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How to manage your super when you're a freelancer

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If you're self-employed or working freelance, super contributions aren't automatically deducted from your pay, so it's up to you to put away money for your retirement.

First, you need to decide how much to contribute.

When you have an employer and earn more than $450 in a calendar month, 9.5% of your income will be paid into your super fund, so that's a good rule of thumb for freelancers and other casual workers.

freelance super

If you can't contribute 9.5%, consider contributing a smaller amount and gradually increasing it over time - just make sure you limit these contributions to $25,000 each year to benefit from the concessional super rate of 15%.

Cash flow might make it difficult to contribute on a regular basis, so one solution is to save your super contributions into a separate bank account and transfer it to your super account when you have a comfortable buffer.

When I freelanced some years ago I set up three bank accounts to manage my income. One was for the income to be deposited in, the second was to put money aside for tax, and the third was for superannuation.

There were times when I hadn't been paid for work, and the June 30 deadline for super was looming, so I borrowed money from family members to put into super and then paid them back a month later when my invoices were paid.

How to contribute to your super

Most super funds will allow you to go to the website and make a contribution to super. If you're unable to make the money as a concessional contribution when you put it in, just let them know you would like to have it classed as a concessional contribution.

Your concessional contribution can then be put into your tax return at the end of the year to earn you a deduction on your taxable income.

So, if you are earning $60,000 from freelancing and you contribute $6000 into super, you will save around $1950 in income tax.

If you are earning $100,000 and contribute $9500 in super, you will save around $3515. This means that a contribution of $9500 into your super will cost you only around $6000 in after tax income.

When to contribute

Marshall Brentnall, Evalesco personal financial adviser, says he encourages all clients - retirees, accumulators and all those who are employed, regardless of their role - to contribute into super.

He says those who are working in industries with variable income should allocated money to superannuation at the time they receive it.

"It is better to consistently add to your retirement nest egg, and wealth strategies when the income is received, rather than doing it at the end of the financial year.

This allows more effective use of dollar cost averaging, meaning drip feeding money into the markets, he says.

"Take for example an investor who wants to invest $12,000 into their superannuation each year - it is more effective to make a $1000 a month investment, rather than waiting until the end of the financial year and contributing a lump sum."

This is for two reasons: market timing and consumption.

"By regularly investing a set amount of money, it creates a habit and behaviour, that will see you grow your retirement savings regardless of the headlines or state of the markets," Brentnall says.

"When markets fall, you purchase more units with your $1000, and when they rise, you purchase less."

Brentnall says the example shows the potential results of regularly investing $1000 into a fund over a period of five months.

Month Fund price Units purchased Monthly amount
Month 1 $1 1000 $1000
Month 2 $0.80 1250 $1000
Month 3 $0.60 1667 $1000
Month 4 $0.80 1250 $1000
Month 5 $1 1000 $1000
Money invested $5000
Portfolio value $6167

In month 1, the fund was trading at $1, the same value it was trading at in month 5, in the interim though the fund fell heavily (just as it did in the GFC and COVID) and throughout this period investors would have been accumulating more units.

"As you can see from the image below, this investor invested $5,000 into the market, however, the strategy of dollar cost averaging has seen the investor rewarded with an end investment worth $6,167," Brentnall says.

Other ways to build super

Pascale Helyar-Moray says she started her online shopping platform Super-Rewards when she saw how women, and other sectors of our community, were under-served by the existing superannuation system.

Super-Rewards allows you to contribute to your super when you shop online with certain retailers.

"While the superannuation system had made Australia the envy of other countries, it only works (that is, produces sufficient retirement monies) if you earn like a man, work full-time, for the entire length of your career," Helyar-Moray says.

"If you are a woman or work part-time or casually, or take career breaks, or work on a gig basis, then there is a very real risk that your financial security in retirement will be substantially impacted."

superbooster

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Julia Newbould is a financial writer and commentator with a background in journalism. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.
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