Times you withdraw your retirement benefit

In this advice column Beata Carstens from Veritas Wealth answers a question from a reader who is thinking of withdrawing his pension.

Q: I am 39 years old and have worked for the public service for just over 11 years. I am considering resigning because I want to further my studies for the next three years.

My current retirement fund value is R947 113.

How much will they tax me if I take this out and how best can I invest it?

The short answer to your question is that you will be paying R191 820.51 tax on a retirement fund value of R947 113. In other words, 20.25% of your retirement benefit will be paid to the South African Revenue Service (Sars).

How this is calculated is that your capital will be taxed on a sliding scale. The first R25 000 is tax free, the next R635 000 will be taxed at 18% and the balance will be taxed at 27%. Although not relevant in this instance, any amount over R990 000 would be taxed at 36%.

However, you can avoid this tax entirely by transferring the benefit to a preservation fund. This is an option you should seriously consider.

A preservation fund works in the same way as a retirement fund, except that you don’t have to keep contributing to it. You will be able to make one withdrawal from this fund before your retirement date, but otherwise you won’t be able to access the money until you turn 55.

Once you retire from the fund, the first R500 000, less any amount you have already withdrawn, will be paid out tax free. At this point you can withdraw up to one third of the capital as a lump sum if you like, but the rest must be used to arrange a monthly income during retirement. You will be taxed on your monthly income according to Sars income tax tables.

Why this is particularly important is because if you withdraw your retirement capital now, the R500 000 tax-free benefit that you would receive when you actually retire will fall away. So you will be suffering a double tax penalty.

Apart from the tax you will have to pay now, you should also consider the important differences between putting the money into a preservation fund and taking it out to invest yourself.

  1. Income tax paid on your investment

In any retirement product, no annual taxes are paid on interest or dividends. When it comes to discretionary investments, however, the interest you receive on your investment during any tax year will be taxed and you will liable for dividend withholding tax. You will also pay capital gains tax should you withdraw money from your discretionary investment for any reason, including switching funds.

  1. Liquidity

If you withdraw the funds now and invest the after tax amount, you will have easy access to your money. However, if you transfer it to a preservation fund, you could only make one withdrawal from the fund before retirement.

  1. Underlying investment funds

The Pension Funds Act has prescribed limits for different asset classes which are the building blocks of the underlying investments funds. The purpose of the limits is to contain the investment risk of the underlying investment funds.

However, by doing this, the Act also limits the potential upside of your investment. A discretionary investment can be 100% invested in equities (shares) and also 100% offshore, whereas any investment that falls under the Pension Funds Act can have a maximum of 75% in equities and 25% offshore.

  1. Discipline

With  easy access to discretionary investments,  a lot of discipline is required not to use the funds unwisely, whereas the rules of the Pension Fund Act actually force you to leave the money intact for retirement.

Finally, my advice would be to consider the pension capital that you have accumulated over time as exactly that and to leave it in your retirement pot. Do not fund lifestyle costs with capital earmarked for retirement. It will take quite some time, effort and a considerable monthly premiums to replace the retirement capital you have built up over your working career.