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How much super do you need to retire comfortably?

Note: This article is updated every 6 months with the latest lifestyle/income data, and latest Age Pension rates. The most recent lifestyle data was released in February 2016 (for lifestyle costs up to December 2015) and includes March 2016 Age Pension rates (which apply until September 2016). The article outlines how much money you will need to finance a retirement of 22 years, regardless of whether you retire at age 65, age 67 or even age 70. Due to reader demand, we have included additional figures, listing the lump sums needed on retirement if your super/investments return 5% a year during retirement, as well as if investment returns are 7% a year during retirement. We provide tables for both couples (Table 1) and single Australians (Table 2). The lump sum amounts quoted take into account Age Pension changes taking effect from January 2017.

So, the big question is: how much money is enough for your retirement? Or more specifically, have you worked out the amount of superannuation and other savings that you will need to finance your retirement?

Lifestyle is a very personal thing —luxury living for one person is a modest existence for someone else. This article offers you some guidance on the amount of money you need if you want to cover your basic living costs and support a hobby or active social life. For example, do you expect to take frequent holidays and are you planning to enjoy regular glasses of wine or beer?

Choosing a lifestyle is simple — you live the life you can afford. If you want a more salubrious lifestyle, you save more, earn more, win the lottery or inherit lots of money from a rich relative. The same philosophy applies to your retirement lifestyle. If you want a comfortable life in retirement, then now is a good time to start thinking about what that type of life will look like.

Note: This question holds greater importance now that the Age Pension assets test will become stricter for those seeking a part Age Pension to supplement retirement savings. From January 2017, rather than losing $1.50 of Age Pension for each $1,000 over the full Age Pension asset threshold, a retiree will lose $3.00 of Age Pension for every $1,000 over the threshold (for more information on the Age Pension changes see SuperGuide articles Latest retirement deal! Lose Age Pension, receive Seniors Health Card and Age Pension: 300,000-plus Australians lose entitlements from January 2017).

UPDATED ASIC CALCULATOR: According to ASIC, the ASIC MoneySmart retirement planner calculator that we use for this article, now takes into account the January 2017 changes to the Age Pension assets test. According to superannuation lobby group ASFA, the stricter Age Pension assets test will mean that Australian couples will need to accumulate an extra $130,000 (savings target of $640,000) for a ‘comfortable’ retirement to make up for the loss of Age Pension due to stricter assets test, while a single person will need to accumulate an extra $115,000 (savings target of $545,000) in savings for a comfortable retirement. Based on the retirement planner calculator however, the higher savings targets for a comfortable retirement are much lower than ASFA estimates. See later in the article for tables listing retirement target amounts.

IMPORTANT: Since 1 January 2015, new superannuation pensions are treated differently under the Age Pension rules. This change is likely to affect the lump sums you will need on retirement. The lump sum amounts in the tables also take this change of treatment into account. For more information on this change see SuperGuide article New income test rules mean less Age Pension.

How much super do I need to retire?

If you are reading this article for the first time, then continue reading the following text for important background information explaining the lump figures listed in Tables 1 and 2 later in the article. The amounts listed in Tables 1 and 2 are expressed in today’s dollars (and I have assumed annual inflation of 3%) to enable you to compare your potential retirement income with what you currently live on today.

If you have previously read an earlier version of this article then head directly to updated Tables 1 and 2 (later in the article, or you can access the tables immediately by clicking on the bullets below) for the lump sums needed on retirement to finance a ‘modest’ or ‘comfortable’ lifestyle for 22 year (until the age of 87 if retiring at 65, or until 89 if retiring at 67), taking into account the latest changes in the cost of living, and the latest Age Pension increases.

Note: The tables appearing later in the article assume funding a retirement of 22 years, and if a person lives longer than 22 years in retirement, then the person relies on the Age Pension at the end of the 22-year period. If you choose, or are forced, by the Age Pension rules, to delay retirement until Age Pension age of 67, or you retire even later, then the tables remain relevant. In other words, the lump sums listed in Tables 1 and 2 can support a retirement of 22 years. If you were born after December 1956, then your Age Pension age is 67, which means that the balances listed in the table will last until age 89 (rather than 87). Likewise, if you choose to retire at age 70, then lump sums listed will last until age 92 (rather than 87). For more information on Age Pension age, see SuperGuide article Age Pension age increasing to 67 years (not 70 years) .

