at every age so you can accumulate enough super to be financially independent in your old age.

how to look after your super according to your age

What do with your super from your 20s to 30s

Make sure your employer is paying your super

Over the past seven years, women missed out on $10.8 billion being paid into their super funds, according to Industry Super Australia. Check your employer is paying superannuation and it is the right amount, currently 11%.

Free money from the Government

If you aren't earning much, at least take advantage of the government's co-contribution scheme that is designed to help people on middle or lower incomes to have more money when they retire.

If you earn less than $58,445 for the 2023-24 year, the government can contribute up to $500 to your super account. You need to contribute to your super from your take-home pay.

Take baby steps

Contributing more to superannuation may sound crazy given all the cost-of-living pressures, but the sooner you start putting a little more aside each year to top up your retirement savings, the more it will compound over time.

For example, by pocketing the cost of a daily takeaway coffee (estimated to be $4.50 per cup), you could be putting nearly $1642 more aside for your retirement annually, which is almost $8,212 in five years. This can make a significant difference over time when you consider all the interest you will earn.

How to look after your super from your 30s to 40s

Check your fund

Make sure you are in a low fee fund with a solid investment performance. Check out superannuation heatmaps from the regulator, APRA, to see if your fund (not all are listed) charges high fees or underperforms.

Don't double up

Many Australians have more than one super fund, meaning they're flushing away a proportion of their savings on a few sets of fees. If there is no need to have more than one fund, you can avoid this extra cost and confusion by combining all your super funds together.

Super investments

If you are young there is strong evidence that a high growth or growth investment option can deliver higher returns over the long term. This is why some of the lifecycle super funds that automatically adjust your investment mix based on your age, invest more aggressively in the early years.

If you don't know much about investing or don't have the time to organise your investments, it is best to leave it up to a superannuation fund. Most have qualified, experienced investment experts plus well-run compliance and administration but always keep an eye on the median and long-term investment performance.

Take care with career breaks

With women typically taking time off work to start a family, making personal contributions to your super before, during or after a career break can help balance out your time away from employment.

If you have a partner, consider how he or she can help boost your super when you take time out to have children by making a spouse contribution to your super account. If you are earning below $37,000, your spouse can contribute $3,000 to your fund and earn a tax offset of $540.

Defer to an expert

If you have a simple question about your superannuation, ask your fund about what sort of advice it offers. Intra fund advice is often included in your administration fee, so you don't have to pay extra.

How to look out for your super from your 40s to 50s

Maximise a pay rise

What better time to top up your super than when your salary is set to increase? This way, you're less likely to miss it, and will have it available to you when you need it at retirement. The same goes for a bonus. Pop it straight into your superannuation fund before you spend it.

What you should be doing with your super from your 50s to 60s

Keep salary sacrificing

Putting aside pre-tax money into superannuation up to your contribution cap of $27,500 is still one of the most tax-effective ways to build your superannuation if you are paying high tax rates, because your contribution is only taxed at 15%.

You can salary sacrifice up to concessional contribution limits, which rise to $30,000 from July 1, 2024.

Add to your super after tax

Adding to your super from your take-home pay or savings or windfall such as the sale of a property or an inheritance is another easy way to grow your balance. You can contribute up to $110,000 each year in non-concessional contributions. This rises to $120,00 from July 1 this year.

If you are under 75, you may make up to three years' worth of extra non-concessional contributions in a single year. This means you 'bring forward' your non-concessional cap up to two financial years. This allows you to contribute up to $330,000 in one financial year.

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.