UNJSPF UN Pension

UNJSPF (UN Pension): Why You Need To Estimate Now [2024]

I recently met with a colleague to discuss retirement and the UN pension. She has worked for the organization for ten years and has another ten years to go before retirement. Planning for retirement is crucial, and it’s never too early to start even if you are in your 20s and have just started your career in the UN system. The earlier you begin, the better. Early planning provides flexibility and a wider range of choices for the lifestyle you want when you retire.

Noted that if you retire in Switzerland, you will start paying taxes like the locals. This means an approximate 25-35% tax on your monthly pension. Additionally, there is a wealth tax of about 1-2% on your global assets. You can use this calculator to estimate your Swiss tax.

Moreover, considering an annual inflation rate of 3%, prices will have increased by almost 35% in 10 years.

For example, if you’re spending CHF 10,000 today, you would need approximately CHF 18,000 to maintain the same lifestyle when you retire. This highlights the importance of planning to ensure your retirement funds are sufficient to cover the increased cost of living.

Disclaimer: By no means, I am a UNJSPF expert. The information provided here is for educational purposes based on what I have read on the UNJSPF website, attended during their town hall meetings, and my personal experiences. For the most accurate and personalized advice, please consult the official UNJSPF resources or speak directly with a pension advisor.

A Brief Overview of UNJSPF (UN Pension)

What is the UNJSPF?

The official name of the UN pension fund is the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund (UNJSPF).

The UNJSPF was established to provide retirement, death, disability, and related benefits for staff of the United Nations and other member organizations. It plays a pivotal role in ensuring financial stability and support for UN staff members and their families. It is based on the US dollar.

After 6 months of contract, you can participate in the UN pension fund.

After 5 years of contribution, you acquire the retirement benefit.

The UNJSPF is a crucial resource in planning for a secure and comfortable retirement for those of us working in the UN system. Retirement often brings both excitement and uncertainty, but it is something most of us look forward to. Understanding how to navigate the UNJSPF website can empower you to make informed decisions about your future.

How much do you contribute to the UN Pension?

In a nutshell, you contribute 7.9% of your “pensionable remuneration” (depends on your level and step but not your duty station or post adjustment, see table in ICSC.org; many confuse this with gross salary, but it is not the same thing) to your pension fund while your organization contributes 15.8% (double your contribution) on your behalf. In total, you are receiving 23.7%. On top of that, UNJSPF gives you an interest of 3.25% per year.

UNJSPF (UN pension) contribution

Key Benefits of the UNJSPF

The UNJSPF offers a range of benefits designed to support its members through various stages of life. These benefits include:

  1. Retirement Benefits: Monthly pension payments based on your final average remuneration and years of contributory service. You qualify for this after 5 years of contribution!
  2. Disability Benefits: Financial support in the event of a qualifying disability that prevents you from continuing your work.
  3. Survivor Benefits: Payments to eligible family members in the event of your death, ensuring their financial security.
  4. Withdrawal Settlements: One-time lump-sum payment for those who leave the organization before reaching retirement age, providing immediate financial resources.

Understanding these benefits is crucial for effective retirement planning and ensuring that you and your loved ones are well-protected in various scenarios. To access all this information and calculate how much you can receive upon retirement, you need to register on the UNJSPF website.

Even if your organization is already contributing to your UNJSPF pension, you still need to register for your own “Member Self-Service Login” account.

This will allow you to access detailed information about your pension, use the pension calculator, and manage your contributions and benefits online. To get started, here is what you need to do to create a “Member Self-Service Login” account.

Accessing Your UNJSPF Account: A Step-by-Step Guide

Before Registration

Firstly, you need to have this information at hand:

UNJSPF (UN Pension) registration to member self service login
  • A private email address e.g. Gmail or Protonmail (don’t use your work email because, when you retire, your work email will be deactivated)
  • You need to know your unique ID (UID) which is your UNJSPF pension membership number. You can email UNJSPF from your work email address or contact your Personnel department or find it in your payslip or your annual UNJSPF statement.
  • Your date of birth
  • Your last name

During Registration

Registration is super easy, here’s a guide to help you get started.

  1. Visit the UNJSPF Website: Go to the official UNJSPF website (unjspf.org).
  2. Click on ‘Member Self Service
  3. Click on ‘Register’
    • Enter Your Personal Information: Fill in your details, including your surname, date of birth, and UID.
    • Create a Username and Password: Follow the instructions to set up your login credentials. Make sure to choose a strong password for security purposes.

Logging In

Once registration is complete, you can access the Member Self-Service.

