Don’t retire poor: How to avoid hardship in your twilight years

Some Kiwis are heading into retirement poor, burdened with debt, living in rentals, or still paying off mortgages.

Bay of Plenty budget agencies say pride stops some pensioners, including those suffering from financial abuse, from seeking help.

Figures from the 2021 NZ Financial Capability survey show in the 55 to 64 age bracket 20.8 per cent of people were at risk, while 13.1 per cent were facing difficulties, 36.7 per cent were doing okay, while only 29.4 per cent were secure.

Another emerging trend was Kiwis who did not have enough money for a house deposit were looking at investments to build wealth until they did.

One financial research analyst said “time is power when investing” and where possible people need to take control of their own retirement.

Housing researcher Kay Saville-Smith told the NZ Herald homeownership rates were falling among older Kiwis.

A new research paper she edited, which focused on 66 older Kiwis who now rent but formerly owned their own homes, said divorce, unexpected financial shocks, illness, and sky-high house prices contributed to their situations.

Craigs Investment Partners head of private wealth research Mark Lister said New Zealand was lucky to have superannuation that wasn’t means-tested.

“That’s good, but when the whole system was designed there was an expectation people would have found a way to own their own home.

“But it gets tricky as there is an increasing number of people who find they still have a substantial mortgage or they are renting.”

People also lived longer and some worked past retirement so that meant mindsets needed to change.

“When we talk to customers we want to make sure they have a plan of attack to ensure they can save and invest. So when they reach retirement there is a nest egg.”

The most powerful force with investing is time, he said, but acknowledged people had different circumstances that would either help or hinder their progress.

“You have really got to take control and take it into your own hands. It’s quite feasible people of today could live to be 95 or 105.”

Even the most modest savings could make a world of difference in later years if invested.

KiwiSaver was also a gamechanger and Lister said interest in investing from younger people had increased.

“It could be good because they are very engaged with planning for the future or, on the other hand, it could be a reflection that they’ve all given up on buying their own home because the prices are so high.”

Commission for Financial Capability personal finance lead Tom Hartmann said it was about lifestyle and financial wellbeing.

Its survey compared Kiwis behaviours, knowledge and attitudes against Canada, Australia, Norway and Ireland on numerous topics including long-term thinking, active saving and preparedness for retirement.

Retirement was a new indicator and 43/100 score reveals low levels of private savings across NZ. Close to one in three people expect they would not have enough retirement income unless they continued to work.

Active saving had the highest direct contribution to overall financial wellbeing and while there was an aspiration to save, actually saving was more of a challenge. New Zealand’s score of 68 was only higher than Australia.

Meanwhile, in terms of resilience for the future, NZ rated 55/100 behind Norway and Canada with many ill-prepared for short-term unexpected expenses or falls in income. Only 31 per cent did not have savings of more than one months’ income.

Asked if Kiwis were getting better at saving for their retirement, he said “we don’t know”.

“The survey shows we are good at some things and not good at others. We have got a lot of work to do but there are things you can do to make a difference.

“We know that knowledge and behaviour can impact on financial capability.”

CoreLogic chief property economist Kelvin Davidson said house prices in Tauranga had hit an average median price of about $995,000 and on average now it would take buyers 12.7 years to save for a deposit.

In Rotorua, the average median house price was $650,000 and on average it would take buyers about 8.2 years to save for a deposit.

Davidson said anecdotally over time the terms of mortgages had also increased from 25 to 30 years.

“I think it is more common to have a 30-year term now because of affordability pressures.”

Tauranga Budget Advisory Services manager Shirley McCombe said it had only seen a small increase in the number of people on the pension seeking help.

However, they faced the same problems as low-income earners struggling with the cost of living, accommodation and debts.

Some elderly clients were in poor health, had dementia, had lost a spouse or had one in a rest home – or were being subject to financial abuse.

“In a perfect world, no one would be relying just on their superannuation,” McCombe said.

“Many do not have their own homes and finding suitable accommodation can be challenging.”

Rotorua Budget Advisory Services manager Pakanui Tuhura said, in his view, pensioners did not tend to reach out and he suspected that was due to pride.

“They are more likely to seek and get support from friends and family.

“If they own their own home but have not put aside extra [either through savings schemes like KiwiSaver or savings] they find themselves in the unenviable position of having to liquidate their homes and other assets to enjoy their retirement or to help their children or grandchildren.”

Figures from the Ministry of Social Development show in the Tauranga City district there were 28,836 people on superannuation in June 2021 compared to 28,131 in June 2020.

In the Rotorua District over the same timeframes, there were 11,088 and 10,791 respectively.

Nationally the Government spent $15.52 billion in 2019/2020 compared to $14.56b in the 2018/2019 financial year.

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