The main reason many people decide to start an SMSF is for its unique advantage to take more control and direct the fund’s investments. The catch is, you take on all the responsibilities that go with it. Others can help run the fund but if it all ends up in a mess, you are the one who is responsible and accountable to the regulators and possibly other fund members.
In this article we provide a list of things to keep your eyes on, and make sure the fund records are in good condition, keeping the fund auditor and the ATO happy if they wish to take a look at them. It’s better to have it down in writing rather than taking a rough second guess on what’s happening with the fund’s operations. This will be especially important if the change to a three yearly audit for some SMSFs makes it into the law.
Setting up an SMSF
Making sure the SMSF has been set up correctly is very important to gain access to the taxation advantages for contributions, the fund’s investment income and for paying benefits.
If you lack the experience or skills to run your SMSF you may find contacting an expert in the field can provide benefits for the fund. Here are some steps to setting up your SMSF:
- Consider who the members of the SMSF will be.
- Decide whether the fund should have individual trustees or a corporate trustee.
- Appoint the trustees or directors of the corporate trustee.
- Find a suitable trust deed for your SMSF.
- Establish the fund by executing the trust deed.
- Set up a bank account for the fund.
- Register the fund with the ATO.
- Obtain an electronic service address so the fund can receive employer contributions.
Contributions are an important part of the lifeblood of any superannuation fund. There are times when certain types of contributions can be accepted by the trustees of your SMSF and times when they cannot. It’s important to understand when a fund is permitted to accept contributions which can depend on the member’s age, whether the contributions are personal or employer contributions, and if the member is older than 65 and meets a work test to be able to contribute to your SMSF.
When accepting contributions for your SMSF, you should:
- identify whether the contribution can be accepted by the fund because of the type of contribution, member’s age and work status,
- obtain information about the contribution to determine whether it should be included in your SMSF’s taxable income,
- receive an election from a member concerning the tax deductibility of personal contributions, and
- recognise which contributions are counted against a member’s concessional and non-concessional contributions caps and obtain the correct elections from the member or members.
An investment strategy sets out the investment objectives for your SMSF and the investment categories. All superannuation funds must have an investment strategy that has been put into action and is regularly reviewed. Your SMSF’s investment strategy should be in writing and consider the personal circumstances of fund members, including their age and investment risk tolerance.
When you are developing your SMSF’s investment strategy, you will need to consider:
- diversification of the fund’s investments including the range of assets as well as the asset classes such as cash, term deposits, equities, property, local and international investments,
- liquidity of the fund’s investments so that they can be converted to cash to pay the fund’s expenses when required,
- the ability of the fund to pay benefits to members when required and other expenses,
- if the fund should hold insurance cover for each member of your SMSF, and
- whether your SMSF continues to reflect its purpose and any changes in the member’s circumstances.
When establishing the investment approach for your SMSF, you should:
- prepare and document an investment strategy for your SMSF,
- consider your SMSF’s circumstances such as risk, diversity, liquidity as well as each member’s circumstances,
- consider insurances for members such as life insurance, temporary and permanent disability insurance or salary continuance insurance for members,
- arrange to have your SMSF’s investment strategy regularly reviewed.
Your SMSF’s Investments
Your SMSF’s trust deed and investment strategy provide a guide on what it can invest in. This may permit a very wide range of investments that include public and private company shares, managed funds, private trusts, cash and term deposits as well as direct property. It could also include investments in artworks and collectibles.
Where the investments are made to arm’s length third parties on commercial terms, there are few issues that need to be considered. However, if the SMSF invests in, lends to or leases an asset to related parties such as family companies or family unit trusts, restrictions may apply. These rules can be complex and it may be worthwhile to seek the help of an SMSF expert to check that the SMSF complies with the law.
When making investments for your SMSF, have you considered:
- reviewing to ensure that your SMSF’s trust deed will allow the proposed investment,
- whether the investment is permitted by the fund’s investment strategy,
- if there are restrictions or prohibitions applying if your SMSF went ahead with the proposed investment,
- ensuring that the investment is on an arm’s length commercial basis, and
- keeping copies of documents and other records concerning the investments, especially those that may be with related parties.
As an individual trustee or a director of your SMSF’s corporate trustee you are required to arrange for the preparation and lodgement of documents with the ATO as a regulator of SMSFs. The documents include the fund’s income tax and regulatory returns, PAYG information and Transfer Balance Cap information. Linked with the documents is the need to appoint an auditor to the fund and in some cases to engage an actuary to provide a certificate for tax and solvency purposes.