  1. Visit the UNJSPF Website: Return to the UNJSPF homepage.
  2. Select ‘Member Self-Service’: Click on this option to be directed to the login page.
  3. Enter Your Credentials: Input your username and password.
  4. Access Your Dashboard: Once logged in, you will be taken to your dashboard where you can view and manage your pension details.

How much do you have when you retire: Run estimates!

The UNJSPF dashboard is designed to be user-friendly, offering a variety of tools and resources to help you manage your pension effectively.

Here 3 key features you should be familiar with if you are planning for retirement.

  1. Personal Information: Your details. Make sure they are correct.
  2. Estimates: This is the most useful tool for planning for your retirement. Use the pension calculator to estimate your future benefits based on different retirement scenarios. This is a projection to see how much you can get when you leave your organization (e.g. leaving before retirement, early retirement or normal retirement)
  3. Documents:
    • Estimate Statements: Access your estimates based on different retirement scenarios that you have run.
    • Pension Statements: Access your annual pension statements to keep track of your pension growth. Sample on how to read the pension statement.

By familiarizing yourself with these features, you can take full advantage of the tools available on the UNJSPF website, making it easier to plan for and manage your retirement.

How to run estimates:

UNJSPF (UN Pension) estimate window
  1. Run Estimates by entering the date of separation (or retirement).
  2. You can leave the lump sum option empty in which case, the results will show the maximum lump sum that you can withdraw (which is 1/3 of your total contribution to the pension).
  3. Then check the results under Documents
UNJSPF (UN Pension) menu bar

This is what the estimates document looks like:

UNJSPF UN pension estimate document sample

Here is a zoomed-up screenshot of the Estimate Document. Here’s what they mean:

UNJSPF (UN Pension) Estimate document

You have a choice of selecting option 1 or 2 below at your early or normal retirement.

Option 1 (Full pension, no lump sum):

  • Full pension – This is the total amount of pension you get each year in USD. This is assuming you are alive and you didn’t opt for a lump sum payment.
  • Prospective Survivor – This is the amount your spouse will get per year in USD when you pass away. It is 50% of the full pension.

Option 2 (Reduced pension with a one-time lump sum):

  • Reduced Pension together with Lump Sum – This is the reduced amount of pension you get each year in USD. It is reduced because you opt for a lump sum payment at the start of your retirement. You can choose the amount you wish for a lump sum up to a maximum of 1/3 of your pension.
  • Prospective Survivor – This is the amount your spouse will get per year in USD when you pass away. Even though you have opted for a lump sum, your spouse will still get 50% of the full pension.

There is no limit on how many times you can run Estimates. I suggest running Estimates for the date of separation when you are 55, 56, and onwards until the age of normal retirement i.e. 62 or 65 yo.

How much UN pension you will get depends on:

  • How many years you have been working i.e. contributing to the UN pension
  • What is your grade and step, especially the best 3 years out of the last 5 years before retiring
  • Whether you will take the full pension OR lump sum + reduced pension OR withdrawal settlement
  • At what age you will leave or retire

Early retirement, normal retirement or withdrawal settlement

You have 3 choices – early retirement, normal retirement or quitting before retirement (“withdrawal settlement”).

  • If you retire early (55 yo if you joined before 2014 or 58 yo if you joined from 2014 onwards), there will be penalties for early retirement. (See Article 29)
  • If you retire at the normal retirement age (62 yo if you joined before 2014 or 65 yo if you joined from 2014 onwards), this allows you to maximize your pension benefits.  
  • If you quit much earlier (before the age of early retirement), then you have the option of a withdrawal settlement which is taking out your contribution plus 3.25% interest per year plus 10% “bonus” for every year beyond 5 years (up to a maximum of 100%).

Lump Sum vs No Lump Sum

For both early and normal retirement, you can find out how much you will receive by choosing between taking a lump sum with reduced monthly pension payments or foregoing the lump sum to receive a full monthly pension instead.

If you choose to take a lump sum at retirement, you will get a large amount of money upfront, but your monthly pension payments will be lower. This option can be useful if you need immediate funds for investments, debt repayment, or large purchases. Note that in Switzerland, the lump sum is not taxed as income but under wealth tax.

By running Estimates at different retirement ages, you can plot a chart like this in Excel. The maximum lump sum increases with separation age. You can also decide to cap your lump sum to a certain amount, in which case your pension would increase.

UN Pension estimate with lump sum between age 55 and 65

Alternatively, opting to receive a full monthly pension means you won’t get a lump sum, but your monthly payments will be higher. This provides a steady income stream throughout your retirement, which can help with budgeting and long-term financial stability.

Not enough money from the UN pension for retirement?

