Some financial terms explained
Below are four important financial terms. They are Transition to Retirement; Pension Phase; Allocated Pensions; and Estate Planning.
TRANSITION TO RETIREMENT PENSION
What does it mean?
A transition to retirement pension is a flexible way to move from work to retirement. On reaching your preservation age (generally 55, but is increasing over time and may be 60 if you were born after 30 June 1964), you can start accessing super (including the preserved portion) via a super pension while maintaining or reducing work hours.
Many individuals nearing retirement are looking for ways to boost their super savings. With the introduction of government’s simpler super reforms in July 2006, it is now possible to do exactly this by making the most of transition to retirement (TTR) rules.
You can take advantage of the transition to retirement rules by salary sacrificing part or all of your employment income into super, while at the same time beginning an allocated pension from your existing super funds. The pension provides an income while you continue working, and is tax free for individuals over 60, and carries a 15% tax rebate if you're aged between 55 and 60.
At the same time you're getting considerable tax benefits from salary sacrificing your income into super, paying only 15% contributions tax, as opposed to PAYE income tax rates of up to 45%.
So at what age is this strategy of most benefit? Most advisers agree that it best suits someone aged 60 or more, or at the very least age 55. Between now and 30 June 2012 an individual can take a pension income stream tax-free and make contributions (both salary sacrifice and employer contributions) up to $100,000 per annum.
To begin a TTR strategy, you must have reached ‘preservation age’, in order to access super benefits. This is age 55 if you were born before 1 July 1960, phasing to age 60 for those born after 30 June 1964.
Due to the reduced cash flow, anyone thinking about the TTR strategy should have no debt.
Not all super fund providers offer TTR arrangements.
The fees of setting up a TTR arrangement should be minimal – and if you are able to set up the scheme yourself, no costs should be incurred at all. Once you reach retirement age, the commutation of the TTR pension back to accumulation phase is also allowed and should be at a minimal cost.
Before deciding on whether to set up at TTR strategy, you firstly have to find out what your pension is worth, then check the numbers on your living costs and see if the after-tax income of the pension will cover your needs. Then you need to make an application to the super fund for the pension to commence, and notify your payroll office of your decision to salary sacrifice to superannuation.
The TTR strategy has the Australian Taxation Office stamp of approval, which has stated that it will not apply anti-avoidance provisions where this strategy is employed. The ATO notes: "We would only be concerned where accessing the pension or undertaking the salary sacrifice may be artificial or contrived."
This information is of a general nature only and doesn't constitute personal investment advice.
What does it mean?
Many retirees convert their retirement savings to a pension upon retirement due to the considerable tax benefits available in the pension phase. .
Once retired, you have the choice of retaining your funds in super (in the accumulation phase) or converting your funds to a pension, such as an allocated pension.
Taxation payments will be higher if you leave your assets in a super fund compared to a pension. In the accumulation phase, earnings on a super funds are taxed at up to 15 per cent. But once a fund converts to paying a pension, there is no tax payable on the earnings. Additionally, if you are aged over 60, any pension drawdowns are also tax free.
Let's say that your account balance is $500,00 and generates 8 per cent ($40,000) assessable earnings. Assuming half of this is income, and the other half realised capital gains, then the tax payable would be around $5,000. If the account had been converted to the pension phase, then the tax would be nil.
One possible downside of commencing a pension is that you may not need the minimum level of income that you must draw down. For instance, you may have income from other sources, such as investments in your names or employment income.
And once a pension is commenced, it is no longer possible to add extra contributions.
The costs charged by the product provider when making the switch from accumulation to pension phase will vary, but are impossible to avoid once you've decided to cash in your super assets. But it is vital that you shop around when looking for a retirement income product, as fees and charges can range enormously.
What does it mean?
An allocated pension is a product purchased by retirees to convert their super savings into a regular income. Retirees use allocated pensions to pay themselves an income over a time period roughly equivalent to their life expectancy. Pension payments can be made monthly, quarterly, half yearly and yearly and are deposited directly into a retiree's bank account.
Allocated pensions are by far the most popular product around for retirees looking to live off their super savings in retirement.
So why are allocated pensions so popular? Why don't retirees just withdraw their funds out of super and dump the lot into a term deposit or savings account, or even use their super to buy other investments such as an investment property or shares?
The major reason here is tax. Allocated pensions save you tax compared to most other strategies in retirement. That's because any investment earnings in an allocated pension - interest, dividends, capital gains - are tax free (age 60 and above). In comparison, interest made on a term deposit or rent received on an investment property held outside the super environment are subject to tax at the retiree's marginal tax rate.
When a retiree buys an allocated pension to house their super savings they don't have to say goodbye to the money forever. At any time, you can opt to withdraw all, or part, of your money from an allocated pension by simply filling in a couple of forms (check to see if there are any restrictions on the number of lump sum withdrawals allowed each year). You may use the money to buy a business or property, or to go on an overseas trip. Some retirees assist their children to buy a house. The allocated pension offers this needed flexibility.
