Superannuation in Australia are the arrangements put in place by the Government of Australia to encourage people in Australia to accumulate funds to provide them with an income stream when they retire. Superannuation in Australia is partly compulsory, and is further encouraged by tax benefits. The government has set minimum standards for contributions by employees as well as for the management of superannuation funds. It is compulsory for employers to make superannuation contributions for their employees on top of the employees' wages and salaries. The employer contribution rate has been 9.5% since 1 July 2014, and as of 2015 , was planned to increase gradually from 2021 to 12% in 2025. People are also encouraged to supplement compulsory superannuation contributions with voluntary contributions, including diverting their wages or salary income into superannuation contributions under so-called salary sacrifice arrangements.
A problem with Australia's superannuation system is the multiple accounts held by employees. Of Australia's 15 million superannuation fund members, 40% have multiple accounts, which collectively costs them $2.6 billion in additional fees each year. The federal budget estimates put the number of unnecessary duplicate accounts at 10 million. Plans are in place to facilitate consolidation of these accounts. An individual can withdraw funds out of a superannuation fund when the person meets one of the conditions of release, such as retirement, terminal medical condition, or permanent incapacity, contained in Schedule 1 of the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Regulations 1994.
As of 30 June 2018, Australians have $2.7 trillion in superannuation assets, making Australia the 4th largest holder of pension fund assets in the world.
A change to superannuation arrangements came about in 1983 through an agreement between the government and the trade unions. In the Prices and Incomes Accord, the trade unions agreed to forgo a national 3% pay increase which would be put into the new superannuation system for all employees in Australia. This was matched by employers' contributions[when?]. Employers' and employees' contributions were originally[when?] set at 3% of the employees' income, and has been gradually increased. Though there is general widespread support for compulsory superannuation today,[not in citation given] at the time of its introduction it was met with strong resistance by small business groups who were fearful of the burden associated with its implementation and its ongoing costs.
In 1992, under the Keating Labor Government, the compulsory employer contribution scheme became a part of a wider reform package addressing Australia's retirement income dilemma. It had been demonstrated that Australia, along with many other Western nations, would experience a major demographic shift in the coming decades, of the aging of the population, and it was claimed that this would result in increased age pension payments that would place an unaffordable strain on the Australian economy. The proposed solution was a "three pillars" approach to retirement income:
The Keating Labor Government had also intended for there to be a compulsory employee contribution beginning in 1997-98, with employee contributions beginning at 1%, then rising to 2% in 1998-99 and reaching 3% in 1999-2000. However this planned compulsory 3% employee contribution was cancelled by the Howard Liberal Government when it took office in 1996. The employer SG contribution was allowed to continue to rise to 9%, which it did in 2002-03. The Howard Government also limited employer SG contributions from 1 July 2002 to an employee's ordinary time earnings, which includes wages and salaries, as well as bonuses, commissions, shift loading and casual loadings, but does not include overtime paid.
The SG rate was 9% from 2002-03 to 2013-14, when the Rudd-Gillard Labor Government passed legislation[when?] to increase SG contributions to 12% by 1 July 2019, as had originally been intended by the Keating Government in 1995. However, the succeeding Abbott Liberal Government deferred[when?] the start of this planned increase to the SG by six years, from 1 July 2015 to 1 July 2021. The SG rate has since 1 July 2014 been 9.5% of employee earnings, and after 30 June 2021 the rate is planned to increase by 0.5% each year until it reaches 12% by 2025.
|1 July||Minimum contribution |
|1992||3 / 4*|
|1993||3 / 5*|
|1994||4 / 5*|
|1995||5 / 6*|
Employers are required to pay superannuation contributions, called "superannuation guarantee" (SG) contributions, to an approved superannuation fund for their employees at 9.5% (as at 2018) of the employees' "ordinary time earnings"--which generally consists of wages and salaries, commissions, allowances but not overtime. Employers are not required to make employer contributions for employees earning less than $450 per month, nor for employees aged under 18. However, if an under 18 employee earns over $450 per month before tax or works more than 30 hours per week full-time, part-time or casual, the employer is also required to contribute superannuation. Additionally, if employees aged over 70 years work more than 40 hours in a 30-day period, the employer can also pay contributions. Employer contributions are required to be paid on at least a quarterly basis.
