Money Retirement Rising mortgage debt is the biggest threat to super balances
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Rising mortgage debt is the biggest threat to super balances

Later retirement.
The retirement equation says work longer. Photo: Getty
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New data suggests rising property prices are a threat to the retirement system, as many Australians use their superannuation balances to pay off their mortgages before they retire.

The latest investment update from NAB highlights that many Australians are concerned about ending their working lives in debt. It reported an increase in the number of respondents who feared a lack of retirement savings. It also found that paying down debt was the highest priority for the next 12 months.

Likewise, the 2017 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) report – widely reported in recent days for its concerning home ownership numbers – also showed that both men and women were spending considerable chunks of their super to pay debts.

It found that men paying down debts spent on average $240,000 to do so in 2015, or 58 per cent of their super, while men helping family members spent $108,500, around 84 per cent of super. Women paying down debt spent $120,500, or 70 per cent of super and those helping family spent $67,000, or 48 per cent of super.

Some men and women also spent up big on things for themselves, as the following table shows. However, men spent far more than women here, indicating the gender imbalance in superannuation accounts.

Ian Yates, chief executive of the Council on the Ageing (COTA), said rising property prices could force more people to pay down more mortgage debt on retirement in the future.

“People are paying off debts of not inconsequential amounts on retirement. The numbers doing it and the amounts used surprised me,” he told The New Daily.

“It’s a concerning trend and if people plan to use their super to pay off a mortgage then they are not using it to provide retirement income.”

He said this could result in the government being faced with a dilemma.

“Given the family home is untaxed, the increased use of concessionally-taxed superannuation to pay off homes in retirement would not be what the government intended,” he said.

That could mean governments would be forced to review both superannuation and housing policy as “both superannuation and the age pension are predicated on high levels of home ownership”.

The HILDA report also showed that both men and women are retiring later with the average age of women retirees reaching 63.8 years in 2015 and men 66.1 years.

Mr Yates said the rise in retirement ages, while partly due to desire to work longer, also had a negative financial driver.

“A lot of people got frightened by the market crash accompanying the financial crisis and decided they need a bigger financial buffer before they retire.”

For 16 years the HILDA survey, run by the University of Melbourne, has polled the same 17,000 Australians.

The report’s author, Professor Roger Wilkins, pointed to the falling home ownership levels among younger people. In 2014, approximately 25 per cent of men and women aged 18 to 39 were home owners, down from nearly 36 per cent in 2002.

Younger people with housing debt saw average mortgages up from $169,000 to $336,500 between 2002 and 2014.

That reality plus rising prices meaning people have to save longer before buying “could result in the superannuation system being thwarted in its aim to provide retirement income by rises in outstanding mortgage debt”, Professor Wilkins told The New Daily.

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