Reporting to the regulators about your SMSF requires you to:
- arrange for the preparation of accounts for the fund at the end of each financial year,
- arrange the fund’s income tax and regulatory returns each year,
- appoint an auditor to the fund,
- obtain an actuarial certificate from a qualified actuary if the fund is required to use the proportional basis to calculate its taxable and tax exempt income,
- value the fund’s assets at their market value,
- ensure that the minimum pension amounts have been paid to members for the financial year,
- report debits and credits to the ATO for Transfer Balance Cap purposes,
- notify the ATO of changes to the trustees or directors of the corporate trustee,
- notify ASIC of changes to directors of the corporate trustee, and
- retain the fund records.
Ongoing compliance with tax and superannuation laws is essential if the fund is to retain the tax benefits that go with your SMSF. Compliance usually covers broad categories, however, any breach of the rules can lead to penalties, the trustees being disqualified or the fund being taxed as a non-complying superannuation fund.
To ensure your SMSF is complaint, you should:
- regularly review and validate the fund’s investment strategy,
- keep the fund’s assets and money separate from personal assets and bank accounts,
- invest only where investments comply with the tax and super laws,
- receive contributions that are permitted to be accepted by the fund,
- pay lump sums and income streams correctly, and
- keep records of the fund’s transactions including tax and regulatory returns.
Paying an income stream
The main reason for having superannuation is to pay lump sums and income streams. Before a lump sum or pension is paid a trustee needs to ensure the member has met a condition of release such as retirement or reaching 65, whichever comes first. Before an income stream can commence some calculations are required which are based on the value of the member’s accumulation account and their age. Each year a minimum amount of the income stream is required to be paid.
When commencing or paying an income stream from your SMSF, make sure:
- the member’s account balance has been valued as required by the ATO’s market value guidelines,
- the minimum amount of the income stream for the year has been calculated,
- if the income stream is a transition to retirement income stream, ensure that the maximum pension amount has been calculated,
- the income stream is being paid in accordance with the member’s instructions, and
- the value of the income stream at the time it commences or is commuted is reported to the ATO for Transfer Balance Cap purposes.
Winding up an SMSF
Having an SMSF can be a lifetime or a lifestyle decision. The time will arrive when you may decide to wind up your SMSF. Winding up could be due to a member’s death, loss of legal capacity or the fund has served its useful life and run out of money. The process of winding up can be a simple procedure which can be executed by your accountant, administrator or professional adviser.
There are some key considerations to think about when winding up your SMSF:
- read the fund’s trust deed and other documents to see what’s required to wind up the fund,
- account for any income the fund expects to receive and pay any expenses that are due for payment,
- pay out benefits to members or roll them over to a fund nominated by the member,
- made sure your SMSF is prepared for the payment of any expenses that have been notified to the trustee,
- arrange for the preparation of the final set of accounts for the fund,
- arrange for the preparation of final income tax and regulatory returns for the fund,
- appoint an auditor to complete the final fund audit,
- pay any outstanding expenses such as income tax on the fund’s income,
- close the fund’s bank account after all liabilities have been satisfied and income has been accounted for, and
- notify ASIC if the fund has a corporate trustee which may be wound up due to the finalisation of your SMSF.
Staying up to date and finding out more about SMSFs
You’ve got your checklist in place and understand what’s required, but how do you keep up to date with all the changes that seem to be never ending?
There’s no denying it’s always been a challenge not only for you as trustee but also for professionals who don’t deal with super and SMSFs all the time. You may find that your adviser, accountant, auditor or fund administrator can provide you with a newsletter to let you know what is going on. You can subscribe to the ATO’s newsletter which is published regularly and provides useful information on running an SMSF. If you are really serious you can attend seminars and courses which are especially set up to learn about technical aspects of SMSFs. Have a look on the web and see what you can find that may suit what you are after.
While every care has been taken in the preparation of this article, AMP Capital Investors Limited (ABN 59 001 777 591, AFSL 232497) and AMP Capital Funds Management Limited (ABN 15 159 557 721, AFSL 426455) makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of any statement in it including, without limitation, any forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This article has been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking account of any particular investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs. An investor should, before making any investment decisions, consider the appropriateness of the information in this article, and seek professional advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. This article is solely for the use of the party to whom it is provided.