Saving enough to cover basic living costs, and more

Clearly, the one constant for every Australian in retirement is meeting basic living costs. Thanks to a groundbreaking study originally released in February 2004 and now updated every few months or so, I can tell you, with some authority, how much money you need to live on each year in retirement, depending on the lifestyle that you want to have. The study, known as the ‘ASFA Retirement Standard’, measures the cost of a modest or comfortable lifestyle in retirement, in dollar terms, and adjusts these costs periodically in line with the cost of living.

The ASFA Retirement Standard study is groundbreaking because Australians now have a tangible savings target with a clear idea of what type of lifestyle that amount of money can give them in retirement.

In 2010, the ASFA Retirement Standard was revamped to “give Australians a more comprehensive picture of how much they need to spend to support their retirement lifestyle. The Standard has been revised to reflect changes in living standards, new expectations of retirees and their evolving spending patterns. In particular, the budgets for Communications, Health, Energy, Clothing, Household Goods and Services, Recreation and Transport have been updated” (extract from ASFA website). I explain these recent changes to the Standard later in this article.

Note: In 2015, ASFA created a new retirement standard for older retirees (aged 85), to differentiate from the existing ASFA Retirement Standard that is based on retirees aged 70. Interestingly, the income required for a modest lifestyle for Australians aged 85 is nearly identical to the income required at age 70, while a comfortable lifestyle for 85-year-olds costs roughly $5,000 a year less than for a retiree aged 70. For more information on this new standard for octogenarians see the ASFA website.

Costing a comfortable retirement, or a modest lifestyle

The lifestyle costs in this article reflect the cost adjustments as at December 2015 (released during February 2016), and the Age Pension rates are applicable from March 2016 (the full Age Pension rates quoted below and elsewhere in the article are applicable until September 2016).

Assuming you own your own home, you need the following amounts of money, after tax, to give a couple, or a single person, a basic, modest or comfortable lifestyle:

  • Basic lifestyle (Age Pension only — $34,252 a year for a couple, or $22,721 a year for a single person, including pension supplement and Energy Supplement, as at March 2016 and applicable until September 2016). The single Age Pension now represents 27.7 per cent of Male Total Average Weekly Earnings. Are you willing to live on 27.7 per cent of an average Australian’s income? Living solely on the Age Pension gives you a basic income and access to discounts on health services and energy costs. While this figure is an amount you can survive on, many Australians don’t expect to live within this level of income by choice. (The full Age Pension rates are adjusted every six months, with next adjustment on 20 September 2016, and then 20 March 2017. The thresholds for a part Age Pension entitlement are adjusted 3 times a year – in March, July and September). For more information on the Age Pension rates see regularly updated SuperGuide article Age Pension: September 2016 rates now apply (until March 2017).
  • Modest lifestyle ($34,226 a year for a couple, or $23,797 a year for a single person). The full Age Pension income has now overtaken the modest lifestyle income for a couple, but not for a single person. For a single person, receiving an after-tax income that is marginally higher than the Age Pension obviously gives you a better lifestyle than living solely on social security, but you can only afford low-cost activities.
  • Comfortable lifestyle ($59,236 a year for a couple, or $43,184 a year for a single person). Living on this level of after-tax income means you can enjoy more recreational activities. Also, you can afford to purchase higher level private health insurance, higher quality household goods and travel regularly. Even so, a ‘comfortable’ lifestyle isn’t outlandish. 

Note: If you take an superannuation pension (income stream) from a super fund or withdraw lump sums from the super system, you can expect to pay no personal income tax on your pension payment income, provided you’re aged 60 or over (excepting some public servants, who may have to pay a small amount of tax). Even when you’re under the age of 60, with the help of good tax advice, you can earn the amounts necessary for a modest or comfortable lifestyle without paying a cent of personal income tax.

Living in comfort on $59,000 a year (or $43,000 for a single person)

What does a ‘comfortable’ lifestyle of just over $59,000 a year for a couple (or just over $43,000 a year for a single person), buy you that a ‘modest’ lifestyle of $34,226 a year for a couple (or $23,797 a year for a single person) can’t?

