Tax cuts buoy confidence, but risks remain

Posted on 19 September 2019
Tax cuts buoy confidence, but risks remain

Angus Livingston, AAP National Economics Writer
(Australian Associated Press)

Tax refunds are flushing through the economy and consumer spending intentions are rising but Josh Frydenberg warns global tensions pose real risks.

The treasurer warned businesses on Tuesday evening about the impact of the United States and China's trade war, and the conflict with Iran, on Australia's economy.

"Now in times of global economic and political uncertainty, it is more critical than ever to provide stability and certainty in our economic settings and not get drawn into overreacting," Mr Frydenberg said in a speech to a business lobby event on Tuesday.

The Reserve Bank of Australia also revealed in its board meeting minutes it kept the official cash rate at one per cent because of concerns about low wage growth and international tensions.

The RBA said the decision was based in part on the unemployment rate, which has stayed at 5.2 per cent for several months.

"At the same time, wages growth had remained low and there were few indications that wage pressures were building," the RBA said.

"Members judged that it was reasonable to expect that an extended period of low interest rates would be required in Australia to make sustained progress towards full employment."

The Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed residential property prices fell 0.7 per cent in the June quarter, taking the total value of Australia's 10.3 million residential dwellings down $17.6 billion to $6.6 trillion.

"The falls in Melbourne were driven by detached dwellings, while attached dwellings drove the fall in Sydney," ABS chief economist Bruce Hockman said.

There was some positive news from the Commonwealth Bank Household Spending Intentions research, which showed a significant lift in consumer positivity is under way.

"Spending intentions are improving in Australia, with a combination of income tax refunds and a stronger housing market leading the charge," CBA chief economist Michael Blythe said.

"Significantly, the home-buying spending intentions series has moved back into positive territory and this should help drive a further improvement in retail spending intentions in the months ahead."

But the ANZ-Roy Morgan weekly Australian Consumer Confidence index paints a different picture.

It recorded a 4.8 per cent slide in people's expectations for their finances over the next 12 months.

"While households feel okay about their current financial situation, they are clearly quite worried about the outlook, for both their own finances and the economy," ANZ economist Felicity Emmett said.

Mr Blythe said the tax refunds flowing into CBA accounts were about 40 per cent above "normal" levels.

"The boost to household spending power is larger and coming through sooner than originally expected," Mr Blythe said.

"The better news is that this tax refund money seems set to flow through to consumer spending."

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What is salary sacrifice?

Posted on 9 August 2019
What is salary sacrifice?

Money and Life
(Financial Planning Association of Australia)

As well as super guarantee payments from your employer, there are all sorts of ways to save more into super and boost retirement savings. Find out more in our comprehensive super contributions guide.

Super Guarantee contributions

If you work for an income, your employer is required by law to pay your superannuation guarantee (SG) contributions at least once a quarter. Whether you're full or part-time, salaried or casual, if you receive more than $450 per month in wages or salary, you're legally entitled to these SG payments.

Concessional contributions

Super guarantee contributions are treated as concessional contributions, which means they're pre-tax contributions. When you choose to make extra voluntary contributions into super from your pre-tax salary, these are also treated as concessional contributions. This can be done through a salary sacrifice arrangement with your employer and you may benefit from tax concessions on these extra super payments, depending on your marginal tax rate.

There is a maximum amount of concessional contributions you can pay into super in each financial year. This is called the concessional contributions cap and the total amount at the time of writing is $25,000, this includes both SG contributions from your employer and voluntary before-tax contributions.

You can check the ATO website for the latest information about the concessional contributions cap for super.

From July 2018, if you don't contribute up to the maximum concessional contributions cap, you can carry forward unused amounts to the next financial year, for up to five years.  This only applies if your total superannuation balance is less than $500,000.

The ATO website provides more information on this new 'carry-forward' arrangement.

