AuthorMichael Scott

Spring 2021

It’s September and spring is here, providing a welcome lift in spirits. After some spectacular performances by our athletes at the recent Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, hopefully you are inspired to achieve some personal goals of your own.

August provided mixed economic news, with central banks, business and consumers remaining cautious. In a widely-reported speech, US Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell said there remained “much ground to cover” before he would consider lifting interest rates, sending stocks higher and bond yields lower.

In Australia, shares and shareholders were boosted by a positive company reporting season. According to CommSec, of the ASX200 companies that have reported so far, 84% reported a profit in the year to June, 73% lifted profits and dividends were up 70% to $34 billion. One of the COVID “winners” is the construction sector. While the value of construction rose 0.4% overall in the year to June, the value of residential building was up 8.9% and renovations rose 24.5%, the strongest in 21 years. One of the COVID “losers”, retail trade was down 3.1% in the year to June.

While unemployment fell from 4.9% to 4.6% in July, full-time jobs and hours worked were lower due to the impact of lockdowns. The Westpac-Melbourne Institute index of consumer sentiment fell 4.4% in August while the NAB business confidence index fell 18.5 points in July, the second biggest monthly decline since the GFC. Wages grew 1.7% in the year to June, well below the 3% the Reserve Bank wants before it considers lifting interest rates.

Iron ore prices fell 18% in August, while the Aussie dollar finished the month weaker at US73.2c.

Aged care payment options

When it comes time to investigate residential aged care for yourself, your partner, parent or relative, the search for a facility and how to pay for it can seem daunting. The system is complex, and decisions are often made in the midst of a health crisis.

Factors such as location to family and friends, reputation for care or general appeal are just as important as the sometimes-high price of a room and other fees in residential aged care.

Even so, costs can’t be ignored.i

Accommodation charges

The first thing to be aware of when researching your residential aged care options is that there are separate costs for the accommodation and the care provided by the facility.

The accommodation payment essentially covers your right to occupy a room. You can pay this accommodation fee as a lump sum called the Refundable Accommodation Deposit (RAD), or a daily rate similar to rent, or combination of both.

The daily rate is known as the Daily Accommodation Payment or DAP and is effectively a daily interest rate set by the government. The current daily rate is 4.04 per cent. If the RAD is $550,000 then the equivalent DAP is $60.87 a day ($550,000 x 4.04%, divided by 365 days).

A resident can pay as much or as little towards the RAD as they choose, but any outstanding amount is charged as a DAP.

The RAD is fully refundable to the estate, unless it is used to pay any of the aged care costs such as the DAP.

Daily fees

As well as an accommodation cost there are daily resident fees that cover living and care costs. There is a basic daily fee which everyone pays and is set at 85 per cent of the basic single Age Pension. The current rate is $52.71 a day and covers the essentials such as food, laundry, utilities and basic care.

Then there is a means tested care fee which is determined by Services Australia or Veteran’s Affairs. This figure can range from $0 to about $256 a day depending on a person’s income and assets. The figure has an indexed annual and a lifetime cap – currently set at $28,339 a year or $68,013 over a lifetime.

Some facilities offer extra services, where a compulsory extra services fee is paid. It has nothing to do with care but may include extras like special outings, a choice of meals, wine with meals and daily newspaper delivery. It can range from $20-$100 a day.

A means assessment determines if you need to pay the means-tested care fee and if the government will contribute to your accommodation costs. Everyone who moves into an aged care home is quoted a room price before moving in. The means assessment then determines if you will have to pay the agreed room price, or RAD, or contribute towards it.

How means testing works

A means-tested amount above a certain threshold is used to determine whether you pay the quoted RAD and how much the government will contribute towards the means-tested care fee.

A person on the full Age Pension and with property and assets below about $37,155 would have all their costs met by the government, except the $52.71 a day basic daily fee.

A person on the full Age Pension with a home and a protected person, such as their spouse, living in it and assets between $37,155 and $173,075 may be asked to contribute towards their accommodation and care.

To be classified a low means resident there would be assessable assets below $173,075.20 (indexed). It is also subject to an income test.

A low means resident may pay a Daily Accommodation Contribution (DAC) instead of a DAP which can then be converted to a Refundable Accommodation Contribution (RAC). They may also pay a small means-tested care fee.

