SMSF

The ATO has released its application form for the early release of superannuation by individuals impacted by COVID-19. From 20 April, an individual can make one application to access up to $10,000 of their super (tax-free) in the 2019–2020 financial year, and a second application for up to $10,000 in the 2020–2021 year until 24 September 2020.

TIP: The ATO has run a social media campaign asking people to observe the intention of the legislation and only apply to release their super to deal with the adverse economic effects of COVID-19. You should not withdraw your super early and recontribute it to gain a personal tax deduction.

If you are eligible, you should carefully check your super account balances to ensure there are sufficient funds available to claim. If you make an application and the fund has insufficient money to fulfil the application, you will not be able to make a second application for the balance from another fund/account in that financial year or ask for an amount above the $10,000 cap in the 2020–2021 financial year.

It take one to two business days for super funds to receive notifications directly from the ATO about their members. The government then expects funds to process the payments and release the amounts to individuals “as soon as possible”.

If your application is rejected by the ATO, you will be notified via your MyGov account in two to three days.

Separate arrangements apply for applications by members of self managed super funds (SMSFs). The ATO will issue a determination to you as the fund member (instead of to the super fund) advising of your eligibility to release an amount. When the SMSF receives the determination from you, the SMSF trustee is then authorised to make the payment.

The concept of a superannuation guarantee – the legal requirement for your employer to contribute 9.5% of your salary into a nominated super account – should be familiar to everyone, as it makes up the bulk of most people’s future retirement income. You may also salary-sacrifice amounts of your salary to put extra into your super.

Until recently, loopholes in the law meant that your employer could count your salary-sacrificed amounts towards their super guarantee contribution amounts – essentially working against your intention to boost your super. Employers could also calculate their super guarantee obligations based on your post-sacrifice earnings rather than on your full pre-sacrifice earnings.

Depending on your employment agreement, these loopholes meant that if you salary-sacrificed an amount equal to or more than your employer’s super guarantee amount, your employer could choose to not contribute any amount and the legal requirements of the super guarantee would still be met.

TIP: It’s important to note that this wasn’t the original intention of the law, and not all employers would choose to exploit these loopholes. However, where they did, employees who salary-sacrificed could be short-changed and end up with lower super contributions as well as a lower salary overall.

The good news is that the law has now been changed. From 1 January 2020, amounts that you salary-sacrifice to super can’t be used to reduce your employer’s super guarantee obligations, and employers must calculate their super guarantee obligations based on all of your ordinary time earnings (OTE), including any amounts you sacrifice into superannuation that would have otherwise been OTE.

To be eligible for superannuation fund tax concessions, self managed super funds (SMSFs) must be maintained for the sole purpose of providing retirement benefits to members. This is known as the sole purpose test. Failing the test could expose trustees to civil and criminal penalties in addition to the SMSF losing concessional tax treatment.

Previously, it was thought that any benefit provided directly or indirectly to members or related parties of an SMSF from an investment would contravene the sole purpose test. However, a recent Full Federal Court decision will provide some flexibility to trustees on certain investments. The Court decided that an SMSF investment in a fund to acquire a fraction interest in a property to be leased at market rent to the member’s daughter did not breach the sole purpose test.

While the Full Court found the SMSF had not breached the sole purpose test, it ultimately ruled against the trustee, finding that the investment was an in-house asset and breached the 5% limit. Crucially, the ATO warned it may still apply compliance resources to scrutinise whether an SMSF investment in fractional property investments contravenes other legal requirements.

With all the pandemonium of the new year, your super is probably the last thing on your mind. However, this is precisely the right time to think about implementing some strategies to increase your super for the coming year.

Currently, 5.8 million people in Australia have two or more super accounts. Every year the ATO runs a postcode “lost super” campaign to help raise community awareness. As a consequence of the 2018 campaign, more than 66,000 people consolidated over 105,000 accounts worth over $860 million. For the latest campaign, the ATO has created tables of lost and unclaimed super per state and postcode that anyone can access.

Finding and consolidating your lost super with your active account means you’ll pay fewer management fees and other costs, saving you in the long term.

Another easy way to grow your super is to make sure the super fund that you’re putting your money into is performing well. Recently, the regulator of super funds, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), released “heatmaps” that provide like-for-like comparisons of MySuper products across three key areas: investment performance, fees and costs, and sustainability of member outcomes. While the ultimate purpose of the heatmap is to have trustees with areas of underperformance take action to address it, they can also be an invaluable resource in choosing the right super fund.

