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-   -   Swiss pensions consolidated summary (https://www.englishforum.ch/finance-banking-taxation/46251-swiss-pensions-consolidated-summary.html)

dannyt986 12.03.2009 14:00

Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
Introduction

This post (which I hope a mod may consider making sticky) is to summarize key points relating to Swiss pensions for the employed, particularly British expats. Topics covered:
- basic concepts, including the “three pillars” of the Swiss pension system
- the second pillar, ie the employers pension scheme
- obligatory and non obligatory contributions
- using your pension before retirement
- transferring your UK pension(s) to your second pillar
- leaving Switzerland, taking your pension with you

Self employed have somewhat different rules that aren't within the scope of this post. Retirement in Switzerland is also not covered.

I'm not a pensions expert, but am a chartered accountant who has been trustee of several employers pension schemes and has researched the topic fairly extensively for personal reasons too. Pensions are complicated and everyone is different so you must take professional advice.

I have tried to consolidate and summarize the many previous threads on these topics, and provide links back to the gorey detail, so thanks to all the contributors to those threads.

I also drew heavily upon the excellent Credit Suisse publication https://entry.credit-suisse.ch/csfs/...ndlagen_en.pdf and I suggest you read this to complement the basic detail.

Please feel free to provide and corrections or enhancements and I'll integrate them.

Basic Concepts

The Swiss pension system has three pillars (D: säule, F: piliers).

Pillar 1, (D: AHV, F: AVS) is the compulsory state pension and the contributions are deducted by your employer from your pay. It can provide an individual pension of (currently) upto c26kchf per annum after c.40 years contributions.

Pillar 2, (D: BVG, F: LPP ) is the employers pension scheme and is compulsory for individuals over 24 and earning more than c20kchf. There is a compulsory element (D: obligatorisch, F: obligatoire) covering contribution on incomes between c20kchf and c80kchf. Your employer may very well provide additional cover over and above the compulsory element (eg larger share of costs, higher salary insured etc).

Pillar 3, (D: dritte Säule, F: troisieme pilier) are voluntary additional pensions savings of slightly over c6kchf per annum that are tax deductible and invested tax free.

Pillars 1 and 2 also include certain insurance elements such as life assurance and widow and orphan pensions. A full lifetime of contributions to Pillars 1 and 2 might just give you a 60% pension on salaries upto about 70,000chf per year. Your employer should essentially “take care” of making sure you are a paid up member of both Pillars 1 and 2.

Pillar 3 is your responsibility to organise. There are a variety of products you can chose to invest this money in from straight savings accounts via with-profits life assurance policies to 50% equity based portfolios. http://www.englishforum.ch/finance-b...sion-fund.html

Second Pillar, Employers Pension Schemes

Employers are obliged to make a second pillar available that provides at least the minimum legal cover (ie cost to be shared 50%, minimum % of salary depending on age bands, a minimum annual return on investment). Defined benefit/final salary schemes are possible but very rare, virtually all are defined contribution schemes with a capital protection/minimum return element.

Beyond this legal minimum the employer can chose to offer all or selected categories of employee (eg management, or people over 150kchf income, but not explicitly “Mr/s X, Y and Z”) additional benefits. “Market” benefits for managers are typically quite significantly better than the statutory minimum, particularly as regards salary limits and assurances (eg death in service).

Most small or medium companies largely outsource the management, administration and quite a lot of the risk of their pension scheme to one of the large institutional providers such as Swisscanto (owned by the cantonal banks). Although this is reassuring as to corporate governance and solvency, it does not mean that all the benefits are alike as each company can set its own benefits levels.

Larger companies will often administer their own scheme, and are paying contributions into the scheme which then invests assets so it can pay benefits, including the annual guaranteed return. Not all funds have the same solvency profile, and you should check or seek advice before paying additional voluntary monies (eg extra contributions or carry over from previous companies) into a poorly funded scheme. This goes particularly these days.