Non-concessional contributions

$25,000 may be the annual limit on concessional contributions, but that doesn't mean you can't contribute more into super as an after-tax payment. If you're approaching retirement, it may be in your interests to make super contributions from your net income, so you can maximise retirement savings before you stop work. A Certified Financial Planner® professional can help you review your goals and finances for retirement and help you decide whether to top-up your super.

These payments from your after-tax income are called non-concessional contributions. If your super balance is less than $1.6 million, you can pay up to $100,000 into your super as non-concessional contributions in the current financial year.

Check the ATO website for the latest information about the non-concessional contributions cap for super.

Government contributions for low-income earners

If you're on a low income, the government offers two ways to boost your super savings if you've made contributions, either as SG or voluntary payments into super.

By making non-concessional contributions, you could be entitled to an annual government co-contribution of up to $500 directly into your super fund. Eligibility for this payment depends on your taxable income and the amount you contribute into super as an after-tax payment.

Visit the ATO website to find out more about the government co-contribution scheme for low-income earners and determine whether you're eligible.

Tax offset for low-income earners

If you're on a low income and make concessional contributions into super and this includes payments made by your employer under the SG you could be entitled to a tax offset at the end of the financial year. This is called the Low Income Superannuation Tax Offset (LISTO). Eligibility for this tax offset depends on your taxable income and the amount you or your employer contribute into super as a before-tax payment. If you are entitled to the LISTO, the amount will be paid into your super fund after you lodge your tax return.

Visit the ATO website to find out more about LISTO and determine whether you're eligible.

Spouse contributions and tax offsets

Many super funds allow you to split your contributions including compulsory payments from your employer under the SG with your spouse (married or de facto). It's important to be aware that these contributions will still count towards your concessional and non-concessional contributions caps.

If your spouse isn't working or is earning a low income, you may also be entitled to a tax offset for these contributions into their eligible super fund.

Visit the ATO website to find out more about the tax offset for contributions made to super on behalf of your spouse and determine whether you're eligible.

Looking to learn more about the ins and outs of super? Read our simple guide to super and get the low down on how saving for retirement works for Australians.

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How to budget for a baby

Posted on 8 August 2019
How to budget for a baby

Money and Life
(Financial Planning Association of Australia)

With a little bit of planning you should be able to successfully avoid having the joy of starting a family compromised by the financial burden of doing so.

Based on research by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) it costs over $406,000 to raise one child from birth until they finish their education.

In light of these costs, here are some initial considerations that might be helpful.

Before baby arrives

This is an ideal time to assess your financial situation, and how it will be impacted by a new baby. For starters, consider the requirements before and immediately after the birth.

If you're planning to 'go private', you have to decide whether the cost of prenatal care, can be covered by existing private health cover. Some private health funds have waiting periods before you can claim on pregnancy and birth-related costs, so it pays to check.

Income protection and health insurance

During pregnancy, it's not just your family's health insurance you should be thinking about. It's equally important to consider what type of life insurance cover, including income protection, disability insurance and/or death cover, might be appropriate.

Having sufficient cover in place means you'll have a contingency plan for your family's lifestyle if you're temporarily unable to work through injury/illness. The good news is by organising this cover via your superannuation, you don't have to eat into the household budget.

Once baby is home

The next step is to realistically assess the upfront costs of caring for your baby over the first 12 months. If budgets are being pushed, focus on what you absolutely need to spend money on now like baby-proofing your home, extra furniture like a crib, change-table, baby bath, car seat, stroller, bedding and clothes and what can wait.

Try to work out what your weekly outgoings will be on things like nappies, milk formula, and baby food. Being willing to accept hand-me-downs or buy second hand can save you a lot of money.

Family entitlements

If you're planning time off after baby arrives, remember to tell your employer well in advance. It's equally important to ensure you receive all the benefits you're entitled to from paid parental leave through to any baby bonuses, and family tax benefits.

