Kia ora Mary. I am not savvy about the KiwiSaver rewards and truly do not understand the best benefits that would contribute to my well-being.

I am a Maori woman, 63 years old, and have contributed $30 a week since 2014. My contributions go to Westpac Bank. Since reading your column I have increased my weekly contributions from $30 to $100 at the beginning of this year.

I am an ACC beneficiary and my ACC will cease at age 65. I would appreciate if you would help me understand where my contributions are best invested to enable me to earn the best returns. What please is the best KiwiSaver option for my investment at this stage of my life? Naku noa.

Kia ora to you too. And warm congratulations for making considerable contributions to KiwiSaver while living on ACC payments. You're showing up many people on higher incomes!

Good on you, too, for wanting to make the best of the scheme.

You're already contributing easily enough to get the maximum $521 tax credit from the Government each year. You have to contribute $1043 to get that, and you're putting in $5200.

The tax credit will stop when you turn 65, or when you've been in KiwiSaver for five years, whichever comes later. At that point, you'll be able to start withdrawing your money. You can take out the lot in one go, leave it all there, or dip into it — just like a bank savings account.

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With some providers you can also set up a regular transfer from KiwiSaver to your bank to boost your spending money. Whether you want to do that might depend on how NZ Super compares with your current income.

The Super payments will start when your ACC payments stop. Current fortnightly payments are: $900 ($780 after tax at the lowest tax rate) if you live alone; $827 ($720 after tax) if you're single but sharing a home with others; and $682 each ($600 after tax) if you're married or in a de facto relationship and are both eligible for Super.

If that's more than you're getting now, you might not need extra regular income after 65.

Instead, you might want to use some or all of the money for a one-off expense, such as updating your car — while perhaps keeping some in KiwiSaver as emergency money.

It's useful to have an idea of when you will spend the money, as that helps us decide whether you're in the best KiwiSaver fund for you.

Usually I would refer you to the KiwiSaver Fund Finder on the Sorted website to work this out. But you mailed me a handwritten letter, which suggests you don't have easy access to a computer.

So let's go through the first step of the Fund Finder's process — as best we can — here in the column. Hopefully this will also alert other readers to how useful that tool can be, and what to take into account when selecting a KiwiSaver fund.

Under "Find the right type of fund for you", you answer three questions, as follows:

1. How long before you expect to start spending your KiwiSaver money — for a first home or in retirement?

• 0-3 years
• 4-9 years
• 10 years or more

2. What's most important to you while you're saving?

• Getting back at least as much money as I put in
• Almost certainly ending up with more than I put in, despite some ups and downs along the way
• Likely higher returns over the long term, even if that means big ups and downs in some years

3. What range of gains and losses are you comfortable with over a single year?

• 0 to 5 per cent gain
• 10 per cent loss to 20 per cent gain
• 30 per cent loss to 100 per cent gain

If we were online, your answers would be scored, and then you'd be told which type of fund — defensive (the lowest risk), conservative, balanced, growth or aggressive (highest risk) — suits you best.

On paper, it's more approximate. But if you mainly tick the first answers, you should go with a low-risk fund, and if you mainly tick the third answers, you should go with higher risk.

However, put most weight on the first question. Regardless of your other answers, if you're planning to spend the money within three years you should be in a defensive or conservative fund, and if it's within four to nine years you should be in a defensive, conservative or balanced fund.

This process — working out the right risk level for you — is the single most important step to take. If you don't know which risk level you're in right now, ring Westpac and ask.

If it's different from the one this exercise shows you, ask Westpac to move you.

Beyond that, it's also really good to see if Westpac is the best provider for you — and if not, to move to the best one.

The KiwiSaver Fund Finder helps you do that too, in a second step. Under "Compare funds" you can look at all the funds of your type — such as defensive or conservative — ranked by fees, services and returns.

But there's no good way to do this without a computer. Perhaps a friend or relative, or your local library or Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), could help you do it online. If so, I suggest you put most emphasis on a few providers that charge the lowest fees.

Good luck with this. If you can't take that second step, you will still go a long way towards getting the best out of KiwiSaver by getting into your best type of fund.

Boosting KiwiSaver

I'm a bit confused. I pay regular earnings into KiwiSaver through my wages, but I was a late starter and I'm 60 years old. I have extra money left over each pay so would it be wise to make extra contributions to KiwiSaver?