According to the ASFA Retirement Standard, a comfortable lifestyle enables “an older, healthy retiree to be involved in a broad range of leisure and recreational activities and to have a good standard of living through the purchase of such things as; household goods, private health insurance, a reasonable car, good clothes, a range of electronic equipment, and domestic and occasionally international holiday travel.”

According to ASFA, the revised standard now takes into account additional expenditure in the following categories:

  1. More retirees want a mobile phone and broadband internet connection. In 2010, changes were made to both the comfortable and modest budgets.
  2. Private health insurance. The cost of private health cover is now included in both ‘modest’ and ‘comfortable’ lifestyles, because most retirees have private health insurance.
  3. Adjusted to reflect changing consumer patterns.
  4. Adjusted to reflect more diverse shopping patterns.
  5. Household goods and services. This component now includes the cost of computer equipment upgrades, hairdressing and personal care items. The ‘comfortable’ lifestyle includes air conditioning, home alarm, and regular pest inspections.
  6. This component was revamped in 2010 to include membership of social and sporting clubs, and the cost of eating out. The comfortable lifestyle allows for purchase of fishing gear or golf clubs.
  7. Adjusted to reflect the increased cost of owning and running a car.

What’s your savings target, then?

If you expect to live on more than the Age Pension (full Age Pension rates are $34,252 for a couple, or $22,721 for a single person, effective since March 2016), you will need to find the extra income from your super and non-super savings.

Generally, the lower the investment return on your savings during retirement, the larger the lump sum needed when you start your retirement. Conversely, the higher the investment return you receive on your savings in retirement, the smaller the lump sum needed when you retire.

Note: If your return target is a higher investment return, then you generally have to take more risk with your investments to deliver that higher return.

Five important facts or questions to be mindful of when considering the figures in the tables below are:

  • Are you eligible for the Age Pension? You’re going to need smaller retirement lump sum amounts if you’re eligible for the Age Pension. The tables later in this article look at lump sums required with Age Pension entitlements, and without Age Pension entitlements. In many cases, assuming an individual structures their finances appropriately, many Australians are likely to be eligible for at least a part-Age Pension.
  • Assume a retirement of 22 years. The lump sums listed in the tables later in the article finance a retirement of 22 years. If you retire at your Age Pension age, say age 65, the income will last until age 87, and then you rely only on the Age Pension. The Age Pension age is set to increase from age 65 to age 67, effective from year 2023, and increases to 65.5 years from 1 July 2017. If you were born before 1 July 1952, then your Age Pension age remains at 65.
  • Are you planning to retire before Age Pension age? If you retire before Age Pension age, that is, 65 years or up to 67 years, depending on your date of birth, then you need a bigger lump sum than those shown in the table below because you have to finance a longer life in retirement, and you’re not going to be eligible to apply for an Age Pension until you reach Age Pension age.
  • Age Pension age increasing to 67 years. If you were born on or after 1 January 1957, then you don’t have access to the Age Pension until the age of 67. For those born after June 1952 and before January 1957, Age Pension age is either 65.5, 66 or 66.5 years. For more information see SuperGuide article Age Pension age increasing to 67 years (not 70 years).
  • Are you retiring at age 67, or a later age: The lump sums listed in Tables 1 and 2 (see later in the article) can support a retirement of 22 years. If you retire at age 65 (and are eligible for the Age Pension at this age), then the lump sums will enable you to have the specified lifestyle until age 87. If you were born after December 1956, then your Age Pension age is 67, which means the table assume you retire at age 67, and the balances listed in the table will last until age 89 (rather than 87). Likewise, if you choose to retire at age 70, then the lump sums listed will last until age 92 (rather than 87).

For those wanting to live on more than $59,000 a year

A popular question: What if a ‘comfortable’ life of just over $59,000 a year for a couple (or just over $43,000 a year for a single person) was not what you had in mind for your retirement. Perhaps you were expecting to enjoy an income of say, $100,000 a year. You can find out how much money you need for a $100,000-plus a year lifestyle in retirement in the SuperGuide article Setting a retirement target: Living on more than $59,000 a year.

Another popular question: What if you want a comfortable life AND you want to leave money to your children after you leave this earth? You can find an interesting discussion on this issue in an older SuperGuide article How $1 million can last longer than you How $1 million can last longer than you and in the comments section at the end of this article. For background reading to the ‘…last longer than you’ article you can also check out the SuperGuide article Retirement: Today’s dollars and why $1 million can’t last forever?