Child-care and education

If you're planning on your child receiving a private education which at the secondary level typically costs an average $20,000 a year it's never too early to put money away. One way to do this is to open a high-interest saving account. There are also tax benefits for opening education-specific managed investment funds.

There are also onerous costs even before your child gets to school. For example, based on data by Stockspot, parents will on average spend $26,000 on childcare between the ages of three and five.

In light of these costs, it pays to honestly assess, what assistance you can expect to receive from immediate family. Equally important, assess how easy it will be to juggle time off, and how receptive your employer is to flexible workplace arrangements.

Ongoing costs of child raising

The cost of raising children has jumped sharply over the past two decades. Based on Stockspot numbers, parents on average spend $82,000 on a child between ages six and 12, and close to $131,300 during the following six years, with the bulk of this cost going on education.

Clothes swapping for school uniforms and buying home-brand or generic items in supermarkets, are practical measures to help managing finances. However, seeking help with budgeting can also drive your money further.

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What you need to know about deeming rates

Posted on 2 August 2019
What you need to know about deeming rates

Money and Life
(Financial Planning Association of Australia)

For older Australians looking to make the most of their finances in retirement, deeming rates can be an important factor in their income situation. Find out what deeming is all about and how the recent changes in deeming rates could affect your retirement income.

What is deeming?

The deeming rate is used by Centrelink to work out assumed income from your financial assets. It assumes these assets earn a set rate of income, no matter how much they really earn.

The deeming rate can be important for older Australians when they're applying to receive Age Pension payments. To be eligible for the Age Pension, you must reach Age Pension age and be under assets and income test limits. The assets test takes into account the dollar value of savings plus any assets you own, in Australia and overseas, except for your family home if you live there.

For the income test, Centrelink apply a deeming rate to your financial assets to calculate an assumed income earned from those assets. The real amount you receive from your assets whether that's dividends from shares or interest from a term deposit could actually be more or less than the Centrelink calculation. The deeming rate used for your income test depends on the total value of your financial assets. For assets up to a certain threshold, the lower of two deeming rates will be used to calculate your income. For assets above that threshold, Centrelink will use the higher rate. That threshold will be different depending on whether you're single and or in a couple.

Whether you receive a full or part pension depends on calculations for both the income and assets tests. Whichever of the two tests gives a lower rate will be the one used to determine whether you'll be paid a pension and how much your pension will be.

Changes to deeming rates

On 14 July 2019, the Federal Government announced cuts to the lower deeming rate from 1.75% to 1% and the upper rate from 3.75% to 3%. The lower rate will apply for single people with up to $52,000, and for couples with up to $86,000, in financial assets.

The last time deeming rates had been changed was in March 2015. Since then, the Reserve Bank of Australia has cut the cash rate five times, reaching a new low of one per cent on 2 July 2019. Given that interest rates have been falling for more than four years, this change will be welcome news to older Australians who may have actually been earning less than the deeming rate from their savings and other financial assets.

What does this mean if you're retired

Whether this change is going to make a difference to your finances, depends on your individual situation. "It really depends on whether it's your assets or your income that determine your Age Pension entitlement," says Anne Graham, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and CEO at Story Wealth Management. "If your pension rate is based on the assets test, the change in deeming rates is unlikely to have an impact on your eligibility for the Age Pension or how much you receive. On the other hand, for older Australians who aren't receiving the Age Pension due to the income test, or are getting less than the maximum payment, they may benefit from the change in deeming rates."

Anne also suggests the change in deeming rates could take the pressure off retirees struggling to meet their cost of living in a low interest rate environment. "Many people prefer not to take risks with their money because they know it's got to last them throughout retirement," says Anne. "They'd naturally lean towards a savings account or term deposit to earn an income from their capital. But if they're not getting enough in earnings from these defensive assets to cover their living costs, they might go against their risk preferences and switch to growth assets like shares and managed funds. They can be torn between the need for income and the potential risk of losing capital."