Payment strategies

The fees you may pay for residential care and how you pay them requires careful consideration. For example, selling assets such as the former home to pay for your residential care can affect your aged care fees and Age Pension entitlements.

If you would like to discuss aged care payment options and how to ensure you find the right residential care at a cost you or your loved one can afford, give us a call.

i All costs quoted in this article are available on https://www.myagedcare.gov.au/aged-care-home-costs-and-fees

Tax Alert September 2021

Although smaller businesses are now enjoying a lower corporate tax rate, their quarterly super bills have gone up, following the latest indexed rise in the Super Guarantee rate.

Here’s a roundup of some of the other key developments when it comes to the world of tax.

SME tax rate drops

With business conditions remaining tough, small and medium companies will welcome the lower corporate tax rate applying from 1 July 2021. Businesses with a turnover under $50 million are now only up for tax of 25 per cent.

This reduction was part of legislation passed back in 2018 to gradually reduce the corporate tax rate from 27.5 per cent to 25 per cent.

More small companies are eligible for this lower rate as the turnover threshold to access a range of tax concessions has been lifted from $10 million to $50 million.

Reminder on SG increase

If you are an employer, don’t forget the Superannuation Guarantee (SG) rate increased by 0.5 per cent on 1 July 2021, making the annual rate 10 per cent.

When paying SG contributions for the July to September quarter for your employees, check your calculations are based on the new, higher rate to ensure you don’t run into problems with the ATO.

The higher SG rate may also increase your Workcover premiums and payroll tax liability.

Tax status of COVID-19 grants

If your business is taking advantage of the financial support provided by state and territory governments during pandemic lockdowns, it’s essential to check the strict tax rules covering these grants.

Most of these financial supports have been given a concessional tax status and are classed as non-assessable non-exempt (NANE) income, but only grants paid in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 financial years currently qualify.

For the grant to qualify for NANE income tax status, your business’s aggregated turnover for the current year must be under $50 million. You are also required to be carrying on a business in the current financial year and the grant program must be declared an eligible grant through a legislative instrument.

Continuation of full expensing and loss carry-back

In more good news, eligible business taxpayers who took advantage of the government’s full expensing and loss carry-back measures in the past financial year will be able to use them again this financial year.

The temporary full expensing regime was introduced to help businesses with an aggregate annual turnover of under $5 billion to cope with the financial challenges of the pandemic. Eligible businesses can deduct the full cost of any eligible depreciable assets purchased after 6 October 2020.

Similarly, eligible companies will also be able to carry-back tax losses from the current income year (2021-22) to offset previously taxed profits going as far back as 2018-19 when they lodge their business tax return.

FBT exemption for retraining and reskilling

The ATO is reminding employers that if they provide training or education to employees who are made redundant, or soon to be redundant, the cost is exempt from fringe benefits tax (FBT).

Eligible employers using the exemption are not required to include the retraining in their FBT returns, or in the reportable fringe benefits listed in the employee’s Single Touch Payroll reporting or payment summary.

You are, however, required to keep a detailed record of all the training and education provided if you intend claiming this exemption.

Changes to SuperStream

And finally, a reminder that from 1 October 2021, self-managed super funds (SMSFs) will only be able to roll member benefits into and out of their fund using SuperStream. Some electronic release authorities will also need to be processed using SuperStream.

SMSF trustees need to ensure their fund will be ready to meet the new requirements by checking the details recorded with the ATO are up-to-date for both the fund and its members.

Trustees should also check they have provided the ATO with details of the fund’s ABN and unique bank account for super payments.

Future proofing your career with professional development

“The only thing that is constant is change” – so said the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus and it continues to ring true today.

Industries are changing, continuing to evolve in response to challenges (such as the COVID-19 pandemic), technological disruptors and customer expectations. As a result, there is a greater need for the workforce to continue to adapt and develop. We need to be agile to stay on top of these changes, continue developing and learning, which will work towards future proofing our careers.

While some industries have formal professional development programs, there are many ways to foster your own development for those who don’t have formal pathways. Here is how you can take the lead to future proof your career.

Enrol in a course

Some workplaces offer both in-person and online courses, for example LinkedIn Learning, so take advantage of what’s on offer. You can also seek out professional courses relevant to your industry to upskill, keeping you abreast of the changing environment – not to mention that further education is a great additional to your CV as it showcases your engagement within the industry and your proactive approach to your career.