Note: The ASIC MoneySmart retirement planner calculator that we use for this article, now takes into account the January 2017 changes to the Age Pension assets test.

Retirement savings targets – on investment returns of 5%, or 7%

The tables below (a separate table for couples and a separate table for single Australians) lists the lump sum amounts that you need when you retire, and which you then need to invest on retirement (or your pension fund invests on your behalf) to deliver a ‘modest’ or ‘comfortable’ lifestyle.

Note: Due to reader demand, we have added an additional column to cater for those readers who will be opting for more conservative investments (long-term return of 5% per annum) in retirement. See Tables 1 and 2. In the next update of this article, we will add an additional table to cater for retirees investing money in retirement in a low-return environment.

Table 1 lists retirement lump sums for couples, when eligible for the Age Pension (and also when not eligible for the Age Pension), and assumes your savings are invested and returning 5% per annum, or invested and returning 7% per annum, during retirement.

Table 2 lists retirement lump sums for single Australians, when eligible for the Age Pension (and also when not eligible for the Age Pension), and assumes your savings are invested and returning 5% per annum, or invested and returning 7% per annum, during retirement.

NOTE: According to industry lobby group, ASFA, the impact of the January 2017 changes to the Age Pension assets test mean that anyone aspiring to a comfortable lifestyle in retirement will add an extra $130,000 (for a couple), and $115,000 (for a single person) to a retirement savings target, due to the partial or full loss of a part Age Pension entitlement.

Table 1: Couple – What type of lifestyle do you want during retirement?

LifestyleAnnual IncomeLump Sum Needed
on Retirement
Annual IncomeLump Sum Needed
on Retirement
No Age PensionReceives
Age Pension
No Age PensionReceives
Age Pension
Invested at 5%Invested at 7%
Basic
(Age Pension)
$34,252N/A$0$34,252N/A$0
Modest$34,226$645,000$0$34,226$530,000$0
Comfortable$59,236$1.12 millionAt least $530,000$59,236$920,000At least $400,000

Table source and assumptions: see source and assumptions at the end of Table 2 later in the article.

Alert: Table 1 now takes into account the stricter Age Pension assets test taking effect from 1 January 2017. See explanation in text before Table 1.

Table 2: Single person – What type of lifestyle do you want during retirement)?

LifestyleAnnual IncomeLump Sum Needed
on Retirement
Annual IncomeLump Sum Needed
on Retirement
Invested at 5%Invested at 7%
No Age PensionReceives
Age Pension
No Age PensionReceives
Age Pension
Basic
(Age Pension)
$22,721N/A$0$22,721N/A$0
Modest$23,797$446,000About $21,000 (+ Full Pension)$23,797$370,000About $17,000
(+ Full Pension)
Comfortable$43,184$810,000At least $500,000$43,184$670,000At least $370,000

Table source and assumptions: See text below.

Alert: Table 2 now takes into account the stricter Age Pension assets test taking effect from 1 January 2017. See explanation in text before Table 1.

Notes for Tables 1 and 2

  1. The lump sum amounts are in today’s dollars and assume retirement at the age of 65, and will finance a retirement of 22 years. If you retire at age 67, then the lump sums will still last 22 years, but take you to the age of 89. If you retire at age 70, then the listed lump sum will finance a retirement until 92 years of age.
  2. Annual inflation rate for years in retirement is 3%.
  3. If you retire before you’re eligible for the Age Pension, or you’re otherwise not eligible for the Age Pension, then the lump sum you need on retirement to enjoy each lifestyle is a larger amount than if you were eligible for the Age Pension.
  4. If you’re eligible for the Age Pension (see ‘Receives Age Pension’ column), the lump sum you need in retirement depends on how much Age Pension you expect to receive and the earnings you can achieve on your super and non-super savings. For the ‘comfortable’ lifestyle, part-Age Pension eligibility is likely for a couple, and a small part-Age Pension may be possible for a single person. The lump sum amount you need to invest for retirement is usually different for each person, depending on the size of the Age Pension entitlement. See sources below for assumptions.
  5. Income tax isn’t taken into account in this table, although, in most cases, tax is irrelevant because of the tax concessions applicable to retirees.

