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16 Jul 2020

A hand putting coins into a glass bottle that has a plant growing out of it

Why contribute more money than you should into your CPF? A self-employed financial planner shares his reasons for doing so. 


Whenever 28-year-old Aaron Koh1+ tells his peers that he’s self-employed, he almost always gets the same reaction. “There’s usually some misplaced envy, because they assume that I can wake up whenever I want to or take naps after lunch,” he says. Sure, as a self-employed financial planner, he does enjoy a fairly flexible work schedule, but Aaron is quick to point out that he doesn’t get to enjoy the perks that many salaried employees do. 


The most glaring of these is a generous monthly CPF contribution from an employer: employers are required to contribute 17% of an employee’s monthly wage into his or her CPF accounts. This is on top of the 20% contribution made by the employee (i.e. the employee’s share of CPF contributions).2^


“This contribution from the employer is a significant sum, as it’s almost as much as what we contribute for ourselves as an employee,” he explains. Using the example of someone who is 35 years old and below, if he earns $4,000 a month, he would receive $680 from his employer in his CPF accounts every month, in addition to his own contribution of $800. The employee’s share of contribution would stand at $9,600 annually, before interest. That nearly doubles to $17,760 when the employer’s portion is included.  


Having been a financial planner for two years now, Aaron knows just how valuable additional contributions can be to a person’s CPF. “The compound interest on that sum would be significant,” he says, adding that the extra money would go a long way towards meeting one’s housing, healthcare and retirement needs.


Going above and beyond


Aaron also points out a common misconception about self-employed individuals — in that they are free from CPF obligations. This isn’t true: self-employed individuals who earn an annual net trade income of $6,000 and more are required to contribute to their MediSave Account (MA). MediSave is a national savings scheme which helps CPF members save for future medical expenses, especially after retirement. The monthly contribution rate varies from 6% to 8% depending on your income, with a cap at $5,760.  


While compulsory contributions apply to only the MA, Aaron is prepared to make a voluntary contribution to all his three CPF accounts: the Ordinary Account (OA), the MA and the Special Account (SA). 

To meet his goal, Aaron has been earnestly saving a fixed amount every month and hopes to deposit about a fifth of his annual income into his CPF as voluntary contribution by end of the year. Voluntary contributions are distributed into your three CPF accounts, depending on your age; you can check your allocation rate here.

Multiple labelled glass bottles with different uses partially filled with coins

Aaron prefers a lump sum top-up as his income varies from month to month. However, those earning a more stable income can consider small and regular top-ups after setting aside funds for current needs and savings. By making contributions earlier or throughout the year, more interest can be accumulated/earned on the savings in the CPF accounts.


Topping up these CPF accounts benefits Aaron in several ways. For one, he enjoys tax relief for his voluntary contributions as a self-employed individual. The mandatory MediSave contributions also reduce Aaron’s out-of-pocket expenses for medical insurance premiums. “For someone just starting out in his or her career, the extra cash in hand is a big deal,” he shares.


The savings Aaron intends to put into his CPF will also help him realise his goal of getting his own home before he turns 35 years old.

Part of the equation

Aaron’s strategy to top up his CPF complements the other financial instruments he’s using, among them exchange-traded funds and fixed deposits. He explains that the CPF accounts are an important part of his formula because of the attractive interest rates.


Currently, the base interest rate for the OA is 2.5% per annum (p.a.) and 4% p.a. for the MA and SA. These figures do not take into account the extra interest of 1% p.a. that the Government pays on the first $60,000 of your combined balances (capped at $20,000 for OA). 


“What I save in my OA today will become part of the 25% downpayment for my apartment. No need to worry about lock-in periods and policy maturations.”

Man sitting on the sofa with laptop on his lap and a house model toy in his hand

For a house financed with a bank loan, Aaron can use his OA savings to pay the balance of the 25% downpayment, after a minimum 5% downpayment has been paid in cash. If he is financing his flat with an HDB loan, the downpayment required will be 10% and this can be paid in full using his OA savings. OA savings can also be used to service monthly housing loan instalments and other housing-related expenses like stamp duty and legal fees, and Home Protection Scheme premiums (for HDB flats only). 


Read more about ways to budget for a home you can afford


Despite the excellent interest rates offered by CPF, Aaron lets in that a number of his clients are still uncomfortable with using their CPF accounts to shore up their future planning. “They feel like they are locking up their money and making it inaccessible,” he shares.  


But Aaron is eager to help them dispel this misconception by listing the var​ious items that can be funded with CPF monies. “The money in your CPF can be used for your healthcare, housing, child’s education and retirement. These aren’t just personal wants — they are essential needs. So I think it’s wise to plan ahead for them by making the most of the resources they have.”

Illustration providing a guide to CPF for self-employed persons

1+ Not his real name


2^ The CPF contribution rates apply to Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents in their third year and onwards, who are 55 years old and below, and earning a total monthly wage of $750 or more.  ​​


​Information accurate as at 16/7/2020