Uniquely Singaporean ways to accumulate wealth

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Nothing spells Singaporean more than topping up our CPF Special Account. Here are 7 things we do to accumulate wealth that only Singaporeans can relate to.

2020 will not only mark the 55th year of Singapore’s independence, but also go down as the year of Covid-19, when masks were made compulsory and work-from-home was legally enforced.

As we approach National Day on August 9 (yes, it is a long weekend), let’s take a look at what we, as Singaporeans, do best in our tireless attempts to get rich.

1. Top up our CPF Special Account (SA)

Our CPF SA is meant for our retirement and the money we top up into the account will form part of our retirement sum. We are encouraged to top up our CPF SA under the Retirement Sum Topping-up Scheme (RSTU) for two key reasons:

  • To earn higher returns: Get 4 per cent returns on your CPF SA money. How else would you get a 4 per cent return that is risk-free? You also get an additional 1 per cent in interest for the first $60,000 of your combined CPF balances.
  • To get tax relief: Topping up your CPF SA with cash gets you up to $7,000 in tax relief. You get an additional $7,000 tax relief when you top up your spouse’s CPF SA.This means you can get up to $14,000 in tax relief when you top up both you and your spouse’s CPF SA. 

Our CPF SA money can still be used to invest in approved investment schemes under the CPF Investment Scheme (CPFIS).

You can also consider transferring your CPF Ordinary Account (OA) money into your CPF SA to earn higher interest. Your CPF OA earns 2.5per cent returns and can be used for purposes such as paying for your house. Do note that this transfer from CPF OA to CPF SA is irreversible. 

2. Show our filial piety by topping up our parents’ CPF 

What better way to show your filial piety than to help your parents prepare for a comfortable retirement? 

Under the Retirement Sum Topping-up Scheme (RSTU), you can top up your parents’ CPF SA or CPF Retirement Account (RA). If they are under 55, you can top up their CPF SA up to the Full Retirement Sum (FRS) that currently stands at $181,000. If your parents are over 55, you can top up their RA, up to the current Enhanced Retirement Sum (ERS) which is $271,500. 

The savings in their CPF SA and CPF RA can earn an interest rate of up to 6 per cent p.a. How this 6 per cent is calculated: 

  • 4 per cent interest earned in CPF SA or CPF RA 
  • Additional 1 per cent interest on the first $60,000 of combined CPF balances
  • Additional 1 per cent interest on the first $30,000 of combined CPF balances if they are aged 55 and above

How does this get you extra cash when you’re actually parting with it, you ask? Besides helping your parents get one step closer to the FRS or ERS, you enjoy tax relief of up to $7,000 per calendar year.

Similarly, you can also top up the CPF of other loved ones such as your spouse, parents-in-law, grandparents and siblings. However, the tax relief would be maxed out at $7,000 as it falls under the same category of making a cash top-up for a loved one.

Apart from our knack for wealth accumulation, Singapore has one of the highest digital penetration rates, making us prime targets for online scams.

This National Day, stay vigilant, safeguard your money and get yourself free online banking insurance (we know you love a freebie!) when you sign up for a SingSaver account by 31 August 2020.

3. Donate money to get tax relief

Speaking of tax reliefs, making donations can get you the same privilege. In just the first five months of 2020, Singaporeans donated $90 million, equivalent to the whole of 2019’s donations.

A driver behind these donations are the payouts Singaporeans have received from the government to cope with Covid-19, with people choosing to donate this money to the needy.

But for our donations to be tax deductible, they have to be cash donations made to an approved Institution of a Public Character (IPC) or the Singapore Government for causes that benefit the local community. 

You can get 250 per cent tax deduction for qualifying donations. For example, if you donate $5,000, the deductible amount would be $12,500. This means that your tax assessable income for the year is reduced by $12,500.

Even if you are very generous, there is a personal income tax relief cap of $80,000 in total for each Year of Assessment. 

Besides cash, you can also donate shares of stocks that are listed on the SGX, or unit trusts traded in Singapore. In order for the tax deduction to be reflected in your tax assessment for 2020, you will have to make your donation before the end of 2020. More details about tax deductible donations here.

4. Get a house (BTO) before getting engaged

Applying for a HDB Build-To-Order (BTO) flat together — Singapore’s very own version of a proposal. Romantic? No. Practical? Yes. 