Attend webinars or seminars

While COVID restrictions have halted many in-person seminars, there are plenty of online webinars you can attend, some which are specifically on the topic of future proofing your career. While there are a number of free webinars you can attend, others may be offered by organisations to their members. Paid membership to these organisations be they industry groups, or groups centred around a common goal, can be a worthwhile investment assisting with not only educational sessions but networking opportunities.

Not only are webinars accessible from your office or living room, they tend to be more budget-friendly than seminars. However, seminars offer face-to-face learning and networking opportunities, so they are great to utilise where possible.

Pick up a book or listen to podcasts

It doesn’t get easier than picking up a book to arm yourself with new knowledge. There is a wealth of information out there, some which will be general advice discussing trends and management styles, others that will be tailored to your industry.

If you don’t have much time to read, opt for an audio book to listen to in the car or during exercise. Podcasts are also excellent ways of getting helpful information in a format that is convenient and can be tapped in and out of. As they are regularly created, you’re likely to get more up-to-date information this way.

Enlist the help of a mentor

It’s clear that a mentor can help you stay on top of your industry or explore new opportunities by providing support and guidance. A 2019 survey showed that while 76% of people thought mentors are important, only 37% actually have one.i

The study also found that 61% of mentor-mentee relationships developed naturally, with 25% happening after someone offered to mentor, and 14% when someone asked for a mentor. This means that there’s likely to already be someone in your life who could be your mentor. Think about who is dynamic in facing industry changes and don’t be shy to ask if they’re open to mentoring you.

Join peer groups

An extension of having a mentor, peer groups provide you with the support of others who are also dedicated to professional and personal growth. If you are someone who thrives on peer support, it will be invaluable to be part of a group of people rather than going it alone.

You can give each other feedback, check in on each other’s goals and share helpful experiences and resources such as great books or webinars. This is also a fantastic way to make real-life connections – you might even meet someone who helps you land a new job or open doors to a new industry. Online tools such as Meetup can help you find a group near you and keep an eye on industry meetups as well.

Life is full of change, but rather than feeling overwhelmed, embrace it. By furthering your education, you’ll future proof your career and feel more empowered tackling the changes you face.

https://online.olivet.edu/research-statistics-on-professional-mentors

Investing Lessons from the Pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic hit financial markets in March 2020, almost 40 per cent was wiped off the value of shares in less than a month.i Understandably, many investors hit the panic button and switched to cash or withdrew savings from superannuation.

With the benefit of hindsight, some people may be regretting acting in haste. Although for others, accessing their super under the early release due to COVID measures was a difficult but necessary decision at the time.

As it happened, shares rebounded faster than anyone dared predict. Australian shares rose 28 per cent in the year to June 2020 while global shares rose 37 per cent. Balanced growth super funds returned 18 per cent for the year, their best performance in 24 years.ii

While every financial crisis is different, some investment rules are timeless. So, what are the lessons of the last 18 months?

Lesson #1 Ignore the noise

When markets suffer a major fall as they did last year, the sound can be deafening. From headlines screaming bloodbath, to friends comparing the fall in their super account balance and their dashed retirement hopes.

Yet as we have seen, markets and market sentiment can swing quickly. That’s because on any given day markets don’t just reflect economic fundamentals but the collective mood swings of all the buyers and sellers. In the long run though, the underlying value of investments generally outweighs short-term price fluctuations.

One of the key lessons of the past 18 months is that ignoring the noisy doomsayers and focussing on long-term investing is better for your wealth.

Lesson #2 Stay diversified

Another lesson is the importance of diversification. By spreading your money across and within asset classes you can minimise the risk of one bad investment or short-term fall in one asset class wiping out your savings.

Diversification also helps smooth out your returns in the long run. For example, in the year to June 2020, Australian shares and listed property fell sharply, but positive returns from bonds and cash acted as a buffer reducing the overall loss of balanced growth super funds to 0.5%.

The following 12 months to June 2021 shares and property bounced back strongly, taking returns of balanced growth super funds to 18 per cent. But investors who switched to cash at the depths of the market despair in March last year would have gone backwards after fees and tax.