Initially, between 1993-1996, a higher contribution rate applied for employers whose annual national payroll for the base year exceeded $1 million, with the employer's minimum superannuation contribution percentage set out in the adjacent table with an asterisk. The contribution rate increased over time. The SG rate was 9.5% on 1 July 2014, and was supposed to increase to 10% on 1 July 2018; and then increase by 0.5% each year until it reached 12% on 1 July 2022. The 2014 federal budget deferred the proposed 2018 SG rate increases by 3 years, with the 9.5% rate remaining until 30 June 2021, and then the rate increasing by 0.5% each following year until the SG rate reaches 12%, on 1 July 2025.
SG employer superannuation contributions are generally tax deductible to the employer and are not part of the taxable income of the employee. They are subject to a 15% tax in the super fund.
Special rules apply in relation to employers operating "defined benefit" superannuation schemes, which are less common traditional employer funds where benefits are determined by a formula usually based on an employee's final average salary and length of service. Essentially, instead of minimum contributions, employers need to make contributions to provide a minimum level of benefit.
An employee may request that their employer makes all or part of future payments of earnings into superannuation in lieu of making payment to the employee. Such an arrangement is known as "salary sacrifice", and for income tax purposes the payments are treated as employer superannuation contributions, which are generally tax deductible to the employer, and are not subject to the superannuation guarantee (SG) rules. The arrangement offers a benefit to the employee because the amount so sacrificed does not form part of the taxable income of the employee.
For some purposes, however, such contributions are called "reportable superannuation contributions", and for those purposes they are counted back as a benefit of the employee, such as for calculation of "income for Medicare levy surcharge purposes".
To be valid, a salary sacrifice arrangement must be agreed between employer and employee before the work is performed. This agreement is usually documented in writing in pro forma form.
People can make additional voluntary contributions to their superannuation and receive tax benefits for doing so, subject to limits. Amounts above those limits are called "excess concessional contributions". Between 2007 and 2013 a tax on excess concessional contributions at a rate of 31.5% applied. Since 1 July 2013, the excess concessional contributions have been included in an individual's assessable income and taxed at his or her marginal rate.
Employer and personal superannuation contributions are income of the superannuation fund and are invested over the period of the employees' working life and the sum of compulsory and voluntary contributions, plus earnings, less taxes and fees are paid to the person when they retire.
As superannuation is money invested for a person's retirement, strict government rules prevent early access to preserved benefits except in very limited and restricted circumstances, including severe financial hardship or on compassionate grounds, such as for medical treatment not available through Medicare.
Generally, superannuation benefits fall into three categories:
Preserved benefits are benefits that must be retained in a superannuation fund until the employee's 'preservation age'. Currently, all workers must wait until they are at least 55 before they may access these funds. The actual preservation age varies depending on the date of birth of the employee. All contributions made after 1 July 1999 fall into this category.
Restricted non-preserved benefits although not preserved, cannot be accessed until an employee meets a condition of release, such as terminating their employment in an employer superannuation scheme.
Unrestricted non-preserved benefits do not require the fulfilment of a condition of release, and may be accessed upon the request of the worker. For example, where a worker has previously satisfied a condition of release and decided not to access the money in their superannuation fund.
|Date of birth||Preservation age|
|Before 1 July 1960||55|
|1 July 1960 - 30 June 1961||56|
|1 July 1961 - 30 June 1962||57|
|1 July 1962 - 30 June 1963||58|
|1 July 1963 - 30 June 1964||59|
|After 30 June 1964||60|
Benefit payments may be a lump sum or an income stream (pension) or a combination of both, provided the payment is allowed under super law and the fund's trust deed. Withholding tax applies to payments to members who are under 60 or over 60 and the benefit is from an untaxed source. In either case, eligibility for access to preserved benefits depends on a member's preservation age and meeting one of the conditions of release. Until 1999, any Australian could access their preserved benefits once they reached 55 years of age. In 1997, the Howard Liberal Government changed the preservation rules to induce Australians to stay in the workforce for a longer period of time, delaying the effect of population ageing. The new rules progressively increased the preservation age based on a member's date of birth, and came into effect in 1999. The result is that by 2025 all Australian workers would need to be at least 60 years of age to access their superannuation.
