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How to grow your super as a freelancer

by Rachel Smith
26 July 2019

No holiday pay and no super are definitely two downsides of freelancing. And chances are, you think there’s no way to grow your super as a freelancer – especially when your cash flow is so up and down, and you’re grateful just to be able to pay your bills each month.

I totally get it. Freelancers aren’t legally required to pay themselves super, and as a result a whopping 20 percent of self-employed people (yep, that’s us) have no super at all. Zero. Zip. Nada.

The scary thing is, financial experts say you’ll need around $545,000 as a single person to get you through retirement comfortably (and $640,000 as a couple). So ignoring your super is not so smart.

How CAN you grow your super?

I’m one of many freelancers who hit her 40s and started to quietly freak out about super. Mine has suffered drastically over the years – because I thought it would be smarter to put any (haha) spare money into my mortgage, or because I didn’t have any spare cash to throw at super at all.

But I’m onto it now and determined to grow that sucker. I don’t want to be eating baked beans on the daily in retirement (I really hate baked beans).

Here are some tips on how to get started, even if you look at your super balance and want to cry endless, hopeless tears.

Budget for it.

You can make up to $25,000 in concessional contributions to your super each year and claim it as a tax deduction. And, because your super is taxed at 15 percent (substantially lower than your marginal tax rate), it’s going to do far better for you financially if it’s sitting in your super account.

Make it a direct debit.

Some experts suggest throwing 10-15 percent of your income into super each month, or you could build up a lump sum in a high-interest account and transfer it quarterly. I’m not sure I could trust myself not to dip into that, so I’m doing it monthly. I know there may be some months I will only be able to chuck $100 towards my super. But keep on funnelling that little bit in – the magic of compound interest means it all helps.

Add in tax rebates and windfalls.

These are known as non-concessional contributions and are all the nice little lump sums you get that you promptly spend on an all-expenses-paid trip to Bali. I propose skipping Bali and sending that $3k tax rebate to your super. Or, if you receive an inheritance you weren’t expecting? Super. Got a heap of stuff people will pay good money for on Facebook Marketplace? Flog it and chuck the money into super. You get the idea.

Make the government cough up.

If you earn under $53, 564 and you make a super contribution, the government will match it with a $500 co-contribution. Ask your accountant about it and whether you’re eligible.

Consider switching to a company.

If you already operate as a Pty Ltd you’ll know you have to pay super by law. Creating a company so you’re forced to pay super may seem radical, but see my point further up about baked beans, etc.

Ask your partner to put money in your super.

Yep, spousal contributions are a thing and if your partner’s in a higher tax bracket, funnelling some $$$ into your super could mean they pay less tax. Plus, they’ll get warm fuzzies from helping plan for your future together (and a more comfortable retirement).

Research super funds.

I know, I know, it can make your eyes glaze over comparing super funds but it’s essential if you want to ensure the fund you’re in doesn’t have really high fees that will eat into your super balance. Similarly, some funds offer advice and the chance to choose types of investments so getting more into it could help you grow your super more quickly.

Charge more.

Not easy, I know, but it makes sense to raise your rates annually so you will have more money to funnel into your super. If you’re interested in learning more about rates, how to charge, what to charge and everything else to do with finances as a freelancer, register for info on our upcoming masterclasses.

Realise you can bump it up later in life.

If you own property and know you’ll probably downsize later to a smaller home, you can contribute up to $300,000 to your super from the sale of your home – this can be a way to boost your nest egg closer to retirement.

Are you a freelancer quietly freaking out about your super – or have you been smart and put enough a heap away for retirement? We’d love to hear from you in the comments (anon or otherwise!)

* NB: Please check with your super fund or accountant in regards to what you’re eligible for and restrictions on making concessional and non-concessional contributions to your super.

Rachel Smith
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Rachel Smith

As a kid, Rachel used to carry around a little suitcase of pens and paper so she could stop and write stories whenever inspiration struck. These days, she writes for a living, in between running the show at Rachel's List. Some of you may actually believe she looks like a megaphone in real life, but it's not the case. Honest.
Rachel Smith
Find us!

4 responses on "How to grow your super as a freelancer"

  1. Linda Moon says:

    Great post Rachel, very useful tips!

  2. Rachel Smith says:

    Thanks Linda, now there’s no excuse for me NOT to do something about my super 🙂

  3. Jo says:

    Hi Rachel,

    Remember, if you are putting in a non concessional payment it has to go through the tax system first. So if you do receive a windfall, ask the ATO what to do. And if you’re flogging stuff on eBay you need to put it on your tax return beforehand so it is taxed money. Pretty sure this is the case – asked the ATO last year!

  4. Rachel Smith says:

    Thanks Jo, I’ve updated the post with a mention to check everything with your super fund or accountant.

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