More importantly, over the past 10 years balanced growth funds have returned 8.6 per cent per year on average after tax and investment fees. High growth funds returned 10.3 per cent per year and the most conservative funds returned 5.5 per cent per year.ii

The mix of investments you choose will depend on your age and tolerance for risk. The younger you are, the more you can afford to have in more aggressive assets that carry a higher level of risk, such as shares and property to grow your wealth over the long term. But even retirees can benefit from having some of their savings in growth assets to help replenish their nest egg even as they withdraw income.

Lesson #3 Stay the course

The Holy Grail of investing is to buy at the bottom of the market and sell when it peaks. If only it were that easy. Even the most experienced fund managers acknowledge that investors with a balanced portfolio should expect a negative return one year in every five or so.

Unfortunately, we can only ever be sure when a market has peaked or troughed after the event, by which time it’s usually too late. By switching out of shares and into cash after the market crashed in March last year, investors would have turned short-term paper losses into a real loss with the potential to put a big dent in their long-term savings.

Even if you had seen the writing on the wall in February 2020 and switched to cash, it’s unlikely you would have switched back into shares in time to catch the full benefit of the upswing that followed.

Timing the market on the way in and the way out is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Looking ahead

Every new generation of investors has a pivotal experience where lessons are learned. For older investors, it may have been the crash of ’87, the tech wreck of the early 2000s or the global financial crisis. For younger investors and many older ones too, the coronavirus pandemic will be a defining moment in their investing journey.

Now that shares and residential property prices have rebounded strongly, investors face new challenges. That is, how to make the most of the prevailing market conditions while ignoring the FOMO (fear of missing out) crowd.

By choosing an asset allocation that aligns with your age and risk tolerance then staying the course, you can sail through the market highs and lows with your sights firmly set on your investment horizon. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make adjustments or take advantage of opportunities along the way.

We’re here to guide you through the highs and lows of investing, so give us a call if you would like to discuss your investment strategy.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizfrazierpeck/2021/02/11/the-coronavirus-crash-of-2020-and-the-investing-lesson-it-taught-us/?sh=241a03a46cfc

ii https://www.chantwest.com.au/resources/super-funds-post-a-stunning-gain

New Financial Year

As the new financial year gets underway, there are some big changes to superannuation that could add up to a welcome lift in your retirement savings.

Some, like the rise in the Superannuation Guarantee (SG), will happen automatically so you won’t need to lift a finger. Others, like higher contribution caps, may require some planning to get the full benefit.

Whether you are just starting your super journey or close to retirement, a member of a big super fund or your own self-managed super fund (SMSF), it pays to know what’s on offer.

Here’s a summary of the changes starting from 1 July 2021.

Increase in the Super Guarantee

If you are an employee, the amount your employer contributes to your super fund has just increased to 10 per cent of your pre-tax ordinary time earnings, up from 9.5 per cent. For higher income earners, employers are not required to pay the SG on amounts you earn above $58,920 per quarter (up from $57,090 in 2020-21).

Say you earn $100,000 a year before tax. In the 2021-22 financial year your employer is required to contribute $10,000 into your super account, up from $9,500 last financial year. For younger members especially, that could add up to a substantial increase in your retirement savings once time and compound earnings weave their magic.

The SG rate is scheduled to rise again to 10.5 per cent on 1 July 2022 and gradually increase until it reaches 12% on 1 July 2025.

Higher contributions caps

The annual limits on the amount you can contribute to super have also been lifted, for the first time in four years.

The concessional (before tax) contributions cap has increased from $25,000 a year to $27,500. These contributions include SG payments from your employer as well as any salary sacrifice arrangements you have in place and personal contributions you claim a tax deduction for.

At the same time, the cap on non-concessional (after tax) contributions has gone up from $100,000 to $110,000. This means the amount you can contribute under a bring-forward arrangement has also increased, provided you are eligible.

Under the bring-forward rule, you can put up to three years’ non-concessional contributions into your super in a single financial year. So this year, if eligible, you could potentially contribute up to $330,000 this way (3 x $110,000), up from $300,000 previously. This is a useful strategy if you receive a windfall and want to use some of it to boost your retirement savings.

More generous Total Super Balance and Transfer Balance Cap

Super remains the most tax-efficient savings vehicle in the land, but there are limits to how much you can squirrel away in super for your retirement. These limits, however, have just become a little more generous.

The Total Super Balance (TSB) threshold which determines whether you can make non-concessional (after-tax) contributions in a financial year is assessed at 30 June of the previous financial year. The TSB at which no non-concessional contributions can be made this financial year will increase to $1.7 million from $1.6 million.