To access their super, a member must also meet one of the following "conditions of release". Before age 60, workers must be retired -- i.e., cease employment -- and sign off that they intend never to work again (not work more than 40 hours in a 30-day period). Those aged 60 to 65 can access super if they cease employment regardless of their future employment intentions, so long as they are not working at the time. Members over 65 years of age can access their super regardless of employment status. Employed individuals who have reached preservation but are under age 65 may access up to 10% of their super under the Transition to Retirement (TRIS) pension rules.
An Australian worker who has transferred funds from their New Zealand KiwiSaver scheme into their Australian superannuation scheme, cannot access the ex-New Zealand portion of their superannuation until they reach the age of 65, regardless of their preservation age. This rule also applies to New Zealand citizens who have transferred funds from their New Zealand Kiwisaver scheme into an Australian superannuation fund.
Reasonable benefit limits (RBL) were applied to limit the amount of retirement and termination of employment benefits that individuals may receive over their lifetime at concessional tax rates. There were two types of RBLs - a lump sum RBL and a higher pension RBL. For the financial year ending 30 June 2005, the lump sum RBL was $619,223 and the pension RBL was $1,238,440. RBLs were indexed each year in line with movements in Average Weekly Ordinary Time Earnings published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The lump sum RBL applied to most people. Generally, the higher pension RBL applied to people who took 50% or more of their benefits in the form of pensions or annuities that met certain conditions (for example, restrictions on the ability to convert the pension back into a lump sum). RBLs were abolished from 1 July 2007.
Contributions made to superannuation, either by an individual or on behalf of an individual, are taxed differently depending on whether that contribution was made from 'pre-tax' or 'post-tax' money. "Pre-tax" contributions are contributions on which no income tax has been paid at time of contribution, and are also known as "before-tax" contributions or as "concessional" contributions. They comprise mainly compulsory employer SG contributions and additional salary sacrifice contributions. These contributions are taxed by the superannuation fund at a "contributions tax" rate of 15%, which is regarded as "concessional" rate. For individuals who earn more than $300,000, the contributions tax is levied at 30%.
"Post-tax" contributions are also referred to as "after-tax" contributions, "non-concessional" contributions or as "undeducted" contributions. These contributions are made from money on which income tax or contributions tax has already been paid, and typically no further tax is required to be withheld from that contribution when it is made to a fund.
Both contribution types are subject to annual caps. Where the annual cap is exceeded, additional tax is payable, either at the marginal tax rate for concessional contributions, or an additional 31.5% for non-concessional contributions, which is in addition to the standard tax rate of 15% payable on contributions, making a total of 46.5%.
Investment earnings of the superannuation fund (i.e. dividends, rental income etc.) are taxed at a flat rate of 15% by the superannuation fund. In addition, where an investment is sold, capital gains tax is payable by the superannuation fund at 15%.
Much like the discount available to individuals and other trusts, a superannuation fund can claim a capital gains tax discount where the investment has been owned for at least 12 months. The discount applicable to superannuation fund is 33%, reducing the effective capital gains tax from 15% to 10%.
These taxes contribute over $6 billion in annual government revenue. Superannuation is a tax-advantaged method of saving as the 15% tax rate on contributions is lower than the rate an employee would have paid if they received the money as income. The federal government announced in its 2006/07 budget that from 1 July 2007, Australians over the age of 60 will face no taxes on withdrawing monies out of their superannuation fund if it is from a taxed source.
