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Five more common SMSF mistakes and how to avoid them

By AMP Capital

Last week we covered five mistakes that are often made with SMSFs and how they can be avoided. This week we cover another five mistakes that are often too common when running an SMSF.

6. Separating contributions and pensions

There are strict rules about what can be added to a pension account balance once it has commenced. You cannot add contributions or transfers from other superannuation funds after a pension has commenced. If you wish to add these amounts to a pension, it must be stopped, and a new pension commenced based on a new set of calculations

says Graeme Colley, Executive Manager, Technical and Private Wealth at SuperConcepts.

Each pension in an SMSF must be established under a separate account as well as any amount a member has in accumulation phase. There are many tax benefits of keeping pension and accumulation accounts separate.

7. Not withdrawing lump sums or pensions correctly

The benefit of having an SMSF is the tax concessions available to build benefits for retirement, death, disability and similar circumstances. It is also possible to access superannuation after you reach 65 or as a transition to retirement income stream once you reach preservation age, currently 57, although you have not retired.

The type of benefits that can be paid from an SMSF is in the fund’s trust deed. The deed may authorise payment of lump sums, account-based pensions, transition to retirement pensions or a combination to be paid to you or to dependants on your death. In some circumstances you may wish to direct your superannuation benefits to your surviving spouse, children, other dependants or to your estate.

A cap of A$1.6 million applies to the total amount you can transfer into retirement phase to commence a pension. Depending on how you drawdown your pension, adjustments can be made to maximise the amount being transferred.

If you take your money from your SMSF earlier than the superannuation rules permit the amount withdrawn can be taxed at penalty rates, the fund loses its tax concessions and the trustees penalised for releasing the money early.

Early release of money from superannuation can be approved if you are experiencing severe financial hardship or for compassionate purposes.

8. Contributions

Accepting contributions to the fund under the correct circumstances is essential and helps to avoid penalty taxes if the amount contributed is more than the tax deductible and non-deductible caps.

A contribution to an SMSF can be anything that directly or indirectly increases the value of the fund with the intention that it is used to provide benefits to members. It excludes income and capital gains that the fund earns from its investments.

Most contributions are made to an SMSF as cash, by cheque or the electronic transfer of money. However, it is possible for some approved investments to be transferred to the fund and the value at the time of transfer is treated as a contribution

A contribution can also include expenses paid by a member on behalf of the fund which are not reimbursed or government payments such as the co-contribution or low-income superannuation fund tax offset. These amounts are usually credited to a member’s accumulation account in the SMSF.

Colley says that when accepting contributions to the fund a trustee should check:

  • who has made the contribution, 
  • the age of the member, 
  • whether the member satisfies the work test if they are under 18 or older than 65, and
  • whether they have quoted their tax file number.

If a member intends to claim a tax deduction for a superannuation contribution an election must be provided to the fund which is required to be acknowledged.

While there is no limit to the amount of contributions that can be made to superannuation a tax penalty may apply to any excess over certain amounts. The excess depends on the member’s age, the type of contribution and the amount of the member’s total superannuation balance on 30 June in the previous tax year.

9. Death benefits and your will

People often think that the payment of superannuation benefits is covered by their will. Generally, this is not the case as superannuation benefits are paid as authorised by the trust deed of the superannuation fund and any nominations the member may have made for the distribution of their death benefits.

If you wish to have your superannuation paid to your estate, it is worthwhile providing a clear direction to the fund trustee that on your death any benefit is paid to your legal personal representative who will include the amount in your estate. If you don’t provide a clear direction for the payment of your death benefit it is possible that it may not be paid in accordance with your wishes.

10. Binding Death Benefit Nominations

Death benefits can be paid to your surviving spouse, children, other dependants or to your estate via your legal personal representative.

It is possible for your spouse to receive a continuing pension on your death as a reversionary pension. However, you may provide instructions for the payment of death benefits in a binding death benefit nomination. The nomination will require the trustee to pay your death benefit to your spouse, dependants or even your estate as you choose.

If there are no reversionary pensions or binding death benefit nominations the rules of the fund’s trust deed will provide information on how and to whom the benefits can be distributed. If your death benefits are paid to your estate superannuation benefits will be distributed as provided in your will.

The trustee of an SMSF is obliged to ensure that benefits are paid in accordance with the member’s or dependant’s instructions or the fund’s trust deed.

It is essential that the binding death benefit nomination is valid and properly witnessed. If it is not valid the trustee may be bound to follow the provisions of the trust deed which may not be consistent with your directions.

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Important notes

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)  (AMP Capital) 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 and must not be provided to any other person or entity without the express written consent of AMP Capital.


This article is not intended for distribution or use in any jurisdiction where it would be contrary to applicable laws, regulations or directives and does not constitute a recommendation, offer, solicitation or invitation to invest.

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