Singaporeans have one of the most comprehensive social security mechanisms in the world called the Central Provident Fund (CPF).
Not only that, Singaporean employees also have the CPF Special Account.
If you are one of those who are not familiar with either CPF or the CPF Special Account, then this article is for you.
We have a comprehensive guide on CPF Special Account to help you understand this extremely helpful system. But before we jump into that, let us first cover the basics of its foundation, the CPF and why it's so important that YOU as the reader understand it.
What is CPF exactly?
CPF, otherwise known as the Central Provident Fund (Board), is a mandatory investment scheme for all employed Singaporeans. It is a comprehensive social security system that allows working Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents to appropriate funds for retirement.
CPF Funds are split into the following accounts:
- Ordinary Account (OA) – This is meant for housing, insurance, investment and education
- Special Account (SA) – This is meant for old age and investment in retirement-related financial products
- Medisave Account (MA) – This is meant for expenses in hospitalisation and other approved medical insurances.
- Retirement Account (RA) – This is created on your 55th birthday
Interest Rates - INTEREST EARNED BY MEMBERS
Your CPF Savings account can earn a guaranteed interest rate each year. Initially, your OA’s interest rate is 2.5%, while the rest is at 4% i.e Special Account and Medisave Account.
However, there will be an additional one percent added to all of the accounts only for the first $60,000 CPF balances, of which $20,000 limited to your OA.
In other words, if you have a balances of $70,000 you will be earning 1% more from the $60,000 (the 1% extra in OA is limited to $20,000), and the remaining $10,000 follows the guaranteed rate.
What is CPF Special Account?
Now that we’ve familiarized ourselves with the basics of CPF, let us now head on to one of its specific usage: CPF Special Account.
We found out before that the CPF Special Account is meant for financial needs after retirement as well as for the investment in retirement-related financial products.
It primarily exists to gear Singaporeans to save for future retirement needs since it enjoys a higher interest rate of 4%.
What are the features of CPF Special Account?
The CPF Special Account features the following:
- Savings will be for regular income after retirement and for investing in approved investment products. The full list as of 2018 can be found here.
- Savings in Special Account will be guaranteed absolute, reliable returns. at a floor rate of 4%. and up to 5%.
- CPF Special Account’s interest rate will not be affected by inflation. People would consider this as a better alternative of investing money than stock-related instruments and those offered by insurance policies.
- CPF Special Accounts savings cannot be withdrawn before the age of retirement.
What are the uses of CPF Special Account?
The savings in CPF Special Account beyond its minimum amount of S$40,000 can be invested in any of the approved investment schemes. It could also be invested in the following financial instruments:
Note that you will not be able to invest in high risk financial instruments using the monies available in your CPF Special Accounts since the primary goal of the CPF Board is to ensure you have sufficient funds for your twilight years. Risking your capital is in direct conflict with the directive that the CPF Board wishes to go in as well in order to take care of Singaporean Citizens in their later years.
The following financial products also cannot use the savings from CPF special account:
○ Corporate bonds
○ Property funds
○ Gold ETFs
○ Physical gold
If a person reaches the age of 55, the savings from the special and/or ordinary account will be transferred to the retirement account. This can then be used to join CPF Life which offers lifelong monthly payouts to CPF members.
Once the retirement sum is settled, the rest of the total amount left in both the ordinary and special accounts can be withdrawn or kept in the CPF account to earn attractive interest rates.
How to get the most out of Singapore CPF
Did you know that you can actually earn a million dollars with your CPF accounts? If your answer is no, then we’ll tell you how.
In its most basic sense, getting a million dollars would entail you to move the money from your OA into your SA. The reason for this is that the OA only gets you a guaranteed interest rate of 2.5%. Compare that to the SA which gets 4%.
As a result, the combined effect of 4% per annum can build up your cash reserves faster.
It must also be noted that there is a cap. to your Medisave Contribution (which is up to $49,800 as of 2016) and Special Account (which is up to S$166,000 as of 2018).
Finally, getting a million dollars is not time specific. It will take everyone a different amount time to actually get the amount. This depends, of course, on how much a person earns.
Advantages of Placing More Money in CPF Special Account
1. Guaranteed Absolute Return
As stated above, in the features of Special Account part, CPF Special Account beats inflation. It does not get affected nor fluctuate according to the index it is pegged to. This sets it apart from mutual funds or Exchange Traded Funds.
Usually, when you invest in something, you will most likely only get a chopped down return. What is worse, this scenario can happen again. It would take you a number of bad days to get through the good ones.
However, with CPF, you are guaranteed that the returns are absolute. You will get what the allocated percent presented to you. In relation of SA, you will get five percent; nothing more and nothing less.
2. Inflation-proof Interest Rate
Since CPF Special Account is a retirement fund, the interest rate must beat inflation for it to be useful. It can’t just go down until all you are left with is nothing. After all, what will its use be?
Fortunately, CPF does none of that. Being that it is by the Singapore government, CPF Special Account interest rate cannot be affected by inflation. It will not ever change.
Your five percent will remain to be five percent. No matter the financial situation of Singapore, you will definitely get the absolute and guaranteed rate.
This is far from other investment options where you only get around four percent. Furthermore, with Singapore Savings Bonds, you will get between two or three percent.
Therefore, CPF Special Account does not only beat inflation, it also beats other investment options.
3. Away from Creditors
If you are an active investor, then you might find this third advantage as tempting. Being involved in ForEx trading and other business could get you in risky situations—one with creditors who are willing to line up to get from you.But with CPF, you can find a refuge from all of that. No one can take money from your CPF. Even if you go bankrupt, your CPF savings will remain safe.
Disadvantages of Transferring Money from Ordinary Account to Special Account
As everything goes, with advantages come disadvantages. And even transferring money from ordinary account to special account is not exempted. No matter how safe it is, it could still have its own negative side. These are as follows:
1. No Tax Relief
Transferring money from Ordinary account to your Special account does not exempt you from tax relief. You will still be subject to it typical tax reliefs unless you top up your account with cash. You can learn more here.
2. Transfers are Permanent
While transferring cash into your CPF Special Account to earn a higher interest rate might sound positive, things can take a turn for the worse if you have a sudden need for cash . The process of transferring your savings from Ordinary account to Special account is irreversible. You can’t undo it. Be sure to have enough money on hand for your current and future needs prior to plunking money into your special account.
3. Withdrawal Requirement
As mentioned above, savings in CPF Special Account cannot be withdrawn before the age of 55. It also cannot be withdrawn and utilize for other purposes like paying off mortgages of housing.
Ordinary Account to Special Account Savings Transfer Calculator
Before you go and spontaneously transfer your OA savings to SA, it helps to know the estimates of the amount to be transferred.
With the online calculator provided by the government, you can find the estimate to the additional interest that you might earn when you do transfer your savings from Ordinary Account to Special Account.
To do that, simply go to this website and fill in the required fields: https://www.cpf.gov.sg/esvc/web/schemes/oatosatransfer/oatosatransfer
Good luck and remember to always tweak things in a way that maximizes your benefits while mitigating your downsides!