The money in there is growing nicely, so if I added to it surely the amount would grow faster and there would be more in there when I do retire?

Putting extra into KiwiSaver is a great way to boost your account's growth. The only negative is that you won't be able to take it out again until you're 65.

If that's a concern, ask your KiwiSaver provider if they have a similar non-KiwiSaver fund, and invest in that.

You can set up a regular transfer from your bank account to your fund — KiwiSaver or otherwise.

One note of caution: While most KiwiSaver funds have performed well in recent years, the markets could turn down at any time. See what I said above about sticking with lower-risk funds if you're planning to spend your money fairly soon.

Too cool?

I'm a fool. We put our money into the bank, shares, KiwiSaver and a work retirement scheme. We also own our own home, which isn't an investment at all — it's a roof over our heads. None of this is very cool.

The cool kids invest in bitcoin, and make serious money. If only I had bought into them a year or two back, I'd be set for life.

Cool kids buy cool things — fancy cars, personalised plates, rare paintings ... even superyachts. I'd be interested in hearing how much you think the average Kiwi should put into cool investments — because I think I'm seriously missing out!

We're venturing into little-known territory for me here. And one of my basic rules is not to invest if I don't understand where the returns will come from.

With bonds, someone pays me interest for the use of my money, plus extra to compensate for the risk I've taken investing in them.

With shares, I get a share of the company's profits, plus a gain if the profits are expected to increase. With investment property, I get rent, plus a gain that ultimately reflects expected growth in rent.

With bitcoin, cars and number plates, ummm — I'm not sure really. So I'm on the sidelines for all the cool stuff.

I suspect people who know what they're doing sometimes make good returns on personalised plates and paintings, and perhaps even cars and yachts, although they usually depreciate. But I also suspect they sometimes make big losses. It's just that they don't skite about those ones, so we don't hear about it.

Bitcoin? We've all been reading about the meteoric price rises. And there may be more big gains to come. But who knows when to get out, before the inevitable plunge?

For all that bitcoin has a real purpose, it can't possibly be that valuable, can it? And it's not as if you're earning interest or dividends in the meantime.

If you're dying to join the cool cats, go for it with money you might otherwise put into a lottery or a casino. But not the money for the kids' school shoes. Cool can turn icy cold, and bare feet aren't fun in winter.

Renter's dilemma

Re the young renter facing a dilemma in last week's column, I thought some numbers from someone who faced the same dilemma in their mid-20s would help.

I bought my first house in 2009 after graduating and saving my first year's paycheque while renting with flatmates.

I was living in a medium-sized New Zealand city and bought a rundown three-bedroom property near work for $170,000, which I did up over the next four years. I had flatmates to help with costs.

Later I had to move, but I rented the place out instead, which helped pay the mortgage and other costs including rental tax.

To date the property has $125,000 mortgage left on it and is valued at $250,000. The valuation has gone up and down many times but overall up, but I had kept the property as I plan to return to the town and live there — although not sure when.

It's sort of a backup plan and gives a sense of security of having a home in the future for me, but I can understand others may have different ideas or feelings.

Thanks for writing. Your basic message seems to be: buy an affordable house somewhere, and keep it — even when you no longer live in that town — just to have a foothold in the property market.

That makes sense, although there are huge variations in how house prices change — around the country and even within a city. There's no guarantee that your property's value will rise with properties elsewhere. In your case, you plan to move back to that city, but of course that could change.

Also, being an out-of-town landlord can have its problems, such as when you get a 2am phone call to say the roof is leaking or the washing machine has flooded.

Still, there's lots to be said for your strategy.

I note that you had flatmates while saving for a house, and later flatmates to help pay for the house. That can be a great way to make property investing work better — as long as you pick compatible flatmates.

- Mary Holm is a freelance journalist, a director of the Financial Markets Authority and Financial Services Complaints Ltd (FSCL), a seminar presenter and a bestselling author on personal finance. Her website is www.maryholm.com. Her opinions are personal, and do not reflect the position of any organisation in which she holds office. Mary's advice is of a general nature, and she is not responsible for any loss that any reader may suffer from following it. Send questions to mary@maryholm.com or Money Column, Private Bag 92198 Victoria St West, Auckland 1142. Letters should not exceed 200 words. We won't publish your name. Please provide a (preferably daytime) phone number. Sorry, but Mary cannot answer all questions, correspond directly with readers, or give financial advice.