"If a cut to deeming rates allows people to rely on the Age Pension for more of their essential living costs, it may help them get the balance right between maintaining their current income and having peace of mind about their financial future."

Who can help you manage your retirement income

Deeming rates are just one of the factors involved when managing your finances to maximise retirement income from all sources, including government benefits. "There really are so many different inputs involved and some of them can be very complex," says Anne. "Deemed income for the Age Pension is one consideration, then there may be tax considerations for your actual income when you're making choices about financial assets, including property as well as savings and investments."

The Moneysmart and Centrelink websites are both a good starting point for information on deeming rates, the Age Pension and other types of retirement income. Some Centrelink hubs provide a Financial Information Service (FIS)where you can talk to an officer about your finances. "These are great sources for the detailed information you might need to make decisions," says Anne. "But they're not able to offer advice on your different options. A CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional will talk to you about the Age Pension and the rest of your finances within the bigger picture of your retirement lifestyle and goals. They can help you come up with a strategy for a secure income that takes account of potential changes to all sorts of things, whether that's deeming, interest rates, inflation or current superannuation policy."

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How much will I get back from my taxes?

Posted on 1 August 2019
How much will I get back from my taxes?

Money and Life
(Financial Planning Association of Australia)

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) refunds billions of dollars to over three quarters of all taxpayers annually, but it takes a little effort to ensure you get as much tax back as you can. But while Australian taxpayers receive on average around $2,500 in tax refunds annually, there's no guarantee two people earning the same income, will receive the same tax refund.

That's because many Australians fail to maximise their tax deductions they're legally entitled to, and even worse, ATO estimates around 200,000 taxpayers who failed to lodge tax returns last year, would have received a refund.

Getting your financial house in order

While tax deductions are the easiest way to maximise your tax refund, there's some homework to be done to ensure you maximise the tax you get back.

Much of this homework revolves around good record keeping, to ensure everything you claim as a tax deduction is substantiated with a valid receipt. For example, if you're claiming driving expenses for a car that you own, make sure they're diarised along with dates and mileage. It's no different when you're claiming back charitable donations for any amount over $2, so make sure you retain all receipts.

The key variables

Most of the key variables that impact on how much tax you get back, revolve around legitimate work-related expenses that your employer hasn't already reimbursed you for.

If you're unsure of what's tax deductable, why not check what other people in your job are claiming as deductions? But regardless of the industry you're in, generally speaking, most deductions include expenses relating to:

  • Vehicle and travel expenses for travel between work and home
  • Clothing, laundry and dry-cleaning expenses
  • Mobile phone, internet and home phone expenses
  • Overtime meals
  • Self-education expenses
  • Tools, equipment and other equipment
  • Other work-related deductions, like union fees and professional subscriptions
  • Expenses incurred on things like heating, cooling, lighting while regularly working from home

If you're unsure about what work-related expenses you can claim, check out the ATO website.

Super, investment costs or other items

Another way to receive a bigger tax refund is either by making a personal contribution to your super or by adding to your spouse's fund before the end of the financial year. A maximum rebate can be achieved by contributing $3,000 into super.

Given that tax matters relating to investments are inherently complex, having a professional correctly review other investments can return in spades. For example, it may be appropriate to consider offsetting the loss you're carrying on any assets (like shares and units) against a profit made on the sale of others' assets, on which capital gains tax is now payable.

A timely review of the income protection insurance (you already have through your super), can also result in tax benefits. That's because a policy taken out in your own name (this financial year) can be claimed against assessable income, thereby potentially reducing the up-front cost of protecting your income. Similarly, if you earn more than $90,000 (singles) or $180,000 (families and couples), you can avoid the Medicare Levy Surcharge(calculated at the rate of 1% to 1.5% of your income) by having hospital cover, which in addition to providing the cover you need, may also be cheaper than the surcharge itself.

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