Just to confuse matters, the same limit applies to the amount you can transfer from your accumulation account into a retirement phase super pension. This is known as the Transfer Balance Cap (TBC), and it has also just increased to $1.7 million from $1.6 million.

If you retired and started a super pension before July 1 this year, your TBC may be less than $1.7 million and you may not be able to take full advantage of the increased TBC. The rules are complex, so get in touch if you would like to discuss your situation.

Reduction in minimum pension drawdowns extended

In response to record low interest rates and volatile investment markets, the government has extended the temporary 50 per cent reduction in minimum pension drawdowns until 30 June 2022.

Retirees with certain super pensions and annuities are required to withdraw a minimum percentage of their account balance each year. Due to the impact of the pandemic on retiree finances, the minimum withdrawal amounts were also halved for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 financial years.

Age of retireeTemporary minimum withdrawalNormal minimum withdrawal
Under 652%4%
65 to 742.5%5%
75 to 793%6%
80 to 843.5%7%
85 to 894.5%9%
90 to 945.5%11%
95 or older7%14%

Source: ATO

But wait, there’s more

Next financial year is also shaping up as a big one for super, with most of the changes announced in the May Federal Budget expected to start on 1 July 2022.

The Budget included proposals to:

  • repeal the work test for people aged 67 to 74 who want to contribute to super
  • reduce the minimum age for making a downsizer contribution (using sale proceeds from your family home) from 65 to 60
  • abolish the $450 per month income limit for receiving the Super Guarantee
  • expand the First Home Super Saver Scheme
  • provide a two-year window to commute legacy income streams
  • allow lump sum withdrawals from the Pension Loans Scheme
  • relax SMSF residency requirements.

All these measures still need to be passed by parliament and legislated.

Time to prepare

There’s a lot for super fund members to digest. SMSF trustees in particular will need to ensure they document changes that affect any of the members in their fund. But these latest changes also present retirement planning opportunities.

Whatever your situation, if you would like to discuss how to make the most of the new rules, please get in touch.

Winter 2021

It’s June which means winter has officially arrived. As we rug up and spend more time indoors, it’s a perfect time to get your financial house in order as another financial year draws to a close. And what a year it has been!

The local economic news in May was dominated by the federal Budget, and better-than-expected economic data. Australia’s budget deficit is smaller than expected just six months ago, at $177.1 billion in April. This was underpinned by rising iron ore prices, up 22% this year, and higher tax receipts from more confident businesses and consumers.

The NAB business confidence and business conditions ratings hit record highs in April of +26 points and +32 points respectively. New business investment rose 6.3% in the March quarter, the biggest quarterly lift in nine years. Housing construction is also going gangbusters, up 5.1% in the March quarter while renovations were up 10.8% thanks to low interest rates and government incentives. Retail spending is also recovering, up 1.1% in April and 25.1% on a year ago. The ANZ-Roy Morgan weekly consumer confidence index rose steadily during May to a 19-month high of 114.2 points, well above the long-term average. As a result of the pick-up in economic activity, unemployment fell from 5.7% to 5.5% in April.

In response to all this, the Reserve Bank lifted its economic growth forecast to 9.25% for the year to June and 4.75% for calendar 2021. If realised, this would be the strongest growth in 30 years, albeit rising out of last year’s COVID recession. The major sticking point remains wages. Wage growth was 0.6% in the March quarter but just 1.5% on an annual basis, below inflation. The Aussie dollar finished May at around US77c after nudging US79c earlier in the month.

Counting down to June 30

It’s been a year of change like no other and that extends to tax and superannuation. As the end of the financial year approaches, now is a good time to check some new and not so new ways to reduce tax and boost your savings.

With so many of us confined to our homes over the past year, the big deductible item this year is likely to be working from home expenses.

Home office expenses

If you have been working from home, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has introduced a temporary shortcut method which can be used for the 2020-21 financial year. This allows you to claim 80c for each hour you worked from home during the year.i

The shortcut method covers the additional running costs for home expenses such as electricity, phone, internet, cleaning and the decline in value of home office furniture and equipment.

Some people may get a better result claiming the work-related portion of their actual working from home expenses using the actual cost method.

