All you need to know about The Second Pillar to retire in Switzerland

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The three pillars of Retirement in Switzerland – 2. The second pillar Logo

We have studied the first pillar in the previous post in the series. Now, it is time to see the second pillar. The second pillar is an occupational pension for people working in Switzerland.

The first pillar covers the basic needs of everybody. If you did not read the previous part, I would encourage you to do it before you read this article. The second pillar is here to cover a larger part of your salary than the first one. It is an occupational pension. If you never worked, you will never pay anything for this, and you will never receive anything from this. It is significantly more complicated than the first pillar.

In this post, I am going to give you all the important details as possible on the second pillar. I am also going to help you understand what you can do to improve it.

The Second Pillar

The second pillar is your work pension. In French, it is called Loi fédérale sur la prévoyance professionnelle vieillesse, survivants et invalidité (LPP). In German, it is Bundesgesetz über die berufliche Alters-, Hinterlassenen- und Invalidenvorsorge (BVG). As you can see, the Swiss government is very good to make short names…

This pillar is a pension for every people who worked in Switzerland and paid into the LPP. Every Swiss employee of at least 24 years and with an annual salary of more than 21’150 CHF contributes to the second pillar. It is directly deducted from your salary and transferred to your pension fund. Interestingly, your employer will at least match your contribution. Some company contributes more than this. If you are an independent, you will have to pay both the employee and employee parts. How much you pay for the second pillar depends on your age:

  1. 25 to 34 years old: 7%
  2. 35 to 44 years old: 10%
  3. 45 to 54 years old: 15%
  4. 55 to 65 (64 for women) years old: 18%

The percentage deducted from your salary depends on the part your employer is paying. All the contributions to the second pillar are pre-tax. It is a very important fact. You will pay the taxes when you withdraw your second pillar. You may notice that as you get older, you put more and more into your second pillar. It means that the last years matter a lot in the calculations of your second pillar pension. It is a bit dumb because the first years are the ones that compound the most and, therefore, should be contributed higher.

The first pillar was global insurance. You are paying for other people. But the second pillar is a physical account, in your pension fund, with your name. So this is your money.

There is another big difference. Your pension fund is related to your current employer. Each employer chooses its pension fund provider.

Some companies will have a better option for the second pillar than others. Most second pillar providers are extremely conservative. But there are a few good ones that allow investing your money in stocks.

Changing employer

If you change employer, you will need to transfer your existing contributions to the new pension fund.

If you lose or quit your job, you will need to transfer the funds into a vested benefits account. This account will be locked until you get a new job (and a new pension fund) or you reach retirement age. Even if it is in your name, there is not a lot you can do with it. You cannot choose how the money is invested. You cannot move money in or out.

If you retire early, you will also keep the money in a vested benefits account as soon as you quit your job. It will stay there until the official retirement age.

Mandatory vs. Extra Mandatory

Now starts the complicated part about the second pillar. We have to distinguish between the mandatory insured salary and the extra-mandatory salary.

We will only be talking about the yearly salary here. The mandatory insured salary is the salary between MIN and MAX. MIN is defined as 7/8 of the maximum of the first pillar, which is 24’675 CHF. MAX is defined as three times the maximum of the first pillar, which is 84’600. If your salary is between 21’151 CHF and 28’200 CHF, your mandatory insured salary will be 3’525 CHF. Everything higher than MAX is the extra-mandatory salary. So, the maximum mandatory insured salary is 59’925 CHF (MAX-MIN).

Let’s see a few examples with different annual salaries:

  • 20’000 CHF: Not eligible to the second pillar (less than 21’150 CHF)
  • 25’000 CHF: Mandatory insured salary of 3’525 CHF (less than 28’200)
  • 30’000 CHF: Mandatory insured salary of 5’325 CHF
  • 50’000 CHF: Mandatory insured salary of 25’325 CHF
  • 84’600 CHF: Mandatory insured salary of 59’925 CHF
  • 100’000 CHF: Mandatory insured salary of 59’925 CHF and Extra-mandatory salary of 15’400.

So what is the difference between these two parts?

I mentioned before the contribution rate for the second pillar. These were the contributions to the mandatory part. The contributions for the extra-mandatory part depends on your pension fund and your company.

Another difference is the interest rate. The law sets a minimum interest rate of 1% on your mandatory contributions. But there is no minimum for the extra-mandatory portion. Your pension fund can offer better (or worse) interest on it. It is generally a bit better on the extra-mandatory portion. This interest is the only way your second pillar account money will grow. It is not a really great interest rate. But there is nothing you can do about it. It still beats Swiss banks currently.

