How to choose the right Retirement Income Scheme product for you

Key points

  • Retirement income stream products are special financial products designed to pay retirees a regular income some have facilities to help manage your investments.
  • When you retire you should consult with Centrelink, your super fund and a financial adviser.
  • Different types of retirement income stream products are designed with different features. This can make choosing between them complex.
  • After you've retired you won't pay annual income tax on earnings from the first $1.6 million of your superannuation savings. But earnings from the rest are taxed at 15%.

You've worked hard for years and saved up a sizeable retirement nest egg and now you want to retire. This simple decision, however, puts you right into the thick of having to make up your mind about how to structure your retirement income so you maximise your Centrelink entitlements while also minimising your tax liabilities and ensuring that your money lasts as long as possible.

The type of financial product you use to structure your retirement income this way is known as a retirement income stream. These are products specially designed to pay you regular income, with some products also enabling you to manage your investments. These features make these products more complex than normal pre-retirement super funds.

To make this decision process as smooth as it can be, when you retire or are approaching retirement, you should:

1. Contact Centrelink and arrange to speak to one of their Financial Information Services officers

These specialists are not financial advisers but they will explain to you what your Centrelink entitlements are, how the various assets and income tests work, what retirement income stream options you might have and how you might wish to structure things to maximise your entitlements regarding the age pension, health care and other assorted benefits.

2. Talk to your super fund

They probably already have a range of specially designed retirement income stream products and you should try to understand how they work and which ones might be suitable for you.

3. Arrange a meeting with your financial adviser, if you have one

Choosing the right retirement income stream product is complex. If you don't have your own independent adviser you should make an appointment to speak to one associated with your super fund.

As you work through these steps you will start to understand the interlocking taxation, superannuation, investment, social security, psychological and personal issues that must be resolved before you can confidently choose your retirement income stream product.


On July 1, 2017, the government introduced the concept of the transfer balance cap (TBC) which is the maximum amount you can transfer from your regular superannuation account, which is taxed at a nominal rate of 15%, into a retirement account which is tax-free. Any residual is left in your regular superannuation account meaning its earnings are taxed at the standard 15% rate. For 2018-19 the TBC is $1.6 million.

What are your income needs?

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) estimates based on its regular Retirement Standard surveys of retirees, that for a comfortable retirement lifestyle you will need $61,522 pa if you are in a relationship or $43,601 pa if you are a single person. For a modest retirement lifestyle ASFA says you will need $40,054 pa and $27,814 pa respectively.

The amount of income you need each year will vary depending on your lifestyle expectations, expenses, where you live, your family situation, your life expectancy and health. But regardless of whether you think you need to prepare for a comfortable or modest standard of living in retirement, a good way to think about your retirement is to separate it into two core elements:

  • Basic necessary income to meet all daily expenses, e.g., housing, food, utilities, clothes, etc.
  • Discretionary income to cover irregular expenses, e.g., holidays, entertainment, health care, etc.

You need a greater level of certainty to meet your daily income needs meaning it should be regular and possibly stable income. Discretionary income, on the other hand, enables you to maintain your desired lifestyle and meet unexpected expenses. This income can be generated from your regular income source or through withdrawals from your retirement income account, i.e., by accessing your capital.

Once your income needs are met you should put aside some cash into a reserve. Any money that is leftover can be invested in growth assets to build capital for future needs or to help provide a growing income stream to increase your discretionary income lifestyle component.

Another issue to be aware of is that when you retire you may become risk-averse, i.e., more fearful of investment risks than you were before you retired. This is because you may believe you won't have time or opportunity to replace any capital losses if the market suffers a downturn. But take note, when most people retire they should be planning for a 20-year plus timeframe and for their savings to last over this period they need some growth assets in their portfolio to at least deal with inflation. It is also important to consider that your total income needs may not reduce as you get older even though the components of what income you need might change.


Two-thirds of older Australians rely on the government age pension or a related allowance as their main source of personal income in retirement.

Handling your longevity risk

Australia has the third-highest life expectancy of any country in the world and it is not unreasonable for retirees to expect to live beyond 85 years of age. Many are now expected to live well into their 90s. This has a big impact on their retirement income planning.

The age pension payment retirees receive will also most likely be less than what most people need to live on, at least according to ASFA. As a result, most retirees can't afford for their private superannuation investments to run out; if it does it could severely affect their standard living in their older years.

Adding even more complexity, the age at which the age pension can be accessed is also increasing just as the asset test thresholds are decreasing - so you may need more superannuation savings to be self-sufficient than you planned, particularly in the earlier years of your retirement. Illustrating this, from July 1, 2017, the age at which you can access the age pension increased to 65.5 years of age for anyone born on or after July 1, 1952. This age threshold is gradually increasing and by 2023 it will have climbed to 67 years.