See http://www.englishforum.ch/finance-b...ributions.html

Obligatory and Non-Obligatory and Additional Contributions


Many expats arrive in Switerland after age 24 and many earn significantly more than the 80kchf obligatory limit for the second pillar. Furthermore most employers have a salary ceiling far above the 80k obligatory threshold. For once, this means being a foreigner is Switzerland has a perk since you are allowed to make tax deductible contributions as if you had been earning your current salary since you were 24. A large proportion of your contributions will be over-obligatory (D: Ueber-obligatorisch, F: sur-obligatoire) and you can lay your hands on them at very low tax rates when you leave Switzerland. Additionally the Swiss system allows you to use your pension pot in a number of ways well before you retire so the money isn't locked away completely.

If your employers second pillar is healthy (see Second Pillar, Employers Pension Schemes) and you have the spare cash you should give serious thought to this tax planning opportunity.

Transferring your UK Pension to your Second Pillar


The introduction of bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU mean that in theory transfers of your UK Pension pot(s) into your Swiss second pillar are possible. Poor legal drafting on the Swiss side and the British nanny state make this a bit more complex in practise, however it is not impossible.

Before starting to jump through the hoops, think carefully about doing this especially if you have a UK defined benefit pension as the transfer value is unlikely to be worth as much as a deferred pension. Also the transfer “eats up” part of your Additional Contribution possibility without getting the tax deduction. The most logical reason I have heard to want to do the transfer is to get enough money into the second pillar to be useful in a house purchase (see Accessing While in Switzerland). See http://www.englishforum.ch/finance-b...itzerland.html

So you still want to do it? An UK pension fund will only transfer pension benefits directly to an overseas scheme if that scheme qualifies under UK law as a “QROPS” scheme. These schemes need to comply with a number of fairly onerous reporting requirements towards UK HMRC, and as a result only major international employers' schemes tend to go along with it. A list of QROPS schemes is available at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/PENSIONSCHEMES/qrops-list.htm Swisscanto are not QROPs and have no plans to become so.

If your employers fund is not a QROP and you are talking about a transfer large enough to make the fees worthwhile then there are several providers who can offer “transit” pension funds that are QROPs approved. Be aware however these providers are interested in building long term relationships not being “ports of convenience”. Some of these providers are referred to in this thread http://www.englishforum.ch/finance-b...t-account.html

Also see http://www.englishforum.ch/finance-b...itzerland.html

Accessing your Swiss Pension before Retirement - While in Switzerland


Another nice thing about Swiss pensions versus the UK pension is that the money is not “untouchable” until you retire. It is possible to access the funds directly by withdrawing the money for certain permitted uses, including buying or renovating you main home and starting up a business. If you do this you will pay a withholding tax on the amount extracted and will have to pay the withdrawal back into the pot before you can make further additional contributions.

Unfortunately you cant buy a home abroad with the pot, although there may be work-arounds if you have a word with a friendly bank manager.

It is also possible to access the funds indirectly by using them as security (via a pledge) against your mortgage loan, and this is generally much more tax efficient than direct use since there is no withholding tax and the capital will continue to grow tax free. Some lenders will even allow the deposit to be paid indirectly.

Accessing your Swiss Pension before Retirement - On leaving Switzerland

If you leave Switzerland permanently for a non EU country you can be paid your whole pension pot minus a relatively modest withholding tax which varies depending on your canton of residence but is almost always much lower than the tax you would have paid on the income had it not been paid into your pension pot.

If you leave Switzerland for an EU country then the same goes for the over-obligatory contributions ie you can have them paid out. However, the obligatory contributions must stay in a vested benefits account until you reach retirement age. In theory it is possible to have the amount transferred to another EU pension, however the law is not very well drafted (specifically the Pensions law only allows transfers to Swiss and Liechenstein funds, but the law that enacts the bilateral agreement with the EU allows free movement!) and as at the time of writing I am not aware that anyone has managed to do this in practise.

