A beginner’s guide to buying property through an SMSF
By AMP financial planner Dianne Charman*
Self-managed super funds (SMSF) are the largest sector in the Australian superannuation industry and the trend could well continue with around 32,000 new SMSFs set up every year1.
While people have generally always been able to buy property through self-managed super funds, what has changed in the past few years is that SMSFs can now borrow money to do so. This has meant that people are now able to use their SMSF to invest in properties they may not have previously been able to afford.
Buying a property through an SMSF should not be the reason someone chooses to set up an SMSF, but it can be an option for people who want more control over their super.
Purchasing property through an SMSF can be particularly advantageous for small-business owners because, under superannuation law, they’re typically allowed to use the property as their business premises. Don’t count on operating rent-free or at a discount though – rent must be paid to the SMSF at market value. It’s also against the rules to use the property “on the quiet” as a holiday home. The penalties are high and not worth the risk.
While there’s no doubt managing your own SMSF takes dedication, time and quite a bit of money, there are also big pluses such as potentially substantial tax benefits and having more control over your superannuation.
Due to the popularity of SMSFs, many financial institutions are now offering in-house administration support, such as AMP’s SMSF Solutions. Services like this can assist with keeping the day-to-day paperwork in check, arranging your annual audit and tax returns, and helping with the general compliance needs of your SMSF.
Here are five things you need to consider about SMSFs:
How much money do you need to get started?
As a general guide you need a minimum of $200,0002 in existing super savings for an SMSF to be a cost-effective option. That’s because on amounts under $200,000, the fees on a typical retail, industry or corporate super fund are generally cheaper.
It also ensures you will have enough money to allow some diversification in your investments. Putting all your super eggs into the one property basket, rather than spreading a portfolio across other types of investment, can be a risky strategy.
Remember, this recommended fund size is based on the entire fund balance, which includes the superannuation assets of all fund members (e.g. your spouse).
How much can you borrow?
Banks will generally allow SMSFs to borrow around 70-80 per cent of the property value, however it is more desirable to have at least a 50 per cent deposit so the property is positively geared or close to it.
Tax-deductible personal super contributions, salary sacrifice contributions, and compulsory super guarantee payments made into your SMSF, as well as any rent your fund receives on the property, can all be used by your SMSF to help cover the loan repayments.
It’s also important to have a sound strategy in place to pay the property off over time.
What are the benefits of an SMSF?
If you buy a property through an SMSF, the fund will pay a maximum 15 per cent tax on rent it receives from the property. On properties held for longer than 12 months, the fund receives a one third discount on any capital gain it makes upon sale, bringing any capital gains tax liability down to a maximum of 10 per cent3.
Once fund members start receiving a pension at retirement – assuming they’ve held the property in the fund for this long – the fund will no longer pay tax on either rental income or capital gains when the property is sold.
Who is it not right for?
Purchasing property through an SMSF is not advisable for people who don’t have a large enough lump sum to allow diversification of their investments. Ideally you would allocate a percentage to other investments such as shares and/or term deposits.
And, borrowing through an SMSF may not be a good idea for low-income earners who are really going to stretch themselves in terms of cash flow.
Things to weigh up
With great power comes great responsibility and there is no doubt that managing an SMSF successfully requires a lot of expertise, time and money.
It can cost around $2000 to set up an SMSF, but there are also adviser fees, accountant fees and ongoing annual costs to consider.
Further, there are rigorous auditing and reporting requirements for an SMSF and the ATO can impose harsh penalties for those who do not comply, so it is vital you get appropriate tax, legal and financial advice.
If you are considering buying a property through an SMSF, the first step should be to speak to a financial adviser about whether this strategy would suit your investment goals, timeframe and feelings about risk.
Buying property through an SMSF can be a powerful way for business owners to build their superannuation, ensuring you will be able to live the life you want in retirement. However, it’s important to be clear about your obligations and have the time, money and ability to meet them.
1. SMSF Statistical Report – September 2012, published by the Australian Taxation Office.
2. As per ASIC Money Smart website.
3. The Government has announced that, from 1 July 2014, the amount of exempt current pension income available to superannuation funds will be limited to $100,000 a year for each individual. Should this measure become law, fund earnings, derived from pension assets, above this limit will be taxed at the 15 per cent rate that applies to earnings in the accumulation phase. This measure is not yet law.
* Dianne Charman is an authorised representative of AMP Financial Planning Pty Ltd, ABN 89 051 208 327, AFS Licence No. 232706.
Any advice given is general only and has not taken into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Because of this, before acting on any advice, you should consult a financial planner to consider how appropriate the advice is to your objectives, financial situation and needs.