Table sources: Table data compiled from sources as follows:

  1. Modest and comfortable annual costs/incomes (as at December 2015, and released in February 2016) — Source: ASFA website (www.superannuation.asn.au). These December 2015 figures (namely, the latest figures available as at April 2016), are adjusted quarterly in line with the cost of living.
  2. Lump sums needed when ‘No Age pension’, are calculated using ASIC’s MoneySmart ‘retirement planner’ calculator. One set of calculations assume 5% a year return (that is reinvested) on account balance of superannuation account-based income stream. The other set of calculations assume 7% a year return (that is reinvested) on superannuation account-based income stream. The annual income from the account-based income stream is indexed by 3 per cent a year, and runs out at the age of 87 (life expectancy for a 65-year-old female). If you live beyond 87 (or live beyond age 89 if retire at 67 years of age), then individual relies only on the Age Pension. Calculations for ‘No Age Pension’ column don’t take into account any tax payable, or any Age Pension entitlement.
  3. The lump sum amounts under ‘Receives Age Pension’ column are calculated using ASIC’s MoneySmart ‘retirement planner calculator’. Apart from investments and exempt assets (such as your home), the calculation assumes have $25,000 in personal assets. One set of calculations assume 5% a year return after fees and taxes (that is reinvested) on account balance of superannuation account-based income stream. The other set of calculations assume 7% a year return after fees and taxes (that is reinvested) on account balance of superannuation account-based income stream.
  4. Age Pension amounts effective from March 2016, and apply until 19 September 2016. Age Pension is adjusted twice-yearly – in March and September.

Comments

  1. Grant Girdler says:

    Hi Trish,
    Congratulations on a fantastic website. I really have appreciated the clarity, updates and info. I am keen to hear about the progress through parliament of the proposed superannuation changes that were released in the 2016 budget. I hope much of this can be modified through sensible parliamentary debate as much of it is dreadful legislation. Like many I am in a quandary on whether I can continue to add to my SMSF with Non Concessional lump sums over the $500,000 life time limit that’s been proposed. I was already at the $500,000 Non Concessional limit but was planning to add a further lump sum in this FY – until the budget! I don’t have an issue with a $1.6M maximum but how about letting us have some chance of getting near it? What dreadful, mindless policy. A Government constraining attempts by modest self funded retirees just doesn’t make sense. I trust you will keep us posted on anticipated timing and any changes to this proposed legislation and the other proposed super changes from the budget? I cant believe we are still in the dark – still prevented from planning our financial future – how much longer? I enjoyed writing to all Fed Coalition MPs telling them I was never voting Libs again after that budget. Meantime – thank you again Trish!

  2. With the taper rate reducing Centrelink pensions by $3 per $1000 assets instead of by $1.50 per $1,000 assets from 1st Jan 2017, it it means we have wasted our time cutting our cloth and being frugal and saving for our retirement and minimising our Centrelink drawings. We are now our spending!!!!!!!!!!!!Realise there are 300,000 of us who will receive less or no Centrelink pension from this and politicians say we ALL must “experience the pain”. My question before the next election is “have politicians pension experienced any pain?” I have aske
    our local member Ross Vasta (Bonner) but no reply just silence…..

    • I have just emailed my new Liberal member Julian Leeser. If the Coalition wishes to maintain government may be they should think about 3000,000 votes they will not be getting!!!

  3. to all thank you for great articles I look forward to your postage each month richard ..retired

  4. Robyn Davies says:

    Trish, love your articles on Superannuation. Today, I jumped onto my Super Fund’s website calculator, put in my super balance and started experimenting with investment return percentages, minimum and variable, but not extravagant annual income amounts and retirement ages from 65-67 years. I am 67 years of age, single, own my home, self funded and have been drawing down the minimum compulsory amount since I turned 65 years. At every calculation, my super balance, which is only marginally above the average, will last me, on average, until I am 114 years of age! right down to the last $5000.
    My question, similar to Pam’s is, What super balance would ASFA calculate for a single person who can live quite well on $35000 per annum? Looking at the above tables, there is a vast difference between $23000 and $43000? That $20000 can make a huge difference to what super balance is required to last for 22 years.