If you plan to leave your pension pot untouched for a while once you leave Switzerland and you live in a cheap tax commune/canton you should consider carefully where to place it. Once you leave Switzerland you will be taxed based on where the vested benefit account is located, in the case of UBS and the Cantonal Banks, this is the not so cheap Basel. Again read thread http://www.englishforum.ch/finance-b...t-account.html

See also http://www.englishforum.ch/finance-b...itzerland.html

Hope this helps
Daniel

Goldtop 15.03.2009 19:06

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
Apropos withdrawing money from Pillar 2 and Pillar 3 for property purchase: It is permitted for self-dwelling only. Hence, house/apartment must generally be in Switzerland. Exceptions may be possible for those living just across the border and commuting daily to their workplace in Switzerland.

Info 18.04.2009 13:22

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
Thanks Daniel for your great and a useful post.

Can you please also add the details on "Taking money out of AHV (first pillar) upon leaving Switzerland for expats". The details like, how and how much can be taken out of the total AHV contributions.

Your help is appreciated.

Thanks

dannyt986 18.04.2009 16:49

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
To the best of my knowledge apart from very minimal (<1 year I think) contributions pillar 1 contributions cannot be recovered. Either you will be eligible for a Swiss deferred pension based on the amounts contributed, or if you country has a reciprocal agreement (eg with EU countries) you will get credit towards your home country state pension. Daniel

cm3bcsrj 16.06.2009 11:24

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
My wife left employment this year (after working for 7 yrs) and had to find a place for her pension - She put it in a vested account with UBS. When she left her previous employer however, she was told that if she left Switzerland she could get the money back - in cash.

What amount of the money shown in her vested account (say its 100K for simplicity) does she have access to? Is the 100K including all 3 pillars?

We've now hopped over the border in France, and are looking to buy a house. Clearly reducing the amount of mortgage we need is in our interest, so getting our hands on the pension now (rather than having it accumulate next to zero interest) is in our interest!

Also, if I understand some of these posts correctly, leaving things as they are now, she will only be entitled to a UK state pension when she retires!? Surely not...?

Goldtop 16.06.2009 22:03

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by cm3bcsrj (Post 476159)
My wife left employment this year (after working for 7 yrs) and had to find a place for her pension - She put it in a vested account with UBS. When she left her previous employer however, she was told that if she left Switzerland she could get the money back - in cash.

What amount of the money shown in her vested account (say its 100K for simplicity) does she have access to? Is the 100K including all 3 pillars?

We've now hopped over the border in France, and are looking to buy a house. Clearly reducing the amount of mortgage we need is in our interest, so getting our hands on the pension now (rather than having it accumulate next to zero interest) is in our interest!

Also, if I understand some of these posts correctly, leaving things as they are now, she will only be entitled to a UK state pension when she retires!? Surely not...?

The Bank statement of vested benefits should show the split between obligatory and super-obligatory assets. The obligatory part is blocked for Swiss and EU residents. The optional rest is available after taxation. Ask the Bank for clarification.

Dawn Clifton 01.07.2009 10:17

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
We have just completed the application for a refund on our Swiss pension (We are no longer in an EU contry), does anyone know how long it takes before they pay out?

Goldtop 01.07.2009 20:00

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Dawn Clifton (Post 485719)
We have just completed the application for a refund on our Swiss pension (We are no longer in an EU contry), does anyone know how long it takes before they pay out?

Depends on the administrators of the specific pension fund. Best to ask them.

D98 14.07.2009 21:03

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
My UK Company Pension is not on the list, but this one is:

3rd pilar 7.408.347 [Zurich Life]

Is it possible for me to set up this third pillar independantly of co pension and use it to transfer my UK pension here?

D

Goldtop 18.07.2009 13:22

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by D98 (Post 495623)
My UK Company Pension is not on the list, but this one is:

3rd pilar 7.408.347 [Zurich Life]

Is it possible for me to set up this third pillar independantly of co pension and use it to transfer my UK pension here?

