SMSF

“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.

The ATO has begun issuing determinations to people who exceeded their concessional superannuation contributions cap for the 2017–2018 financial year. These determinations will also trigger amended income tax assessments and additional tax liabilities. Individuals can elect for the ATO to withdraw their excess contributions from their super fund to pay any additional personal tax liability.

Tip: Concessional contributions include all employer contributions, such as the 9.5% superannuation guarantee and salary sacrifice contributions, and personal contributions for which a deduction has been claimed.

You have 60 days from receiving an ECC determination to elect to release up to 85% of your excess concessional contributions from your super fund to pay your amended tax bill. Otherwise, you will need to fund the payment using non-superannuation money.

The Federal Government has created a new opportunity for some recent retirees to make additional superannuation contributions. From 1 July 2019, a 12-month exemption from the “work test” for newly retired individuals aged between 65 and 74 years with a total superannuation balance below $300,000 means many older Australians will now have an extra year to boost their superannuation savings.

The work test requires that a person is “gainfully employed” for at least 40 hours in any 30-day consecutive period during the financial year in which the contributions are made.

The contributions rules are complex, but with the right planning and advice you can maximise your contributions into superannuation at the right time.

Tip: You should also consider other measures that may be available to you, such as “downsizer” contributions (certain contributions of proceeds from the sale of your home) and “catch-up” concessional contributions (accessing unused concessional cap space from prior years).

Superannuation is often the most significant asset in a separated couple’s property pool, particularly for low-income households with few assets. Parties to family law proceedings are already legally required to disclose all of their assets to the court, including superannuation, but in practice parties may forget, or deliberately withhold, information about their super assets.

The Government has announced an electronic information-sharing mechanism to be established between the ATO and the Family Law Courts to allow superannuation assets held by relevant parties during family law proceedings to be identified swiftly and more accurately from 2020. This measure was included as part of a broader financial support package for women announced on in November.

The Government has announced it will amend the super tax laws to address some minor but important issues, as part of the ongoing super reforms. The changes include:

  • deferring the start date for the comprehensive income product for retirement (CIPR) framework;
  • adjusting the definition of “life expectancy period” to account for leap years in calculations, and amending the pension transfer balance cap rules to provide credits and debits when these products are paid off in instalments;
  • adjusting the transfer balance cap valuation rules for defined benefit pensions to deal with certain pensions that are permanently reduced after an initial higher payment;
  • correcting a valuation error under the transfer balance cap rules for market-linked pensions where a pension is commuted and rolled over, or involved in a successor fund transfer;

making changes to ensure that death benefit rollovers involving insurance proceeds remain tax-free for dependants.