Alternatively, if you do have a dedicated home office, you can claim using the fixed rate method. The fixed rate is 52c an hour for every hour you work at home and covers things like gas and electricity, and the decline in value or repair of office furniture and furnishings. On top of this, you may be able to claim the work-related portion of phone and internet expenses, computer and stationery supplies, and the decline in value of your digital devices.ii

Pre-pay expenses

While COVID has changed many things, some things stay the same. Such as the potential benefits of pre-paying next year’s expenses to claim a tax deduction against this year’s income.

Some examples are pre-paying 12 months’ premiums for your income protection insurance and work-related expenses such as professional subscriptions and union fees. If you are unsure what you can claim, the ATO has a guide for a range of occupations.

If you own an investment property, you might also consider pre-paying 12 months’ interest on your loan and other property-related expenses.

Top up your super

If your super could do with a boost and you have cash to spare, now is the time to check whether you are making the most of the contribution strategies available to you.

You can make tax-deductible contributions up to $25,000 a year, including Super Guarantee payments by your employer. You can also contribute up to $100,000 a year after tax. From July 1 these caps will increase to $27,500 and $110,000 respectively, so it’s important to factor this into decisions you make before June 30.

For instance, if you recently received a windfall and are considering using the ‘bring forward’ rule, you might consider holding off until after July 1. This rule allows you to bring forward two years’ after-tax contributions. By holding off until July 1 you could contribute up to $330,000 under the new limits.

Also increasing on July 1 is the amount you can transfer from your super account into a pension account. The transfer balance cap is increasing from $1.6 million to $1.7 million.

So if you are about to retire and your super balance is close to the cap, it may be worth delaying until after June 30. Finally, from 1 July 2020, if you are under age 67 you can now make voluntary contributions without meeting a work test. And if 2020-21 is the first year that you no longer satisfy the work test, you may still be able to add to your super if you had a total super balance below $300,000 on 1 July 2020.

Manage investment gains and losses

Now is a good time to look at your portfolio for any loss-making investments with a view to selling before June 30. Any capital loss may potentially be used to offset some or all of your gains.

Of course, any decisions to buy or sell should fit with your overall investment strategy and not for tax reasons alone.

For all the challenges of the past year, there are still many ways to improve your overall financial situation. So get in touch to make the most of strategies available to you to before June 30.

https://www.ato.gov.au/general/covid-19/support-for-individuals-and-employees/employees-working-from-home

ii https://www.ato.gov.au/individuals/income-and-deductions/deductions-you-can-claim/home-office-expenses/

Tax Alert June 2021

The Government is continuing to support COVID-affected businesses by extending most of its pandemic inspired tax offsets and benefits. But at the same time the ATO has micro businesses like contractors who fail to declare all their income in its sights.

Here’s a roundup of some of the key developments when it comes to tax.



LMITO extended again

For individual taxpayers, an important tax change is the Budget announcement of another one-year extension to the current low- and middle-income tax offset (LMITO) for 2021-22.

This welcome decision will provide a valuable tax offset of up to $1,080 for individuals and $2,160 for dual income families as taxpayers repair their post pandemic finances.


Continuation of full expensing and loss carry-back

Business taxpayers should also be happy with the Budget announcement of an extension to the full expensing and loss carry-back measures. Under the full expensing rules, eligible businesses with an aggregate annual turnover of up to $5 billion are able to deduct the full cost of eligible depreciable assets until 30 June 2023.

Eligible companies can also carry-back tax losses from the 2022-23 income year to offset previously taxed profits as far back as 2018-19. This tax refund is available when you lodge your business tax return for the 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 financial years.


ATO tracks contractor payments

While the Budget provided tax incentives, contractors working in courier, cleaning, building and construction, road freight, IT, security and surveillance industries are increasingly under the tax man’s spotlight.

The ATO has announced it’s now combining data from its Taxable Payments Reporting System (TPRS) with its other data and analytical tools to ensure more than $172 billion in payments to contracting businesses have been properly declared. The ATO is now proactively contacting contractors identified as not declaring income reported by their customers through the TPRS.


New food and drink limits

The new reasonable weekly food and drink amounts businesses can pay an employee as a living-away-from-home allowance (LAFHA) have been released.

For this FBT year (starting 1 April 2021), the ATO considers it reasonable to pay an adult working in Australia a total food and drink expense of $283 per week. As an employer, if you pay more than this you will be liable for FBT on the LAFHA over this amount.