In 1996, the federal government imposed a "superannuation surcharge" on higher income earners as a temporary revenue measure. During the 2001 election campaign, the Howard Government proposed to reduce the surcharge from 15% to 10.5% over three years. The superannuation surcharge was abolished by the Howard Government from 1 July 2005.
From 1 July 2003, the Howard Liberal Government made available incentives of a Government co-contribution with a maximum value of $1,000. From the 2012-2013 financial year to the 2016-2017 financial year, superannuation contributions are available for individuals with income not in excess of $37,000. The Government offsets a maximum of $500 and a minimum of $20, calculated at 15% of a low income earners total superannuation contributions.
As at 1 July 2017, The Low Income Superannuation Contribution (LISC) scheme will be replaced with the renamed Low Income Superannuation Tax Offset (LISTO). Under this new scheme, the minimum amount of Government contributions for low income earners with income not in excess of $37,000 is lowered to $10 but the $500 maximum remains.
One of the reasons that people contribute to superannuation is to reduce their income tax liability, and possibly to be able to receive an age pension while still receiving supplementary income.
The following is a general summary of the tax rules relating to superannuation. The full details are extremely complex.
Employer superannuation contributions are generally tax deductible if paid to a "complying superannuation fund". This includes compulsory employer contributions as well as "salary sacrifice" contributions. Employees may choose to make additional contributions at the same rate as a "salary sacrifice", but only if their employer agrees to do so.
Employer contributions received by a superannuation fund and income earned in the fund are taxed at the concessional rate of 15%, or more for higher income earners. Additional contributions made without the cooperation of an employer or paid to a non-complying superannuation fund are taxed at the top marginal tax rates and are subject to different rules.
Income retrieved from the fund by a member after preservation age is generally tax free.
Australian resident citizens over 67 years of age are entitled to an age pension if their income and assets are below specified levels. The full pension, as at 2014, was $766 every two weeks for singles and $577.40 each for couples. This reduced by 50% of any income over $160 every two weeks for singles or $284 for couples. The pension may also be reduced for 0.15% of assets other than the home over $202,000 or $286,500 for single or couples. The pension is reduced by the maximum of the income and assets test. Assets may also be deemed to earn between 2% and 3% which is counted towards the income test.
Income received from a superannuation fund is considered to be income for pension purposes, and reduces the pension by 50% of the income received that is over the limit. However, if this is received as a "super pension" then the effect on the age pension is discounted by the "cost" of the "super pension". This "cost" is calculated by dividing the total super balance by the life expectancy of the receiver at the time the super pension began. This means that if one withdraws ones super evenly over one's expected life expectancy there is essentially no income test on it. 
Assets in a pension fund are deemed to earn income. The assets supporting a "super pension" are also deemed to earn income. (It is difficult to find reliable information on this complex subject, and the above should only be taken as a guide and not relied upon.)
Superannuation funds operate as trusts with trustees being responsible for the prudential operation of their funds and in formulating and implementing an investment strategy. Some specific duties and obligations are codified in the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 - other obligations are the subject of general trust law. Trustees are liable under law for breaches of obligations. Superannuation trustees have, inter alia, an obligation to ensure that superannuation monies are invested prudently with consideration given to diversification and liquidity.
Other than a few very specific provisions in the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 (largely related to investments in assets related to the employer) funds are not subject to any asset requirements or investment exposure flaws. There are no minimum rate of return requirements, nor a government guarantee of benefits. There are some minor restrictions on borrowing and the use of derivatives and investments in the shares and property of employer sponsors of funds.
As a result, superannuation funds tend to invest in a wide variety of assets with a mix of duration and risk/return characteristics. The recent investment performance of superannuation funds compares favourably with alternative assets such as ten year bonds.
There are about 500 superannuation funds operating in Australia. Of those, 362 have assets totalling greater than $50 million. Superannuation assets totalled $2.05 trillion at the end of the March 2015 quarter, a new record according to the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia.
