Self Managed Super Funds (SMSF)

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Helpful SMSF information

What is an SMSF?

A Self-Managed Super Fund, or SMSF for short, is a do-it-yourself superannuation scheme designed for those who want direct control over their retirement savings and investments.

An SMSF is an investment portfolio you set up to save funds for retirement. It differs from a normal superannuation fund because the members, known as “trustees”, decide how the fund operates and what to invest in. The fund?s assets are controlled by the trustee, in most cases the members themselves. Members are not only responsible for the overall investment strategy, they are also responsible for the legal and statutory requirements.

The pros and cons of self-managed super funds

Pros

  • Members have control and flexibility over what their superannuation money is being invested in.
  • Tax saving – all earnings and contributions are taxed at 15%. When members reach 65 years of age, all contributions, earnings and even pension payments are tax free.
  • Lower fees –an SMSF can be cheaper to maintain compared to other retail super funds.
  • Asset protection – assets within the SMSF are protected from creditors if the members goes bankrupt.

Downside

  • After the initial setup, usually with an accountant, members need to devote time to acquiring and managing their investments, as well as administering the fund.
  • Compliance – an SMSF is required to prepare an audited financial statement and tax return each year.
  • Costs to maintain, administer and audit the fund can run into several thousand dollars so you need a substantial amount invested before the SMSF option is cost effective compared to a regular super fund.
  • As trustee you need to become the investment expert. Be prepared to commit a lot of time to research and maintenance of your investments.

Why set up a SMSF?

In a speech given to the SMSF Professionals? Association of Australia  (SPAA), former Chair of the Super Review, Jeremy Cooper, outlined the following potential benefits of a SMSF:

  • SMSFs can pursue asset allocations that would be difficult to implement in an APRA regulated fund;
  • SMSFs can have longer-term investment horizons (ie not chasing short-term performance driven by league tables and ?peer risk?);
  • SMSFs can be run in a tax-efficient manner, particularly in transition to retirement and in managing assets supporting a pension;
  • there is a better alignment of interests in a SMSF – members can make well informed decisions in their own interests with minimal agency costs; and
  • members are able to bargain directly for reduced prices for the various services they need (eg accounting, administration and broking).

Click here for more information on the potential benefits of having a SMSF.

Who is suited to a SMSF?

A SMSF can have up to four members, all of whom are Trustees of the Fund. As Trustees, all members are personally liable for all the decisions made by the fund.  In the government?s 2009 Super System Review, they noted that SMSF members are on average older, earn more and have larger superannuation balances than the average worker, with the average SMSF member balance being $456,000. There is good reason for that; to quote Jeremy Cooper:  “On average, SMSFs with $200,000 or less had both higher proportional costs than would be charged in a public offer fund and did not perform as well as larger-sized SMSFs.”

How are SMSFs regulated?

Unlike public offer funds (industry funds or retail funds), SMSFs are regulated by the Australia Taxation Office (ATO) and there are a number of responsibilities that Trustees must abide by – with significant potential penalties for getting it wrong. The ATO has some excellent educative resources for SMSF Trustees here.

Where can you find more information?

The ATO website

The SMSF Professionals? Association of Australia (SPAA)

ASIC?s consumer website