The last difference is the conversion rate. This rate will define how much pension can you get out of the capital. The law sets a minimum conversion rate of 6.8% for the mandatory portion of your capital. Again, there is no minimum for the extra-mandatory part. Your pension fund will set the conversion rate. Generally, it is significantly worse than the conversion rate on the mandatory part.

Insurance for death and disability

The second pillar also acts as insurance in two cases.

In the case of disability, the insured person will get a disability pension. The basis for the pension is all the assets accumulated until and the sum of all the future credits. But they will not take interest into account for the future credits. It is great insurance in case of

In the case of death, the surviving spouse will get 60% of the full disability pension of the deceased. However, there are some conditions for eligibility. There should be either the duty to provide for children or being at least 45 years old, and the marriage lasted at least five years. If these conditions are not met, the surviving spouse will get three years of pension at once only.

In both cases, the government will review the pension every two or three years based on the cost of living of the beneficiary.

How much will I get from the second pillar?

Once you reach retirement age (65 for men, 64 for women), you can get your second pillar. You have three options:

  1. An annuity
  2. A lump sum
  3. A lump and an annuity

Here is where the conversion rate is important. The annuity will be computed using the conversion rate. If you are converting 200’000 CHF with a conversion rate of 6.8%, you will get 13’200 CHF pension each year. If you take a lump sum, you will pay capital taxes, and if you take an annuity, you will pay income tax on top of it. For the extra-mandatory part, the conversion rate will depend on your pension fund.

Inheritance and second pillar

Now, I said that the second pillar was your money. This is true. But there is a case where you could lose this money. Or, at least, your family could lose this money.

If you die, this money can be passed to your spouse or to your legal heirs. This is the standard way of inheritance. However, if you do not have heirs and spouse, this will not be distributed according to the inheritance law. For instance, your parents will not be eligible. And this money will get back to the state.

So, if you have no heir and spouse, you may consider your second pillar a bit differently.

Should I take an annuity or a lump sum?

There no definite answer on this. It will depend on the conversion rate at the age of your retirement. And how much you expect to get out of the capital each year if you were managing it yourself. Generally, if you were to invest the amount into stocks, you would do, on average, better than the current conversion rates. However, there is a risk with stocks, whereas the conversion rate is guaranteed. In the end, you will have to do the math yourself, depending on your situation.

How to optimize your second pillar?

Compared to the first pillar, there are a few things you can do to optimize your second pillar.

Voluntary contributions to the second pillar

Just as it was the case for the first pillar, you can have holes in your second pillar. Contribution holes (or gaps) can happen in several cases. For instance, if you started to contribute late due to your studies or if you were unemployed for some years. If you leave Switzerland, you will stop contributing too. Finally, it generally happens only because your salary is higher now than before. Therefore, you could contribute more now because your current salary would have allowed you to contribute more.

You can fill these holes (or contribution gaps) by voluntary contributions (or buy-ins). These contributions are pre-tax, too, so this will reduce your taxes. However, your employer will not match them. Moreover, buy-ins are always extra-mandatory. Finally, these contributions are locked for three years. It means there is no way to withdraw them before. You can ask your pension fund how much you can contribute to filling the gaps. There is an annual limit on how much you can contribute. They will also give you directions on how to perform these voluntary contributions.

If you have the means to do it, I think it is an excellent way to increase your pension and to lower your taxes. However, you need to be sure whether you should contribute to your second pillar or not. Be sure of what you are doing, because this money will be locked for years. It is also money that will not return a lot of interest. But it is a safe investment. You can think of it as a long-term bond investment.

If you want more details on the subject, you can read whether you should contribute to your second pillar or not.

Taxes

When you withdraw the second pillar, you will pay taxes on the withdrawal. This is at a better rate than if you had been taxed in the first place. But this is still a non-negligible part.

One thing that is very important is where you live when you withdraw your second pillar. This is what will matter for the second pillar. There can be a very large difference between different states. Moreover, you will also pay a wealth tax that can also vary from state to state.

If you want to compare the implications of where you live on your second, you can try to take a look at this calculator. It will tell you how much you will pay taxes on your second pillar if you take a lump sum.

When you do the calculation, you need to take taxes into account. This could help you decide between a lump sum and a pension. And you may want to consider this when you move to a new place.

