5 Reasons Why You Should Top-Up Your CPF Special Account (SA) During This Year-End

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According to the Mercer CFA  Institute Global Pension Index, Singapore’s CPF scheme ranks in the top 10 pension systems globally. Employers in Singapore contribute up to 17% of our salary into our CPF accounts. We (employees) contribute up to 20% of our salaries to our own CPF accounts.

Throughout the time that our CPF monies are within the system, the government pays us a floor interest rate of between 2.5% (on our Ordinary Account) and 4.0% (on our Special and MediSave Accounts) each year. As we’ve seen more recently, CPF interest returns can also climb higher than the floor rate, alongside rising global interest rates.

As CPF members, we can choose to further optimise our CPF savings by topping-up our accounts via several different methods. Primarily, we use the Retirement Sum Topping Up (RSTU) Scheme to contribute more to our Special Account (SA) – meant for our retirement.

We highlight 5 reasons why it might make sense to top-up our Special Account. As a caveat, we’ve also previously written on why you may not want to do this and you can read about the reasons in the link below.

Read Also: Why You Shouldn’t Rush To Top-Up Your CPF Special Account, Even With Rising Rates Hitting 4.01%

#1 Capital And Returns Are Guaranteed

Topping up our CPF Special Account (SA) is a virtually risk-free investment. What this means is that no matter the state of the economy or investment climate, our CPF monies and its returns are guaranteed.

The Singapore government, one of only a handful of triple-A-rated countries in the world, provides this guarantee. Most other types of investments, even if they are guaranteed by companies or other entities, come with comparatively higher risk.

Read Also: 6 Investments In Singapore That Provide Guaranteed Principal And Returns

#2 Good Interest Returns

Any funds that we top-up into our CPF Special Account (SA) will earn us a minimum return of 4.0% per annum (p.a.). Interest rates on our SA savings is reviewed quarterly, and can increase as the market interest rate rises. For example, our SA earns an interest rate of 4.04% for the Jan-Mar 2024 period.

This represents a relatively good rate of return considering that it is virtually risk-free. Of course, there are limitations on withdrawing these funds.

In addition, the first $60,000 in our CPF accounts (of which up to $20,000 can come from our Ordinary Account) earns an extra 1.0% in interest. If we are near the beginning stages of our career, we will unlikely have more than $60,000 in our CPF accounts. Even if we’re a few years into our career, we may not have $40,000 in our SA or MediSave Account (MA) to earn this extra 1.0%. This means if we top-up our SA account early, we will enjoy up to 5.0% in returns on a larger sum of money in our CPF.

Comparatively, deposits in local banks offer another form of virtually risk-free investment. Savings accounts still pay as little as 0.05% p.a., and even high-interest rate savings accounts, which advertise annual returns of over 7% p.a., usually end up paying us about 3.0% to 4.0% p.a. as there are several hoops we have to jump through to unlock the full returns.

Fixed deposits offered by most banks right now also offer around the 3.0% to 3.5% p.a. mark. However, we will have a reinvestment risk, as fixed deposits typically mature within several months and up to 2 to 3 years.

Singapore government securities (SGS), such as treasury bills (T-bills) and the Singapore Savings Bonds (SSB) currently offer yields of 3.73% (6-month T-bills issued on 26 Dec 2023) and up to 3.07% (Jan 2024 SSB – to be issued on 2 Jan 2024) respectively. These are also considered virtually risk-free investments. However, there may be some reinvestment risk. With T-bills, we have to reinvest our savings every 6 months to 1 year. On top of that, we may not get the full allocation, which means part of our funds may earn significantly lower interest. While the SSB lasts up to 10 years, we may not earn the market interest rate – if interest rates continue to go up.

If we look at equity investments, the Straits Times Index, comprising the 30 largest and most traded stocks listed in Singapore, has delivered a one-year return of -2.16%. Looking at a longer timeframe, its 5-year return is 3.5% and its return since 2002 is 6.13% per annum. Some of us may not be able to or do not want to navigate through volatility and unpredictability to achieve a return that is barely higher than what our CPF SA would have paid us over 10 years. Of course, overseas equity markets, such as the S&P 500 in the U.S. has delivered a 1-year return of 21.59% and a 5-year return of 9.88% p.a.

Read Also: History Of CPF Interest Rates And How They Have Changed Since 1955

#3 Tax Savings

We can claim tax reliefs of up to $8,000 on cash top-ups to your SA, as well as a further $8,000 on cash top-ups to your loved one’s SA account. By lowering our chargeable income by up to $16,000, we may also fall into a lower tax bracket and enjoy even more significant tax savings.

Everyone has to have a plan to save for our retirement, and if we plan to stash money in a savings account or invest in a relatively safe way, we may be better off topping up our, and/or our loved one’s, SA.

The returns we earn on these savings, as well as the tax savings we benefit from, will go a long way towards accumulating our retirement nest egg and enhancing our CPF LIFE payouts when we turn 65.

Read Also: [Beginners’ Guide] Understanding CPF LIFE And Your Monthly Payouts When You Retire In Singapore

#4 Forced Retirement Savings

If we don’t have a plan for our retirement, this is a good exercise to start thinking about it. We can start by calculating how much we will eventually have by topping up a certain amount each year, or even work backwards from a target amount we hope to have by 65.

Besides this, we should also be thinking about what else we can do to build our retirement nest egg. We may consider topping up our spouse’s SA account rather than to lower our household’s overall tax commitments.

We could also choose to top-up less money into our SA account and instead channel more funds into stocks or bond investments that offer superior returns over the long-term or greater liquidity if we think it’s necessary. This may make sense if we have a much longer time horizon to ride out the market risk and/or have a greater appetite for risk.

We may also contribute to our Supplementary Retirement Scheme (SRS) to save on tax, while also being able to invest in stock and bonds and government securities.

Note that while we can invest some of our CPF SA savings, top-ups funds cannot be invested.

Read Also: CPFIS: 5 Reasons Why You Should Not Rush To Invest Your CPF Monies

#5 Your Money For Life

One other thing to note is that our CPF monies is our own to keep for retirement even if we’re beset with financial problems and have to declare bankruptcy at some point in the future. These funds are protected from potential creditors.

This is especially pertinent for businessmen and freelancers who may not have as much job security as other full-time employed persons. It is also a good choice for people who have high levels of debt and leverage, whether it is for their work, investments or even home. C-suite executives may also be exposed to more risk in their role, compared to ordinary employees.

However, we have to understand that any cash top-ups into your SA can only be used for our retirement, in the form of bigger CPF LIFE payouts in the future, and not for any other purposes, including mortgage repayment, education, investments or insurance payments.

Read Also: What Happens When You File For Bankruptcy in Singapore?

This Is A One-Way Transaction

Once we top up our SA, we’re committed to the transaction. The next time we’ll see this money again is when we turn 65 and start to receive monthly payouts from CPF Life.

Another consideration is whether we may have other requirements for our funds – such as to pay for our wedding, home down payment, investing in a business or entertainment – or even to tide us through retrenchment or afford us the flexibility to have one parent stay home after having a child.

If we’re been prudent with our money, and have additional savings beyond what we’ve set aside to achieve our financial goals as well as emergency funds, we can consider topping up our CPF SA.

Read Also: Saving For Your Future: Should You Max Out Your CPF Voluntary Contributions Every Year?

This article was first published on 30 Nov 2017 and has been updated with latest information.

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