Social security and your retirement

Social security benefits, being the age pension and other entitlements, are available to retirees to top up their private income provided they satisfy the eligibility criteria. This system aims to ensure that everyone is able to at least purchase the basic necessities of life. Veterans receive their payments through the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).

These payments and their amount are based on your age, relationship status, and assets and income levels.

The maximum age pension is indexed every six months in March and September. This indexation is linked to either the movement in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or the Pensioner and Beneficiary Living Cost Index (PBLC) depending on which is higher. The age pension for a single person is guaranteed to remain at least equal to 27.7% of the Male Total Average Weekly Earnings (MITAWE) and for couples, it is guaranteed to be at least equal 67%.

  To learn about account based income streams: Click here.
Account versus non-account based

Account-based income streams place the individual in charge of their retirement account in much the same way that most individuals are in charge of their superannuation accumulation account during their working lives. Account-based income streams are the most popular type of income stream for Australians who convert their accumulated superannuation into an income stream. Reflecting this, account-based income streams can only be purchased with superannuation monies.

Non-account based income streams involve contracting with either a superannuation fund or a life office to provide an income stream. They are generally for a fixed term or your lifetime:

  • Fixed-term. Paid over a specific term at a rate that is fixed according to your life expectancy and the amount of capital deposited into it at commencement.
  • Lifetime. These income streams last as long as you do. As with the fixed term, the income level is pre-agreed. However, unlike other income streams, the income from lifetime income streams is guaranteed for your lifetime - no matter what happens to you or the investment markets.

You don't have to choose one or the other because they can work together: non-account based income streams may be used to provide your basic income needs (i.e., to reduce uncertainty) and you can combine this with an account-based pension for your discretionary income needs or to produce higher potential returns to help manage inflation risk. Account-based pensions are however used most of the time to fund all or most of your income needs.

But there's a new breed of account-based pensions emerging that guarantee to pay a certain amount of income for life, even after the account balance reduces to nil. These are often generically referred to as longevity income streams or deferred income streams, but they can operate under various other marketing names.


Two important income stream terms are pension and annuity. It is a pension when you receive it from a super fund, and it's an annuity when you receive it from a life insurance company.

Account-based minimum drawdowns

If you have an account-based retirement income stream you are required to take a minimum payment from it each year. This is because, as a retirement product, the government wants to encourage you to spend the money on yourself rather than leave it all in your estate. Using the money in your account-based pension also makes you less reliant on the age pension which is the whole reason why we have superannuation in the first place.

The minimum payment is calculated using specified percentage factors based on your age. No maximum income limit applies unless it is a Transition to Retirement (TTR) income stream where the maximum is 10% of the account balance.

Minimum drawdowns applying in 2018
Age of beneficiary Standard percentage factor
Under 65 4%
65-74 5%
75-19 6%
80-84 7%
85-89 9%
90-94 11%
95 or older 14%
  To learn about group self-annuitisation: Click here.
A special type of income stream that you can design yourself or in a private group is known as group self-annuitisation (GSA). In these income streams, you contribute funds into a highly defined pool of financial assets with regular payments being made from the pool to surviving members.

Pooling mortality risk in these GSAs delivers higher income in retirement than an account-based pension that is drawn down at the minimum rate, while also providing significantly more protection against longevity risk. GSAs allow members to share, but not completely eliminate, longevity risk and do not require capital to back guarantees.

GSA income is however not guaranteed like annuity income, but it's expected to be higher due to the absence of capital requirements to back these guarantees.



The types of fees you are likely to pay your income stream provider will vary depending on the provider and how many and what types of features it has.

Similar to regular super funds, the main types of fees are contribution fees, ongoing management fees, member fees, and investment fees. But because your income stream product is quite different to a regular "accumulation phase" super fund in that you now receive regular income, there will often be a regular extra administration fee associated with your provider having to make these payments.

According to Rainmaker's latest 2019 retirement income stream fee survey, the average total expense ratio (TER) should be around 1.4% each year.

Other factors likely to increase your fees are that the more investment choices available in your income stream product the more expensive it can be. The manner in which you choose for your portfolio especially in account-based and market linked income streams, and how often you wish to receive regular payments can also affect your fees. For example, you should expect to pay higher fees if you wish to receive 12 monthly payments rather than just one annual payment.


If you've reached preservation age (i.e., the age at which you can begin accessing your superannuation benefits) and are still working, a transition to retirement (TTR) pension may suit you. TTRs can be used in conjunction with increased concessional contributions to reduce your working hours while maintaining your income or to reduce your tax. Many super funds that offer account-based income streams also offer TTR pensions. An important feature of TTR pensions is that they do not count towards your lifetime transfer balance cap. Before signing up to a TTR you should get financial advice.

 Understanding your insurance through your superA beginner's guide to self-managed super 

Further Reading