Change employer

Another thing you can do is choose a company with a better pension fund. Of course, this is not practical, and the pension fund should probably not be the main argument for choosing a company over another. But this could make a significant difference in your retirement. You can also ask your company if there is an option for investing more in the second pillar. Indeed, at some company, they give you the choice of how much to invest in it.

Income your income

As for the first pillar, increasing your salary will increase your contributions to the second pillar. Then, it will increase your final pension. Do not forget that contributions to the second pillar are pre-tax. But of course, increasing the salary is not always possible or even what you want. And increasing your salary is an obvious choice if you can do it in good condition.

Withdraw the second pillar before retirement

You can withdraw money from your second pillar before retirement (early withdrawal).

The main reason for early withdrawal is to buy a house. Indeed, you can withdraw your second pillar money to build or buy a house. It will reduce your pension accordingly. But it can significantly help you to have the funds for your house. However, this will only work for your primary residence and the place where you live! You cannot use your second pillar for a secondary residence. And you can only use it for a house in Switzerland!

The same applies if you want to start your own company. You can also withdraw the money if you are leaving Switzerland. The other reason is early retirement. You can withdraw your second pillar five years before retirement age.

The cast of leaving Switzerland is the most complicated. It will depend on where you are going. If you leave for an EU country, you will only be able to withdraw the extra-mandatory part of your second pillar. But that will depend on exactly the country where you are going.

There are some limitations and rules to these early withdrawals. The minimum withdrawal is 20’000 CHF.  If you sell the house you bought with the second pillar, you have to repay what you withdrew. Contributions into your second pillar after early withdrawal will not be tax-free.

After you have reached the same amount before the withdrawal, they will be tax-free again. Be careful that after 50 years old, you are limited in what you can withdraw. After age 50, you can only withdraw the amount that was available when you were 50 or half of what is available. The limit is the maximum of these two numbers. Finally, withdrawals are only possible every five years.

Reporting

Every year, you should receive a report from your pension fund telling you a lot of things. It will give you information about how much you contributed, the mandatory part, the extra-mandatory part… It also predicts how much you will have by retirement. You should not bother too much about the predictions. But it is interesting, nonetheless.

This report is different from each pension fund, but most of the information will be the same. For instance, here is my redacted report from last year:

Page 1 of the report from my second pillar
Page 1 of the report from my second pillar
Page 2 of the report from my second pillar
Page 2 of the report from my second pillar

As you can, there are tons of numbers here. It will also cover things like death or pension in case of handicaps. If you are married or divorced, you will have more information than me.

If you are lucky, you will receive reports more often. And if you are very lucky, your pension fund will have a portal where you can see this information online. It will depend on your pension fund. My new second pillar company (at Pied Piper) updates its online portal monthly. I can track it much better now.

You should always keep these reports if you receive them in the mail (I scan them). They contain important information for your financial future.

Accounting for your Second Pillar

If you are tracking your net worth (and you should!), you may consider the second pillar inside it. I integrate my second pillar in my net worth and count it as bonds. Since it is a very safe and conservative investment, counting as bonds in my net worth makes sense. Adding your second pillar into your net worth will give you a better picture of your entire assets. It is really useful.

If you want to track your net worth monthly, you have two choices. You can either extrapolate yearly information from the report. Or you can use the amount of contributions you do each month from your salary. I use the “Prestation de sortie effective au 31.12.XXXX “ metric from the report. Then, I extrapolate monthly values. If you want more details on this, you can read my article about second pillar and my net worth.

Conclusion

The second pillar is the second part of the retirement system in Switzerland. It will cover a larger portion of your salary in retirement than the first pillar. While the first pillar was for everybody, the second pillar is only for employed people.

How much you get at retirement will mostly depend on your salary. With your first and second pillars together, you should gain a pension of about 70 to 80 percent of your salary. If you want to complete this, you will have to use the third pillar. I will cover the third pillar in the next post of this series. It is an optional part of the retirement system but has many advantages.

To continue learning about the retirement system in Switzerland, read about The Third and Final Pillar.

What do you think about the second pillar? Do you have tips to optimize it? Do you have any questions regarding the second pillar?

Mr. The Poor Swiss

Mr. The Poor Swiss is the author behind thepoorswiss.com. In 2017, he realized that he was falling into the trap of lifestyle inflation. He decided to cut on his expenses and increase his income. This blog is relating his story and findings. In 2019, he is saving more than 50% of his income. He made it a goal to reach Financial Independence. You can send Mr. The Poor Swiss a message here.