Don't want to be on Struggle Street when you retire? Then make sure your KiwiSaver is working hard for you.

If you're one of the 600,000 people eligible to join who hasn't, get your skates on. Every year you're losing out on $521 of free tax credit from the government as well as all the investment growth.

And no, your money isn't sitting in the government's coffers; it can't disappear if your provider goes bankrupt; or any of the other KiwiSaver conspiracy theories that do the rounds.

If you're employed and not contributing you're throwing away 3 per cent of your wages and lining your employer's pocket. Just be aware some employers offer a "total remuneration" package that includes KiwiSaver. That means they don't have to pay contributions on top of your salary. They can't do this if you're on minimum wage.


Assuming you're in KiwiSaver, here are 10 questions for you and your provider:

Should I switch funds?

Most KiwiSaver providers/funds are quite vanilla flavoured, says Mark Jephson of KiwiSaver trustee Guardian Trust. Don't waste time switching to more of the same. It may, however, be worth moving to/from a boutique provider or to/from an active manager and index fund.

What fund am I in?

This is often more important than the provider. If you were auto-enrolled into KiwiSaver you'll be in a conservative fund that more likely than not will leave you tens of thousands of dollars short-changed when you retire.

Generally if you have at least five to 10 years before you need the money you should be taking more risk for greater reward. Call your provider and ask questions, says Jephson.

What fees do you charge?

Fees eat into returns as the people from not-for-profit KiwiSaver provider Simplicity keep pointing out.

Active funds charge higher fees because they employ fund managers to root out the winners. Indexed funds hold a range of shares that follow NZX or other stock market indices and are cheaper because a computer does the work.

Watch out for providers that do little more than track the index, but charge high fees. has a KiwiSaver fees calculator.

Does it invest ethically?

Over the past couple of years most KiwiSaver funds have sold out of their investments in tobacco, weapons and the like. Some providers such as SuperLife and Koinonia go a step further and have KiwiSaver funds designed to be ethical.


What's the return?

What you need to know is how the funds have done over five or 10 years. One year is meaningless. Make sure you're comparing apples with apples - if you're going for a balanced option, don't rate it against growth funds or conservative.

Am I contributing?

If you're on a contributions holiday you're not building up a nest egg.

Am I on the right tax rate?

Tax eats into your KiwiSaver growth, says David Boyle, general manager investor education at the Commission for Financial Capability. If you were auto-enrolled your money will be taxed at the highest rate and you are letting the Government pocket your hard-earned money.

You can't get it back, so phone your provider and sort this out.

Should I contribute more?

This is simple. The more you contribute now the more you'll have to live on in retirement - or blow on that round the world trip of a lifetime, boat and bach. Boyle points out 3 per cent is the minimum for regular contributions. You can increase this to 4 or 8 per cent.

A 20-year-old earning $40,000 a year who increases his/her contributions from 3-4 per cent could have an extra $82,000 by age 65, says Simplicity's Sam Stubbs. With most providers you can add lump sums whenever you want.


Are you getting good customer service?

Can you understand the information you receive from your provider? Is there a call centre if you have questions? Can you log in easily and see your balances? Do you get regular reminders to qualify for your annual tax credit?

Do I have a will?

When you die, KiwiSaver money becomes part of your estate. If you don't have a will your hard-earned savings could go to the wrong people.

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