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

By Baptiste Wicht | Updated: | Retirement, Financial Independence, Investing, Switzerland

(Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links)

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

While the first pillar covers everybody’s basic needs, the second pillar is here to cover a larger part of your salary. 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 article, I am going to give you all the important details 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… But, we will simply call it second pillar in this article.

This second 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. The contribution is a percentage of your salary.

Interestingly, your employer will at least match your contribution. Some employers contribute 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 an essential fact. You will pay the taxes when you withdraw your second pillar.

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 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. It means that when you change company, you will likely change pension fund as well.

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.

Vested Benefits

If you change employer, you will need to transfer your existing contributions to the new pension fund. But if you do not directly switch to a new job, you will transfer the funds into a vested benefits account. 

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 reach retirement age. Even if it is in your name, there is not a lot you can do with it. In some cases, you can choose how the money is invested. But, you cannot move money in or out.

The same is true if you leave Switzerland. Until the age of retirement, you will have to keep the money in a vested benefits account.

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.

Vested benefits accounts are generally much better than second pillar pension funds. For instance, you can take a look at finpension. They offer an excellent vested benefits account.

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 yearly 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 CHF)
  • 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 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 you can 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.

1e pension plans

There is actually a third part for the second pillar, the 1e pension plan. This plan offers better investments for persons with very large salaries. It is not well-known because very few employers have such a plan.

If you want to know more, read my article about the 1e pension plan.

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 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 a serious accident.

In the case of death, the surviving spouse will get 60% of the deceased’s full disability pension. 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 only get three years of pension at once.

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

If you want more details, I have an entire article explaining what would happen to your retirement benefits if you died.

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 becomes important. The annuity will be computed using the conversion rate. If you convert 200’000 CHF with a conversion rate of 6.8%, you will get a 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.

Whether you should choose between these options is discussed below.

Should I take an annuity or a lump sum?

There no definite answer to this question.

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 manage 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.

If you do not invest your money or get lower returns than the conversion rate, you should probably opt for the annuity. It also depends on how much you need that money. Maybe you have planned to use that large sum for something specific. But be careful about considering the taxes.

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 before retirement, the inheritance of the second pillar depends on whether you have it in a vested benefits account or in a pension account.

First, if you have it in a standard pension account and if you die, this money can be passed to your spouse or your legal heirs. This is the standard way of inheritance.

However, if you do not have heirs or a 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.

For a vested benefits account, it is simpler, it is based on the standard inheritance procedure.

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

You can make voluntary contributions to the second pillar to fill contribution gaps.

Like 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 were unemployed for some years. If you leave Switzerland, you will stop contributing too. Finally, it generally happens 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 a good way to increase your pension and 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 compare the second pillar to investing in the stock market, the second pillar will only be interesting in the short-term. It will provide nice tax savings, but the interests are so low, it will not return much after that.

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 essential thing is where you live when you withdraw your second pillar. This is what will matter for the second pillar. There can be a huge 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 pillar withdrawal, 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 companies, they give you the choice of how much to invest in it. And some companies can even match your extra contributions.

Increase 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 help you to have the funds for the downpayment on 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. If you work in Switzerland and live in a neighbouring country, you can actually use this money to buy a house abroad. But again, you will have to live in this property.

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 must repay what you withdrew.

Voluntary contributions into your second pillar after early withdrawal will not be tax-free. After you have reached the same amount as 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 available amount 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 see, 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 fortunate, your pension fund will have a web portal where you can see this information online. It will depend on your pension fund. My new second pillar company 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 to your net worth will give you a better picture of your entire assets.

FAQ

What is the second pillar in Switzerland?

The second pillar is an occupational pension. Every people that worked in Switzerland and received a salary of more than 21000 CHF per year are eligible for this pension.

How much will I receive from the second pillar?

How much you will receive will depend on how much you contributed. It will also depend on your last salary. Finally, some second pillars have better conditions than others. You can ask your second pillar provider for an estimation of how much you will receive at retirement.

How can I optimize my second pillar?

You can do some voluntary contributions to your second pillar. But keep in mind that these contributions will be locked in your second pillar until you can withdraw them. You can also increase your salary to increase your second pillar contributions.

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. Under normal circumstances, 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?

Baptiste Wicht 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.

67 thoughts on “All you need to know about The Second Pillar to retire in Switzerland”

  1. Hi, when leaving Switzerland to an EU country, is it possible to withdraw only the 2b part and transfer the 2a to the Vested Benefits? Thank you

  2. Hello,
    Nice article, thanks.
    1. What papers are required to receive the full 2nd pillar when leaving Switzerland for a non UE country?

    2.can the money be transferred to a Swiss bank account or it had to be a bank account from the new country where one moved?
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Nata,

      Thanks :)

      1. I don’t know, I am guessing this depends on each second pillar pension company.
      2. This depends on each company. Some companies will gladly do the transfer any place, but some pension providers will be more difficult.

      This is something that you have to clear out with your current pension provider to be sure.

  3. Hi Baptist,

    first of all compliments for the blog, I found it very useful!

    Here my questions:
    1) was the conversion rate of 6,8% reduced to 5,6% recently?

    2) Should the conversion rate for mandatory and extra mandatory be mentioned in the yearly report we receive?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi FF,

      1) No. But the 6.8% is only on the mandatory part of your second pillar.
      2) I am not sure, but I believe most pension providers will write it down there. But since it could change, I am not sure it’s mandatory for it to be here. They should provide it somewhere though.

  4. With the current discussions going on about the BVG reform would you still consider the pillar 2 as a safe investment on the level of bonds? There seems to be a lot of uncertainty what the BVG is going to look like in the future. Especially for people with a long time until retirement this might be considered considerable extra risk.

    1. Hi WK,

      I still think of it as bonds. I don’t see the second pillar disappear. But I see the conversion rate getting lower and lower each year.
      The main issue for me is if they don’t allow lump-sum withdrawals. That’s going to be an issue in which case we can’t really consider them as bonds.
      And even if I consider them as bonds, I don’t plan to invest particularly in them.

  5. Do the contributions to Pillar 2a affect the tax rate?
    For example, if my gross income is 100.000 and I pay a particular tax rate, will paying 10k to pillar 2a change my tax rate to be determined based on my gross income of 90k (and 10k is tax-free in pillar 2a)?

    1. Hi Mohit,

      No, it does not affect the rate.

      The tax rate is progressive, it does not apply the same tax rate to the entire income.

      For instance, it could tax 1% of the first 10K, 2% of the income between 10K and 20K, 3% between 20K and 40K, and so on.
      So, removing 10K will just go lower in the scale. The advantage is that you are removing the most taxed income first since tax is progressive.

      So, in your example, the 90K will still be taxed as before. So, if you have 90K income or 90K income and 10K tax-free, you should be taxed in the same way.

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