    • Hi Robyn
      Thanks for your email and suggestion.
      The lump sum balances in the article are calculated by SuperGuide, rather than ASFA, using the ASIC retirement planning calculator.
      We have been considering adding a middle income level to our calculations due the Age Pension for a single person overtaking the modest lifestyle, and your email (and Pam’s comments) have prompted us to move that forward – we will do that in the next few weeks, and the updated article will be available in the regular May newsletter in late May.
      Regards
      Trish

  5. Hi Trish
    I think the basic and modest lifestyles should be altered as currently for example there is only about $300 difference between the amount needed for a basic income or a modest income for a couple -hardly worth looking at.
    Perhaps a modest income could be somewhere halfway between the basic and comfortable lifestyles, or based on the average superannuation balance of retirees, it would then be more useful for the many people who have closer to the average amount of super.

    Cheers

    • Hi Pam
      Thanks for your comments. The ’modest’ and ‘comfortable’ lifestyles are based on a study done by ASFA, and indexed each quarter. The ‘basic’ category I have included for comparison. The inclusion of the ‘basic’, that is Age Pension only , is merely for comparison with what is required compared with modest and comfortable, but over time the income levels are close together.
      Before 2009, the single Age Pension was a lot lower than it was now, and the difference was much more significant.
      I would not be surprised if ASFA does review the modest lifestyle to provide an income target greater than the Age Pension, but not as high as a comfortable lifestyle, as you suggest.
      I will take this suggestion on board and decide whether SuperGuide adds a mid-range lifestyle between ‘modest’ and ‘comfortable’ or whether we wait for ASFA to review these levels.
      Regards
      Trish

  6. /anne... says:

    I’m looking forward to your assessment of what it will take to have a comfortable retirement after 2017 changes. I suspect that it’s going to be virtually impossible to maintain a comfortable retirement without being a fully-funded retiree.

  7. We have been retired for about 3 years – and the figures re about right – our wedge is a bit higher than $1.m and our budget is a bit greater than $58k.
    Niels mate a trained monkey could get 4% – even though rates are down you can get 3.6% (as mid June 15) on line

  8. darrell campbell says:

    Hi Trish,
    Great articles,,, butI still have a problem with “sum needed”
    $1.07 million funds a 22 year retirement on $57k or so.Fine if I retire now.
    But a 30 year-old,,, cant look at this and say “ok, I have to have $1.07 million when I am 67,,, and I’ll be OK”…….as inflation etc makes this meaningless.
    So how does one work out a sum to work towards? (Eg at an “assumed” inflation rate of say, 3% ). Not everyone can easily do the maths !thanks

    • Hi Darrell
      The figures in the article are in today’s dollars (adjusted for inflation) which means the future dollars you actually save are a lot more – it has been adjusted for inflation already so it is meaningful for today. In the near future, we will add an article comparing future and today’s dollars ( adjusted for inflation) over a period of 25 years.

      Also, the ASIC Moneysmart account-based pension calculator shows the calculations behind the figures, and displays the future dollars in a separate page.
      Regards
      Trish

  9. 7% return on investment?
    What?
    Are you running a meth lab in your garage?

    Nobody else makes more than 4%.

    • Hi.
      Am not sure what your basis for the 4% is.
      Over long periods of time (say the last 30 years) gross returns from equities has exceeded 10% (closer to 13%).
      Over the same periods returns from property has been around 10% (closer to 11%).
      For bonds the return has been around 6%.
      Term deposits may be close to the 4% you mention.
      CPI over this period has been around 3% (perhaps 3.5%).
      If you are not investing directly then there may be other factors affecting your returns.
      Net of tax and CPI my super. portfolio has returned ~11% CAGR over the last 5 years. Hope that provides you with information to contrast your situation with.

      • If you’re in a super fund and take the allocated pension option, you can easily get 7% (after tax) on average over the long term in a “balanced” investment option. The last 5 years my super fund has averaged 10% p.a. in its balanced fund pension account. Even in the low-risk “moderate” option its averaging 7% over the past 5 years.
        Bottom line: 7% average has been a realistic and achievable outcome over the last 10 years. Now that doesn’t mean the next 10 years will be the same, but it gives you some sense of what the super funds can achieve for their members.

  10. Hi Trish

    I find your articles interesting and am trying to gather enough information to make a choice as to when I would need to retire (60 yo hopefully). I would be interested in knowing the numbers crunched on a $1 million if couple were not entitled to the aged pension (full or part).

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