D

There exists a 3a and a 3b version of 3rd pillar.
  • 3a annual contribution is constrained. Max contribution is approx CHF 6'666 for those who have a Pillar 2. Those without a Pillar 2 can contribute 20% of income up to a cap of about CHF 32k. The contributions are tax deductible. Withdrawal only on retirement or permanently emigrating or some other special situations. Withdrawals are taxable.
  • 3b is not tax deductible. Yield on 3b can be tax free after minimum holding period, e.g. 10 years.
Hence 3a cannot accept your UK pension capital. The 3b can accept any funds, if you are younger than 66. I do not know UK pension rules and whether a UK pension plan would agree.

JHosche 20.07.2009 11:53

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Dawn Clifton (Post 485719)
We have just completed the application for a refund on our Swiss pension (We are no longer in an EU contry), does anyone know how long it takes before they pay out?

Where does one typically get the application for a refund on a Swiss pension? Is it handled by your company, by the bank that holds the pension, or by the government? We're permanently returning to the US in August and I just want to make sure I have all my information up front before discussing it with my company (if that's who I have to discuss it with)

I'm interested in 2nd pillar information really.

Goldtop 20.07.2009 20:14

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by JHosche (Post 499729)
Where does one typically get the application for a refund on a Swiss pension? Is it handled by your company, by the bank that holds the pension, or by the government? We're permanently returning to the US in August and I just want to make sure I have all my information up front before discussing it with my company (if that's who I have to discuss it with)

I'm interested in 2nd pillar information really.

Discuss it with the administrators of the company's pension-plan. The company may be administering itself. Smaller companies often outsource admin to an insurer or specialized pension providers. Ask your HR/payroll officer.

kiwiguy08 27.07.2009 08:37

Reclaiming Pensionskasse (PK)
 
I plan on leaving Switzerland permanently at the end of this year and as I understand, I will be able to reclaim the money that I put into the Pensionskasse. Im trying to estimate how much I will have available....I couldnt answer some of my questions by searching the forum

1) Will I be able to reclaim all of the money that I put in (plus any interest growth)?
2) Will the money I put into the PK be taxed when I remove it? I assume interest will be. But not sure if they will deduct AHV or Quellensteuer as well
3) What are the rules like regarding employer contributions? Will I be able to take out the amount they put in as well?

Thanks in advance if anyone can answer these questions. I guess everyones PK is a bit different so there may not be a unified answer.

Geen 27.07.2009 08:59

Re: Reclaiming Pensionskasse (PK)
 
Hi,

take a look at this
http://www.englishforum.ch/finance-b...d-summary.html

everything that you need to know. :)

andy02 15.08.2009 14:41

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
Dannyt986's summary is excellent. I will only add a few point on cross-border issues.

All EU/EEA/Swiss countries have totalisation arrangements and all or most of them have totalisation arrangements with the USA and some (not Britain) with Canada. (Britain's with Canada & Québec is for the avoidance of double contributions only.) In what follows, only Canada (Old Age Security) and the USA (Windfall Elimination Provision) and Britain (refusal of COLA to retirees residing in a country without a totalisation agreement) have rules which deny full benefits to certain, or many, expats. That notwithtanding, for those who are eligible to do so and who are middle income or less, it usually pays to make voluntary contributions (voluntary AVS, in principle no longer allowed for residents of an EU/EEA country; voluntary class 3 NICs; for the USA one would have to contrive self-employment income sufficient for 4 "quarters of coverage" (4 x $1,090 in 2009). It is worthwhile doing what you have to, paying US "Self Employment Tax" (15.3% on that $4,360 to get ten years' worth of credits) if you are eligible to do so (by reason of citizenship, green card, work permit, etc.) resident or not, so as to qualify for minimum Social Security pension (despite the WEP which reduces benefits for those who also get a foreign pension unless they have 30 years of "substantial earnings" -- i.e. reducing benefits from 90% of income to 30%. Why? Because you also get free and gratis at age 65 Medicare Part A hospital insurance. And you never know: you might be visiting the USA in retirement when you fall ill.

