Supplementary retirement savings plans can provide security and stability for older people who no longer have a steady paycheck — and India's National Pension System (NPS) aims to do just that. NPS is a supplementary Defined Contribution pension plan, and subscription to the scheme is purely voluntary in nature. Like most of the world, India's population is aging, and lifespans are increasing. As a result of improved health and sanitation conditions, the global life expectancy is forecast to increase from an average of 65 years in 1990 to 77 years by 2050.1
For most people, living longer means more non-working years to enjoy. But for growing numbers of people around the world, maintaining enough income to live comfortably during those non-working years is expected to be a challenge. Not only are most older people no longer earning income, but as the years advance, the cost of living and inflation continue to increase. As government leaders around the world consider ways to help citizens prepare for retirement, they can look to India's NPS as a model for boosting retirement savings and helping aging workers avoid poverty during old age.
The Basics of India's National Pension System
In 2004, the Indian government launched its National Pension System with the goal of providing retirement income to its citizens.2 The system aims to institute pension reform and foster the habit of saving for retirement.
Initially, the program was made available for government employees only, but in 2009, NPS became available on a supplementary basis for all Indian citizens between the ages of 18 and 60. A Tier I NPS account (a mandatory account offering tax benefits) is designed in such a way that it discourages early withdrawal until the account owner reaches retirement age. If the account owner intends to withdraw before retirement age, they are allowed to withdraw only 20%, and the balance has to be used to purchase annuity. The NPS offers a decent tax benefit for its participants — contributions are made before taxes — but a portion of withdrawals are subject to taxes.
On reaching the retirement age, one can withdraw 60% of accumulations, which are tax free, and the balance of 40% has to be utilized to purchase annuity from approved annuity providers. One can defer the withdrawal and stay invested until the age of 70 or continue to make fresh contributions, if desired.
Tier II NPS accounts provide voluntary savings options without stiff exit penalties or lock-ins. There is a proposal to provide some tax benefits under Tier II NPS, which would require a lock-in period of three years; however, this proposal is yet to be confirmed.
Since the launch of the system, the Indian government has created additional social security programs to encourage retirement saving, especially among the working poor. In 2010, the government's Swavalamban Scheme committed to depositing 1,000 rupees into the accounts of each saver who contributed 1,000 to 12,000 rupees into their own account annually and was not covered by a government or employer pension. But in 2015, that plan was scrapped in favor of the Atal Pension Yojana (APY), which guarantees defined pension distributions during retirement for savers who meet certain qualifications based on their contributions. APY also offered a government contribution of 50% of the saver's total contribution or 1,000 rupees per year, whichever is lower, for a period of five years (from 2015 to 2020).