Budget debate: CPF wage ceiling for contributions to be reviewed

The move is part of efforts to boost Singaporeans' retirement adequacy, said Manpower Minister Tan See Leng. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The wage ceiling used to determine Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions will be reviewed, as part of efforts to boost Singaporeans' retirement adequacy, said Manpower Minister Tan See Leng on Friday (March 4).

But the Government must carefully assess any calls for more liberal use of CPF members' savings, as it has to continue to safeguard the money that Singaporeans set aside for old age, he said in response to MPs during the debate on his ministry's budget.

The Government will engage employers and employees ahead of any changes to the CPF wage ceiling, said Dr Tan.

Labour MP Patrick Tay (Pioneer) had noted during the debate on Friday that the last update was six years ago, in 2016, when the ceiling was raised from $5,000 to $6,000, to cover wages up to the 80th percentile of resident incomes.

Dr Tan highlighted several changes to boost retirement adequacy which were announced in the Budget statement on Feb 18.

The Basic Retirement Sum will be raised by 3.5 per cent per year for members turning 55 between 2023 and 2027.

About eight in 10 active CPF members turning 55 in 2027 are expected to be able to meet the sum, up from 67 per cent of those who turned 55 last year, said Dr Tan.

CPF contribution rates are also going up for senior workers, and the Workfare Income Supplement is being enhanced with higher payouts to low-income workers from next year.

The minister said these efforts are aimed at helping Singaporeans save more and boost their retirement income.

"These will, however, be meaningless if we do not continue to safeguard the savings that Singaporeans set aside for old age. And this is why we must carefully assess any calls for more liberal use of members' CPF monies," he said.

For housing needs, he said the CPF Board exercises flexibility for seniors facing financial hardship who want to use CPF savings to buy a two-room flexi flat.

Home buyers can also use the proceeds from the sale of their first subsidised flat to pay for any resale flat levy, he added, in response to WP MP Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC).

Those who still face difficulties affording a property, including two-room flexi flats, can approach the Housing and Development Board for assistance, he said.

Members who have turned 55 and have committed to a housing purchase can use their CPF balances above the Basic Retirement Sum to finance it, while those below 55 can request for their Ordinary Account savings not to be transferred to their Retirement Account when they turn 55, if they intend to use it for housing.

WP MP Louis Chua (Sengkang GRC) had also suggested expanding the range of financial instruments available under the CPF Investment Scheme, so that members can seek higher returns on their CPF money.

"More product offerings do not necessarily equate to higher returns," said Dr Tan.

"There is no silver bullet to achieving higher returns. Higher returns come with higher risks and a greater potential for losses," he said.

CPF savings attract interest rates of between 2.5 per cent and 6 per cent, with the investment risk borne by the Government.

The minister noted that CPF members can already invest in a diverse range of products, including exchange-traded funds, shares and gold products. In financial year 2020, 25 per cent of members using the CPF Investment Scheme suffered cumulative total losses, while 75 per cent made profits or broke even.

The CPF Board will continue to review the scheme to ensure that the list of products and providers on the scheme remains relevant, said Dr Tan.

"This strikes a balance between allowing CPF Investment Scheme participants the flexibility to diversify their investment portfolios to enhance their retirement nest eggs, while safeguarding members' interest," he said.

The Government is still studying the Lifetime Retirement Investment Scheme, which is meant to provide an investment option for CPF members who do not want to or know how to actively manage their portfolio. Further updates will be provided when available, said Dr Tan.

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