In general if you have ten years' of credits in a single country you get a pension directly from that country without totalisation (consolidation with another treaty partner's pension). That is usually better than the alternative, and if you have contributions to two countries in a single year the duplicate contribution is otherwise lost (in every case I've looked at).

Some countries forgive contributions once you reach retirement age. The Canadian Pension Plan and the UK plan do; but the Québec and USA plans do not. You can use that to your advantage if you are highly paid, contriving to be paid in a jurisdiction that charges no tax but your being "subject to tax" nonetheless means you don't have to pay anywhere else either.

You can also contrive to benefit under various tax treaties which, while usually allowing only the country of residence to tax pensions, sometimes provides otherwise. (It is UK policy always to tax its civil service and military pensions, and other countries tend to go along with that and so a UK state retiree in the USA will pay UK tax on his UK pension and US tax on everything else, throwing him into the lowest tax bracket in each. (But watch out: US states are not bound by federal tax treaties so there may be state income tax.) This may work as between the UK and Switzerland as well; I haven't looked yet.

It is possible to transfer pensions, Canadian REERs, UK personal pensions, etc. abroad under some circumstances. I almost never advise it. Several reasons, not the least following from the fact that I spent several years as a bankruptcy lawyer. In this economy one never knows, and both state pensions and many (not all) private pensions are unreachable by creditors at least in the country where it is based. I had a number of cross-border bankruptcy cases where the US bankruptcy trustee did not attempt to reach a foreign pension that he might have done. He could not reach an ERISA pension in the USA, but would a foreign pension, transferred to the USA, qualify? If not he could have seized it.

I am retired now and get (admittedly trivial) state pension from four countries including Switzerland. I get an inflation-proofed government service pension that it would have been folly to compromise. Yet I know of cases, in the USA and in the UK, of some who have done so. In the latter case (UK), nasty, greedy, stupid commission salespersons convinced nurses and other civil servants to opt out of inflation-proof civil service pensions in favour of their proprietary ones. Their customers are poor, many of the pension providers are essentially insolvent and judgment proof.

There is little advice to be had that is worth having, except by paying for it. And even then the advice is mixed. Expats are really on their own. The only advice I can give is to be cynical. And assume that, whatever they say, countries currently faced with negative equity (mortgages, etc.) will inflate their way out of the problem rather than continue with unpopular bailouts. And their cost-of-living indexes will be manipulated as they have always been. Still, any asset that you can get (a state pension, etc.) that rises with inflation is something to hold on to.

These are hard times, and there's a war on.

lewton 16.08.2009 23:55

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
WOW, this thread is a treasure!

If I didn't get it wrong, when I leave Switzerland for an EU country I might not be able to get an immediate pay of my 1st and 2nd pillar funds, but whatever I have saved as a 3rd pillar capital will be at my disposal.
Is this correct?

Goldtop 20.08.2009 16:09

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by lewton (Post 521998)
WOW, this thread is a treasure!

If I didn't get it wrong, when I leave Switzerland for an EU country I might not be able to get an immediate pay of my 1st and 2nd pillar funds, but whatever I have saved as a 3rd pillar capital will be at my disposal.
Is this correct?

Yes, Pillar-3 can be withdrawn. You get the net after Swiss taxes at source.

lewton 20.08.2009 20:04

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Goldtop (Post 525787)
Yes, Pillar-3 can be withdrawn. You get the net after Swiss taxes at source.

Thanks a lot. :)
If I may ask one more thing, do you know how soon I can actually have this money? Does it take some months to get it back?

Goldtop 20.08.2009 20:53

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by lewton (Post 526032)
Thanks a lot. :)
If I may ask one more thing, do you know how soon I can actually have this money? Does it take some months to get it back?

Pillar-3 bank account can usually be liquidated within 4 or 5 days.
You must submit:
  1. Application form.
  2. Certificate of de-registration from the Swiss commune where you resided.
  3. If married, notarized signature of spouse agreeing to liquidation.

lewton 21.08.2009 00:23

Re: Swiss pensions consolidated summary
 
Thanks again. ;)


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