“Downsizer” contributions let you contribute some of the proceeds from the sale of your home into superannuation – but there are several important eligibility requirements.

Are you thinking about selling the family home in order to raise funds for retirement? Under the “downsizer” contribution scheme, individuals aged 65 years and over who sell their home may contribute sale proceeds of up to $300,000 per member as a “downsizer” superannuation contribution (which means up to $600,000 for a couple).

These contributions don’t count towards your non-concessional contributions cap and can be made even if your total superannuation balance exceeds $1.6 million. You’re also exempt from the “work test” that usually applies to voluntary contributions by members aged 65 and over.

SMSFs can be a great option for building retirement savings, but they may not be suitable for everyone. Before you jump in, make sure you understand the differences between SMSFs and other types of funds to help you make an informed decision. Here are a few issues to consider.

Management

While public offer funds are managed by professional licensed trustees, for SMSFs the management responsibility lies with the members. Every SMSF member must be a trustee of the fund (or, if the trustee is a company, a director of that company). This is an advantage if you want full control over how your super is invested and managed, but it means the members are responsible for complying with all superannuation laws and regulations – and administrative penalties can apply for non-compliance.

Costs

Fees charged by public offer funds vary, but they are generally charged as a percentage of the member’s account balance. Therefore, the higher your balance, the more fees you’ll pay.

SMSF costs tend to be more fixed. As well as paying establishment costs and an annual supervisory levy, SMSFs must hire an independent auditor annually. Most SMSFs also need professional assistance, such as accounting services, financial advice, administration services and asset valuations. An SMSF can sometimes be more expensive than a public offer fund.

Investment flexibility

A major benefit of SMSFs is that the member-trustees have full control over investment choices. This means you can invest in specific assets, including direct property, that wouldn’t be possible in a public offer fund. SMSFs can also take advantage of gearing strategies by borrowing to buy property or even shares through a special “limited recourse” borrowing arrangement. However, with control comes responsibility. SMSF trustees must create and regularly update an “investment strategy” that specifically addresses things like risk, liquidity and diversification.

Tip: There are other important considerations for SMSFs, including decisions about insurance and arrangements for dealing with any disagreements between trustees. It’s important to ensure you have the whole picture and good advice before getting an SMSF started.

The ATO has recently seen a significant increase in queries about compassionate release of super (CRS). In most cases, the people concerned were ineligible because they were looking to use their super to pay for general expenses.

CRS is an option only for very specific unpaid expenses such as medical treatment and transport costs, palliative care costs, loan payments to prevent the loss of your home, the costs of home or vehicle modifications related to a severe disability and expenses associated a dependant’s death.

Tip: Any amounts released early on compassionate grounds are paid and taxed as normal super lump sums.

Lost super

As at July 2019, the ATO held 5.39 million super accounts worth $3.98 billion. It will aim to reunite $473 million with 485,000 fund members using the new Protecting Your Super measures.

Tip: You can find out about your lost or unclaimed super through ATO Online via myGov.

Pension cap indexation

The pension transfer balance cap (TBC) of $1.6 million could increase on 1 July 2020 or 1 July 2021, depending on movement in the consumer price index (CPI). The general TBC is indexed in increments of $100,000 when the indexation rate reaches prescribed figures (calculated using a formula set out in Australian tax law). Once indexation happens, there will no longer be a single TBC that applies to all super members with a retirement phase income stream. Instead, there could be a personal TBC for each member, depending on their individual situation and arrangements.

The Assistant Treasurer, Michael Sukkar, has announced that older Australians downsizing from their family homes have contributed $1 billion to their superannuation funds. The downsizer measure, which commenced on 1 July 2018, allows older Australians choosing to sell their home and downsize or move from homes that no longer meet their needs, to contribute the proceeds from the sale of their home into superannuation up to $300,000.

The Treasury Laws Amendment (Protecting Your Superannuation Package) Act 2019 introduces a number of reforms to protect individual’s super savings from undue erosion by fees and unnecessary insurance.

The ATO says it will now be able to proactively consolidate eligible unclaimed super money into eligible active super accounts, including SMSFs and small APRA funds, if an individual hasn’t requested a direct payment of this money or for it to be rolled over to a fund of their choice. Under the Protecting Your Super package, the ATO says SMSFs may receive a rollover of consolidated unclaimed super money for members.