New tax umpire

Small businesses will now have more rights to pause or modify the collection of tax debts under dispute with the ATO.

The Budget included an announcement that small businesses will be able to apply to the Small Business Taxation Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to have an ATO debt recovery action paused until their case is decided.


End to STP exemption

From 1 July 2021, the exemption for small employers on reporting closely held payees through the Single Touch Payroll (STP) system will end.

This exemption allowed small employers to not report payee information for any individuals directly related to the business. Closely held payees include family members of a family business, directors or shareholders of a company, or beneficiaries of a trust.


More support brewing

The Budget also recognised the importance of small business entrepreneurs and technology-driven innovators, with incentives to spur economic growth.

Brewery and distillation businesses will also benefit from a new measure giving them full remission (up from 60 per cent) of any excise paid on alcohol produced up to a new $350,000 cap on the Excise Refund Scheme from 1 July 2021.

The Budget also recognised the growth in local digital gaming businesses, with a new Digital Games Tax Offset. From 1 July 2022, eligible game developers will be able to access a 30 per cent refundable tax offset for qualifying Australian games expenditure of up to $20 million a year.

The Government also plans to provide tax incentives for medical and biotechnology companies by introducing a new ‘patent box’ from 1 July 2022. Income from patents will be taxed at 17 per cent, rather than the normal 30 per cent corporate rate.


The financial rewards of optimism

If it wasn’t already clear, the past 12 months certainly cemented the fact that life has a habit of throwing us the occasional curveball. The reality is we all face challenges, however approaching life with a positive mindset can help us deal with any issues we may face and improve our lives in many ways.

Having a positive outlook not only improves our health and wellbeing, it can also have a meaningful and very positive impact on our finances.

How optimism can improve our finances

If you have a cautious or anxious approach to your finances, such as worrying you’ll never have enough money or being wary of spending, it will likely come as a surprise to hear that being optimistic can improve your financial situation.

A recent study connected the link between financial well-being and an optimistic mindset, finding that people who classify themselves as optimists enjoy 62 per cent fewer days of financial stress per year compared to pessimists.

Superior financial well-being

When you are positive in your outlook, you are also much more likely to follow better financial habits in managing your money. Optimists tend to save for major purchases, with around 90 percent of optimists having saved for a significant purchase, be it a car, a house or an overseas holiday, compared to pessimists at just 70 per cent.i

However, optimism does not equal naivety and optimists still tend to have contingency plans in place for unforeseen events that may detrimentally impact their bottom line. Some 66 per cent of optimists had an emergency fund, compared to under 50 percent of the pessimists.i

This goes to show that maintaining an optimistic approach to your finances does still involve planning for the future. By being prepared, you’ll reduce the stress that comes from feeling the rug could be pulled from beneath you without a safety net.

Your career and earning capacity

An optimistic approach to life and your career leads to achieving greater career success and the financial rewards that come with being successful in your job.

Optimists are 40 percent more likely than pessimists to receive a promotion within a space of twelve months and up to six times more predisposed to being highly engaged in their chosen career.i

Changing your attitude

Knowing that optimism is great for your wallet and your health is one thing, but how do you shift your outlook? If you’re prone to worry, focussing on pessimistic outcomes or a bit of a sceptic, looking on the bright side of life can seem easier said than done.

It is possible to nurture optimism, and you get this opportunity every day. Cultivating optimism can be as simple as adopting optimistic behaviours.

So, what are the financial behaviours of optimists that we can emulate?

Optimists tend to be more comfortable talking about and learning about money and are more likely to follow expert financial advice than their more pessimistic peers.

Positive people display a correspondingly positive approach to their finances. They tend to put plans in place and have the courage to dream big. You don’t have to be too ambitious in how you carry out those plans, every small step you take will help you to get where you want to be.

Everyone experiences setbacks at various times, however optimists rise to these challenges, learning from their past mistakes and persisting in their endeavours. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are experiencing difficulties. We all face challenges and during these times, focus on solutions rather than just the problems, be conscious of your “internal talk” and don’t be afraid to seek out support. It’s important to focus on what you can do differently going forward, this could be as simple as working towards a “rainy day” fund.