Getting a BTO flat fast-tracks your way to becoming a property owner in Singapore, an impossible dream for others in countries such as Hong Kong. Don’t forget your property forms part of your financial assets and net worth, coming with an opportunity to sell it for good returns in the future with property appreciation—assuming you meet the minimum occupation period (MOP), of course. 

Many couples have opted to apply for a BTO flat together under the fiance/fiancee scheme even before getting engaged. A few reasons why couples apply for a BTO flat sooner rather than later: 

  1. To get more grants: When you’re younger, your earning power is lower. With a lower combined monthly income, you’ll be eligible for higher grant amounts. 
  2. To secure a more affordable home for you and your partner: There is an income ceiling of $14,000 to apply for a BTO flat. As your income grows, you and your partner might no longer be eligible to apply for a BTO flat in the future. Securing a home the moment you apply for a HDB BTO flat is not a given. It all depends on the BTO balloting. Should you fail to get a queue number, you would have to wait for the next launch. This cycle could repeat, resulting in time (and money) wasted. 
  3. To save time: With a BTO flat, you are buying a house that hasn’t been built, much less furnished. Unlike resale flats, it takes three to four years for a HDB BTO flat to be built. For couples that see themselves settling down together, applying early allows them to plan ahead, to hold key life milestones such as getting married before their home is ready.
  4. To get your dream home in your favourite estate: Every BTO launch is unique, offering different projects in different estates. Couples hoping to get a BTO in a specific town could be inclined to apply when there is a BTO project available. You might not want to bet on HDB launching a BTO project in the same estate in the near future, especially for mature towns.

If you are a young couple in love, do keep an eye out for the HDB BTO launch coming this August that features 8 projects. 

5. Invest in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) for dividends 

Singapore is known to be a REITs haven. There are currently 42 REITs listed, making up over 10 per cent of the market capitalisation of the SGX, with $90 billion. 

Singaporeans invest in REITs for their high yield. These yields can range from about 5 per cent to 9 per cent, making them a great inclusion for an income-generating portfolio. This yield comes from REITs distributing at least 90 per cent of their taxable income, income they earn through collecting rental. 

Covid-19 has shrouded the REIT market with uncertainty. From an investor’s point of view, the drop in foot traffic in malls (retail REITs), absence of tourists in Singapore (hospitality REITs) and increased remote working (commercial REITs) is a cause of concern.

This could result in dividends falling for the next few quarters and experts have already warned that the results in the coming months will not be pretty.

However, this also presents an opportunity. For those looking to invest in REITs, besides doing your own homework and selecting individual REITs to add to your portfolio, you can also opt to invest in one of the three REIT ETFs available, or go for the REIT-focused portfolio called REIT+ introduced by a robo advisor called Syfe.

6. Contribute a portion of our salary to CPF

There’s no escaping CPF if you’re mentioning Singaporeans and money in the same conversation. 

Each month, we compulsorily contribute a portion of our salary to our CPF. If you are a Singaporean under 55 years old, you contribute 20 per cent of your salary to your CPF while your employer contributes another 17 per cent. This salary allocation decreases as you age beyond 55 years old. 

 CPF Contribution and Allocation Rates. PHOTO: CPF

This 37 per cent contribution is further split into three accounts, our CPF OA, CPF SA and CPF Medisave Account (MA), each with a different purpose. You can read our guide to CPF here.

While some first-jobbers may bemoan the impact CPF contributions make on disposable income, it sets us up for a more comfortable retirement in our later years — in an instrument that buffers against the effects of inflation, no less.

7. Hunt for the best deals

If anything, this is Singaporeans’ secret sauce to becoming rich. We simply love a good deal —  even if it’s just to save fifty cents — and the kind of savings we’ve gained out of our lifelong obsession is seriously nothing to scoff at. 

It’s the little things that count. 

We can all remember the chaos that ensued when Huawei offered their Huawei Y6 Pro 2019 at just $54 for those aged 50 and above last year. 

From the best dining deals, best staycation promotions, best National Day promotions and even the best savings accounts to park our money, we hunt for the best deals to find ones that make the most bang for our buck. 

If you’re already a pro deals hunter, you can consider putting these extra dollars in a savings account, alternatives to savings account, fixed deposit or start investing with a Regular Savings Plan (RSP) or a robo-advisor. 

This article was first published in SingSaver.com.sg