AHV Contribution Gaps – Everything You Need to Know
Anyone with gaps in their contributions to the Federal Old Age and Survivors' Insurance (AHV) will end up receiving a lower pension. So, how do these much-feared contribution gaps actually come about? How do you spot them and what can you do about them?
If a single person one day hopes to receive the maximum monthly pension of CHF 2,370 (or CHF 3,555 for married couples), two conditions must be met:
- AHV contributions have been paid in with no gaps from January 1 of the year after the person turns 20 until he or she reaches normal retirement age (65 for men and 64 for women), i.e., for a total of 44 or 43 years, respectively
- The average income from gainful employment is at least CHF 85,320 per year during this period
For each year in which no contributions are made to the AHV, the pension is reduced by 1/44. The reduction is calculated on the same basis for men and women.
The following factors could be the cause of these treacherous gaps:
Periods spent abroad: travel
Anyone whose place of residence is Switzerland is subject to the AHV. Travelers must actively ensure they pay their minimum AHV contributions (currently CHF 496). Even if you deregister in Switzerland and spend a few years traveling abroad without a permanent place of residence, your domicile under civil law is still Switzerland.
Periods spent abroad: emigration
Any Swiss or EU/EFTA citizens who move abroad outside the EU/ETFA can pay voluntary AHV contributions to the Swiss Compensation Office in Geneva. Nevertheless, you still need to have been insured with AHV for at least five years without any gaps before you left Switzerland and you must submit the application by the annual deadline. Employees in an EU or EFTA member state are subject to the social security system in the country of residence. These years will count as gaps in your contributions when you return to Switzerland. Though you will be unable to close these gaps, you will be entitled to the contributions you made to the foreign social insurance system for the years you spent abroad. This does not apply to secondments, i.e. when an employee from a Swiss company is temporarily (though for no longer than two years) sent to work abroad. These employees remain insured under AHV.
Students are required to pay contributions even if they are not employed. Students between the ages of 20 and 26 pay an annual minimum flat rate but have to register with AHV themselves. This rate may increase for older students as their assets and any pension income are also included in the calculation.
Lots of short-term jobs with different employers
Salaries below CHF 2,300 per employer and calendar year are free from contributions. If you have lots of short-term jobs, you are in danger of falling short of the annual minimum amount.
Divorce or retirement of one of the spouses
During a marriage (or registered same-sex partnership), the spouse in gainful employment automatically pays the AHV contributions for the family manager not in gainful employment, provided that the spouse in employment pays double the minimum amount to AHV. Contribution gaps can arise if the marriage ends in divorce or if the gainfully employed spouse retires. This is because the partner not in gainful employment is then required to register separately with the AHV compensation office. From this point on, this partner is responsible for paying their own minimum contributions.
Employer's failure to forward AHV contributions
If an employer fails to transfer the contributions to the compensation office, the employee affected must prove that they worked for the employer during the period in question and that the AHV contributions were deducted from their pay.
Do any of these situations sound familiar?
Then order an individual account statement from your compensation office to find out whether there are any gaps in your contributions and when these occurred. It is important to make sure you order statements for all AHV accounts held in your name.
There are ways to close contribution gaps:
- Missing AHV contributions can be repaid within five years
- Anyone who completed an apprenticeship between the ages of 17 and 20 can have these counted as "Youth Years"
- Parents benefit from child allowances for the years in which their children were under the age of 16 years (see box)
- Exemptions are granted for contribution gaps created before 1979
If you are unable to close contribution gaps with any of these methods:
- Use the Credit Suisse Retirement Pension Calculator to obtain an overview of your situation as a whole. It calculates your income, taking into account the reduced AHV pension, the Pension Fund, and your assets, and compares it to your budget.
- Offset any losses caused by gaps in your contributions yourself with the voluntary private third pillar.
- Consider deferring your pension (can be deferred by up to five years). While this will not enable you to reach the maximum pension, you will still be able to increase your AHV retirement pension.