KiwiSaver is a voluntary work-based savings scheme set up by the Government to encourage New Zealanders to prepare for retirement. You can also use KiwiSaver to buy your first home. It may be your first investment and is likely to represent a large part of your retirement savings.
KiwiSaver is a managed fund. This means your money is pooled with other investors and spread across different kinds of investments.
You’ll either be automatically enrolled when you start a new job or you can opt in – through your employer’s scheme or directly with a scheme provider. If you don't choose a scheme for yourself, and your employer doesn't have a chosen scheme, Inland Revenue will allocate you to one of the six government-appointed default providers. Find out more about KiwiSaver Default Funds.
You can change KiwiSaver scheme whenever you like – even if you’ve already been allocated to an employer-chosen scheme or a default scheme.
You must be a New Zealand citizen or entitled to live in New Zealand indefinitely to join KiwiSaver.
You can choose how much to contribute
If you’re employed, you can contribute 3%, 4%, 6%, 8% or 10% of your salary before tax to a KiwiSaver scheme. You can also make lump sum payments or set up additional direct payments.
If you’re self-employed, you decide how much you want to contribute and make payments directly to your chosen KiwiSaver scheme provider.
Your employer and the government contributes too
Your employer must contribute at least 3% of your salary. And if you’re aged 18 or over, the government will also give you an extra 50 cents for every dollar you put in, up to a maximum payment of $521.43 each year. To get the full Government contribution, you have to contribute at least $1,042.86 by June 30 each year.
Unlike a bank term deposit, the return you get from your KiwiSaver scheme will go up and down over time, depending on what it’s investing in. Sorted’s Smart Investor tool shows you the actual and average returns for all KiwiSaver funds.
Growth and aggressive funds typically have higher long-term returns
Growth and aggressive funds have a much higher proportion of ‘growth’ assets. Growth assets are things like shares and property and these go up and down in value more frequently than ‘income’ assets like cash and bonds. This means their returns may rise and fall quickly. However over time they typically provide a higher return.
A balanced fund is one that will target having between 35% and 63% of ‘growth’ assets. That makes it less volatile than a growth fund but more likely to grow in value over the longer term than a conservative fund. ‘Default’ funds have a balanced investment mix.
Conservative and defensive funds have the lowest returns
Conservative funds will have a very low percentage of growth assets – 10% to 34.9%. Defensive funds will often have none. They offer lower, but more predictable returns and are best if you are wanting to access your money – for retirement or a first home – in the next few years. They are also suitable if you have low tolerance for ups and downs in your balance.
We monitor KiwiSaver providers closely to make sure they meet the required standards and act with your best interests in mind. All KiwiSaver schemes must be registered. See IRD’s list of KiwiSaver scheme providers for details. However there are some risks to think about.
Staying in a default fund may not be suitable if you’re buying a first home soon
Each provider offers a range of funds you can invest in. These typically range from ‘conservative’ (low risk, low return) to ‘growth’ or ‘aggressive’ (higher risk, higher return).
Your money will be invested in a default balanced fund if you don’t choose your own. Balanced funds are designed for those who don’t need their money for at least 5-10 years.
If you’re planning to withdraw your money (for example for a first home), the default fund may not be suitable. A conservative or a defensive cash fund might be a better choice. You can find the right fund for you or compare funds on the Sorted KiwiSaver fund finder.
Your money is locked in
Once you’ve joined KiwiSaver, your money will be locked in until you qualify for NZ Super (currently 65), with a few exceptions, including first home withdrawals.
Understanding the costs
Fees can have a big impact on your total returns over the longer term. It’s worth keeping an eye on the fees you pay because as your balance grows, your fee will too.
How big your KiwiSaver balance is – the bigger the balance, the greater the fee
The type of investment fund you’re in – generally lower-risk funds are cheaper than higher-risk funds (but remember lower-risk funds give less overall return)
Your KiwiSaver provider – some providers charge higher fees than others
Your personal annual statement shows the dollar amount paid in fees
KiwiSaver providers have to show your fees in dollar terms on your annual member statement.
Typical fees include:
Management fee – pays the fund manager who decides how each fund is invested. This fee is different for each fund as some funds need more management than others. It’s calculated as a percentage of the fund’s net assets.
Member fee – covers the administration of your personal KiwiSaver account. It’s usually deducted monthly.
Administration fee – contributes to the administration of the scheme as a whole.
Supervisor or trustee fee – pays the supervisor or trustee for overseeing all funds offered by the scheme and for holding the fund’s assets.
Performance-based fee – a bonus paid to the fund manager for achieving a return that’s better than the target return. Only a few KiwiSaver managers charge a performance-based fee but a larger number of KiwiSaver managers invest through other investment managers – called ‘underlying managers’ – who may charge performance fees.
You may also be charged fees to:
pay the fees of underlying managers (sometimes including performance fees)
change your investment options
transfer savings from another NZ KiwiSaver or superannuation scheme
withdraw money from your KiwiSaver scheme.
Be passed onto your financial adviser who gives you regular KiwiSaver advice. Often this fee can be stopped if you cease to use the financial adviser.
More information about the actual fees you pay can be found in the product disclosure statement for the scheme.
What to do before you invest
When you join KiwiSaver you’ll receive a copy of the scheme’s product disclosure statement (PDS). You should read this as it describes how the scheme works and gives you an understanding of the risks, return and costs.
Are you paying too much in fees? All KiwiSaver providers charge fees. Visit the Sorted Smart Investor tool to find out what other providers are charging.
Find out what’s happened to your Scheme in the past year
All managed funds (including KiwiSaver) must give you a copy of their annual report, or a link to it on their website, within six months of the end of their financial year.
The annual report describes any changes made to the scheme in the last year, how it’s being managed, how investments have performed against the scheme’s goals, and if the auditor has raised any concerns. It also gives details of the size of the scheme’s membership, total funds invested and investment returns.
In addition to the annual report, KiwiSaver funds issue a quarterly fund update and an annual update. Fund updates give details of how each individual fund has performed, what it’s costing you and other key information. You’ll find fund updates on your provider’s website, or on Smart Investor.
Don’t be spooked if your KiwiSaver balance falls
This is a normal part of investing and reacting by making changes when the value is low will often make things worse.
Our KiwiSaver risk quiz gives you some great tips on how to manage your investments when markets get choppy.
Regularly review your fund choice
KiwiSaver providers offer a range of different types of funds. You can invest in more than one type of fund at once, and you can also change your fund at any time.
If you’re not sure about changing funds, you can leave your savings in the current fund, but ask for new contributions to go to the new fund. This can be a good idea if you are changing because you are nervous about volatility.
But KiwiSaver is designed to deliver value over time through the drip-feeding of contributions regularly into the fund.
And, your employer will in most cases stop contributing to your KiwiSaver fund when you do. You will also miss out on the Government contribution – the Government will give you up to $521.43 if you contribute $1042.86 of your own money to your KiwiSaver fund in the year to June 30. Even if you don’t contribute the full amount, you’ll still get 50 cents for every dollar you put in between 1 July and 30 June the following year.
So if you need to stop contributing for a while make sure you remember to start contributing again when you’re able.
Compare your KiwiSaver provider with others
You can change your KiwiSaver scheme provider whenever you like, but you can only have one KiwiSaver account at a time.
You should not be pressured to join any particular KiwiSaver scheme. Be wary of KiwiSaver schemes being sold as part of a bundle of other services, with a special offer attached, or through door-to-door sales. Here are five questions to ask yourself before changing your KiwiSaver provider.