There are seven main types of superannuation funds:
Recent changes to the SIS act has allowed SMSFs to borrow under limited recourse borrowing rules. Banks have now developed SMSF loans catering purely for this change to the ACT and to enable SMSF's to borrow for residential property, commercial property and industrial property, however funds cannot acquire vacant land. There are restrictions placed upon the fund that the trustees of the fund cannot gain a personal advantage from asset acquired by the fund, or purchase from what's known as a 'related party'. For example, you would not be able to live in the home that is owned by your SMSF. SMSF loans are generally available to 70% to 80% of the purchase price and attract a slight margin to the interest rate in comparison to standard loans.
From 1 July 2005, many Australian employees have been able to choose the fund their employer's future superannuation guarantee contributions are paid into. Employees may change a superannuation funds. They may choose to change funds, for example, because:
Where an employee has not elected to choose their own fund, employers must since 1 January 2014 make "default contributions" only into an authorised MySuper product, which is designed to be a simple, low-cost superannuation fund with few, standardised fees and a single balanced investment option.
Superannuation funds are principally regulated under the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 and the Financial Services Reform Act 2002. Compulsory employer contributions are regulated via the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992
The Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act sets all the rules that a complying superannuation fund must obey (adherence to these rules is called compliance). The rules cover general areas relating to the trustee, investments, management, fund accounts and administration, enquiries and complaints.
In June 2004 the SIS Act and Regulations were amended to require all superannuation trustees to apply to become a Registrable Superannuation Entity Licensee (RSE Licensee) in addition each of the superannuation funds the trustee operates is also required to be registered. The transition period is intended to end 30 June 2006. The new licensing regime requires trustees of superannuation funds to demonstrate to APRA that they have adequate resources (human, technology and financial), risk management systems and appropriate skills and expertise to manage the superannuation fund. The licensing regime has lifted the bar for superannuation trustees with a significant number of small to medium size superannuation funds exiting the industry due to the increasing risk and compliance demands.
MySuper is part of the Stronger Super reforms announced in 2011 by the Julia Gillard Government for the Australian superannuation industry. From 1 January 2014, employers must only pay default superannuation contributions to an authorised MySuper product. Superannuation funds have until July 2017 to transfer accrued default balances to MySuper.
A MySuper default is one which complies to a regulated set of features, including:
The Financial Services Reform Act covers a very broad area of finance and is designed to provide standardisation within the financial services industry. Under the FSR, to operate a superannuation fund, the trustee must have a licence to run a fund and the individuals within the funds require a licence to perform their job.
With regard to superannuation, FSR:
Four main regulatory bodies keep watch over superannuation funds to ensure they comply with the legislation:
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The interaction between superannuation, tax and pension eligibility is too complex for most Australians to understand. It is very difficult to make considered decisions such as whether to invest excess funds in super or reducing a mortgage.
The Australian superannuation industry is under fire for re-investing funds into questionable investments, to benefit related parties ahead of the investor. Thus, a conflict of interest exists with the parent entity re-investing funds into funds related to the parent entity. Thus the best rate of return is never sought out, and the bank or entity investing the money is not seeking the highest rate of return.
Most non-self managed funds only provide very minimal information to the account holders about how their money has been invested. Usually only vague categories are provided, such as "Australian Shares", with no indication of which shares were purchased. This makes the fund's management largely unaccountable to their members.
Initial financial discussions determined that the Australian economy would be at risk if citizens were allowed to immediately access and withdraw Superannuation, further confirming the belief that mandatory Superannuation may not be a viable long term fiscal management tool. This was compounded by a lack of proper industry regulation, allegations of fraud and financial misconduct and a host of other issues currently plaguing the industry as a whole - "Thousands of superannuation fund members defrauded in Trio Capital scandal"
The super guarantee requires employers to provide sufficient super support for their employees. Employers are obliged to contribute a minimum percentage of each eligible employee's earnings (ordinary time earnings) to a complying super fund or retirement savings account (RSA).
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