There are several important factors to keep in mind:

  • Tax Implications: While working at the UN in Geneva, we are not directly taxed. However, once we retire, we will be taxed in Switzerland and many other countries. Only a handful of countries do not tax UN pensions. It’s essential to understand the tax policies of the country where you plan to retire to avoid unexpected financial burdens.
  • Inflation and Cost of Living: Our cost of living will inevitably increase due to inflation. The UNJSPF helps mitigate this through the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). For more details, visit UNJSPF Cost of Living Adjustment.
  • Pension vs. Salary: It’s important to note that your retirement pension will not match your full salary. The maximum pension you can receive is 70% of your final salary after 38.75 years of service!! For more information, refer to the UNJSPF Separation and Pre-Retirement Essentials.
  • Currency Considerations: The default currency for the UNJSPF pension is USD. However, you can choose to receive your pension in the local currency of your residence using the two-track approach. It’s important to note that once you choose the local currency option, you cannot revert to receiving your pension in USD.

Our pension might not be sufficient to support our lifestyle during retirement. Therefore, it’s crucial to start planning as early as possible. Here are some actionable strategies:

  • Get promoted: This is easier said than done. But getting a promotion or level increase during the last 3 years before retirement could significantly bump up your pension. This is because the basis of your pension is calculated based on the average of the highest 36 months of pensionable remuneration (over the last 5 years before separation).
  • Work until the mandatory age of separation: Your normal age of retirement (NRA) depends on when you joined the organization i.e. before 2014, the normal retirement age is 62 years old and from 2014, it is 65 years old. The mandatory age of separation (MAS) depends on your organization and usually, it is 65 years old. So, if your NRA is 62, you can opt to stay until MAS (i.e. 65), squeezing 3 more years of money into your UN pension.
  • Save Aggressively Now: Begin by setting aside a significant portion of your income for retirement savings. Try cutting down the biggest costs which are housing, transport, utilities and food. These are considered fixed costs which can take up to 50% of our budget. Saving the money in the UNFCU share certificate can yield at least 4% per year.
  • Invest in ETFs/Index Funds: Investing in ETFs (Exchange-Traded Funds) or index funds can help grow your money over time. These investments don’t require a lot of initial capital. Consider buying a global ETF (e.g. VWRA or IWDA) using a cheap brokerage like IBKR. Consistently investing a fixed amount each month, known as dollar-cost averaging, can build substantial wealth over time. Averaged over a long period, the expected return is 7-10% per year. In theory, for every shortfall of USD1,000 per month, you need to have USD300,000 invested to cover this shortfall (4% rule).
  • Invest in Property: If you can afford it, consider investing in real estate. Although it requires substantial initial capital and is less liquid than other investments, property values in Switzerland have historically increased due to the scarcity of homes. Real estate can provide long-term appreciation and rental income (e.g. with Foxstone you can get 6-7% per year).
  • Develop a Side Hustle: Identify what you are good at and passionate about. This could become a side hustle during retirement to supplement your pension. Whether it’s consulting, freelancing, teaching, a small business, or some esoteric activity, having an additional income stream can be beneficial.
  • Live More Frugally: Adjusting your lifestyle to be more frugal can help stretch your pension further. Creating and sticking to a budget, cutting unnecessary expenses, and prioritizing needs over wants can significantly reduce financial stress during retirement.
  • Move to Another Country: It may be worthwhile to move to another country with a lower cost of living or one that does not tax UN pensions (e.g. Austria, Malaysia, Thailand, UAE etc).

By incorporating these strategies, you can better prepare for a financially secure retirement, ensuring that your lifestyle is maintained even when your pension alone might not be enough.

Conclusion

This is the first step toward familiarizing yourself with your pension and planning for a worry-free retirement. By understanding and maximizing your UNJSPF benefits, you can significantly improve your financial stability in retirement. Here are the key points to remember:

  • Start Early: Begin planning and saving for retirement as soon as possible to take full advantage of compound interest and benefit from early preparation.
  • Understand Your Options: Familiarize yourself with the different retirement options available through the UNJSPF, including early retirement, normal retirement, and withdrawal settlements.
  • Make Informed Decisions: Use the tools and resources provided by the UNJSPF to calculate your potential pension benefits and decide between taking a lump sum or a full monthly pension.
  • Consider Additional Strategies: Supplement your pension with additional savings, investments in ETFs or property, and potentially a side hustle to ensure a comfortable retirement.
  • Stay Informed and Flexible: Regularly review and adjust your retirement plan to account for changes in your financial situation and external factors like inflation and tax implications.

Taking proactive steps today will help you achieve a worry-free retirement, allowing you to enjoy your golden years without financial stress. Empower yourself with knowledge, seek professional advice, and stay committed to your retirement plan.

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