So how much does an allocated pension pay? Well, that depends on how much you have to start with, and how old you are. The Government sets minimum limits, which are calculated when the pension is established and recalcuated at the beginning of each financial year.
You can change the amount and frequency of your pension payments whenever you need to, but you can't turn an allocated pension on or off like a tap. Once started, you must receive at least the minimum payment each year. The pension ceases when the account balance hits zero.
Allocated pensions aren't just cash accounts. Retirees have a raft of investment choices at their fingertips including Aussie and international shares, managed funds, listed property, fixed interest and cash. The aim of an allocated pension is to not simply eat into your capital, but to actually make money in retirement as well. Retirees drawdown a combination of capital and investment earnings to live on. Cleary, the more money you make on your investments, the longer your retirement money will last - and the more holidays you can enjoy.
Allocated pensions are not just popular with retirees (those who are permanently retireed and have reached preservation age). Pre-retirees, over age 55, looking to boost their super before retiring completely often buy allocated pensions in order to undertake the transition to retirement strategy. You can read more about this popular strategy below.
What does it mean?
An estate plan sets out how your financial assets will be distributed after you die. Estate plans involve such things as a will, power of attorney and testamentary trusts.
It’s probably fair to say that the majority of people think estate planning involves drafting a will and perhaps buying life insurance. Unfortunately the checklist of estate planning items is considerably longer than this, and failing to tick all the boxes can produce a raft of unintentional consequences, including a big tax bill for your beneficiaries to pay, delays in probate and even the possibly of having your will contested.
Probably the biggest mistake that people make is placing too much trust in the power of their will. In fact, the will is probably the weakest link in an estate plan, especially compared to the protection offered by family trusts and companies, and even super if structured correctly. Indeed, the beneficiaries named on super and insurance policies will override the terms of the will, and the distribution of assets in a family trust will be determined by the trust deed. Similarly, property that is held as joint tenant will automatically revert to the surviving joint tenant, regardless of what the will might say.
Putting it simply, a more complicated life – both personally and financially - makes for a more complex estate plan. Clearly, a person who has children to other marriages, an ex-spouse or spouses, a greedy son-or daughter-in-law, children under 18, or a family business to pass on is in greater need of an estate plan, than most. However complications can also arise in the most simple of cases when an estate plan is not thought out holistically - for instance, when the distribution of assets across beneficiaries is unequal or set out in a manner that is unsuitable (for example, a non-working spouse receives the house but no ongoing income, whereas a working child receives a super pension).
To some extent, an estate plan lets you dictate proceedings from the grave. As an example, you don’t trust your son-in-law and think he will leave your daughter and take her inheritance. To prevent this, you could set up a Testamentary Trust, which, if drafted correctly, should protect the inheritance from a family law dispute should your daughter eventually divorce her unlikeable other half. Furthermore, the Trust could dictate that your daughter receives her inheritance as an income stream rather than a lump sum, which would also prevent her from blowing it on a frivolous spending spree or a sinking business. In brief, a Testamentary Trust is a trust established under a will, which comes into existence on your death.
For some, the thought that a surviving spouse may remarry and use their inheritance to support a second family would cause them to turn in their grave. In this situation, a Testamentary Trust could be used to provide for the surviving spouse only. Further reasons for using a Testamentary Trust are for children under 18, since it enables estate income to be distributed to minors in the most tax-effective manner (normally children under 18 are subject to penalty tax rates on investment income).
As already mentioned, the will is only one aspect of an estate plan. Setting up Testamentary Trusts, listing your beneficiaries for insurance policies and super accounts, electing someone to be your enduring power of attorney – a person who is empowered to deal with your financial, personal or health matters should you become incapacitated - and naming guardians for your children, are all integral functions of an estate plan. You should also give some thought to the ownership structure of the family home and any investment properties to ascertain whether joint tenancy or tenants-in-common is the preferable option. In most cases, joint tenancy is preferable since it means that the surviving spouse skips the delays involved in probate, which is granted by the Supreme Court to the executor of the will enabling them to distribute the assets of the estate.
Business owners in a partnership structure should also have special arrangements in place in the event of their own, or their business partner’s, death. People in partnerships are encouraged to have a buy-sell agreement in place, which involves each partner taking out life insurance on the other partner’s life. Basically, this means that should one partner die, the surviving partner’s life insurance is used to buy out the remaining stake in the business – providing much needed funds to the deceased’s family, but just as importantly, ensuring the continuation of the business for the surviving partner.
Estate planners, financial planners and lawyers can be called upon to design an estate plan for you. Remember to update your estate plan – not just your will, but also your life insurance and super policies - after significant events such as separation, divorce or the birth of a new child.