It’s never too late to change your outlook. By embracing optimism, you can reap the rewards that a more positive outlook provides.

https://www.optforoptimism.com/optimism/optimismresearch.pdf/

Investing in recovery

In his third and possibly last Budget before the next federal election, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is counting on a new wave of spending to ensure Australia’s economic recovery maintains its momentum.

As expected, the focus is on jobs and major new spending on support for aged care, women and first-home buyers with some superannuation sweeteners for good measure.

With the emphasis on spending, balancing the Budget has been put on the back burner until employment and wages pick up.

The big picture

This year’s Budget is based on a successful vaccine rollout which would allow Australia’s borders to open from mid-2022. The Treasurer says he expects all Australians who want to be vaccinated could have two doses by the end of the year.

So far, the economic outlook is better than anyone dared hope at the height of the pandemic just a year ago, but challenges remain.

Unemployment, at 5.6%, has already fallen below pre-pandemic levels and is expected to fall sharply to 5% by mid-2022. But wage growth remains stubbornly low, currently growing at rate of 1.25% and forecast to rise by just 1.5% next year. This is well below inflation which is forecast to rise 3.5% in 2020-21 and 1.75% in 2021-22.

The treasurer forecast a budget deficit of $161 billion this financial year (7.8% of GDP), $52.7 billion less than expected just six months ago, and $106.6 billion (5% of GDP) in 2021-22.

Net debt is forecast to increase to an eye-watering $617.5 billion (30% of GDP) by June this year before peaking at $920.4 billion four years from now.

The large improvement in the deficit has been underpinned by the stronger than expected economic recovery and booming iron ore prices. Iron ore prices have surged 44% this year to a record US$228 recently.i

Funding for aged care

The centrepiece of the Budget is a $17.7 billion commitment over five years to implement key recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission. This includes $7.8 billion to reform residential aged care and $6.5 billion for an immediate investment in an additional 80,000 Home Care Packages.

In other health-related initiatives, the Treasurer announced additional funding of $13.2 billion over the next four years for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, taking total funding to $122 billion.

And in recognition of the toll the pandemic has taken on the nation’s mental health, the Government will provide an extra $2.3 billion for mental health and suicide prevention services.

Focus on Women

After criticism that last year’s Budget did not do enough to support women’s economic engagement, this Budget works hard to restore gender equity. The Women’s Budget Statement outlines total spending of $3.4 billion on women’s safety and economic security.

Funding initiatives include:

  • Funding for domestic violence prevention more than doubled to at least $680 million.
  • Funding for women’s health, including cervical and breast cancer and endometriosis and reproductive health, boosted by $354 million over the next four years.ii
  • Increased subsidies for second and subsequent children in childcare from a maximum of 85% to 95%, while families with household incomes above $189,390 will no longer have their annual payments capped at $10,560.iii

While childcare is of benefit to all parents, it is generally mothers who rely on affordable care to increase their working hours.

As widely touted, proposed changes to superannuation and support for first home buyers also have women in mind.

Superannuation gets a boost

In a move that will benefit part-time workers who are largely women, the Treasurer announced he will scrap the requirement for workers to earn at least $450 a month before their employers are obliged to pay super.

The Government will also expand a scheme allowing retirees to make a one-off super contribution of up to $300,000 (or $600,000 per couple) when they downsize and sell their family home. The age requirement will be lowered from 65 to 60.

In addition, from 1 July 2022 the work test that currently applies to super contributions (when either making or receiving non-concessional or salary sacrificed contributions) made by people aged 67 to 74 will be abolished.

Despite opposition from within Coalition ranks, Superannuation Guarantee payments by employers will increase from the current 9.5% of earnings to 10% on 1 July and then gradually increase to 12% as originally legislated.

Support for first home buyers

Housing affordability is on the agenda again as the property market booms. To help first home buyers and single parents get a foot on the housing ladder, the Government has announcediv:

  • The Family Home Guarantee, which will allow 10,000 single parents to buy a home with a deposit of just 2%.
  • An extra 10,000 places on the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme in 2020-21. Now called the New Home Guarantee, the scheme gives loan guarantees to first home buyers, so they can buy a home with a deposit as low as 5%.
  • An increase in the maximum voluntary contributions that Australians can release under the First Home Super Saver Scheme from $30,000 to $50,000.

Improvements to the Pensions Loan Scheme

In a move that will please cash-strapped pensioners, the Treasurer announced that the Pensions Loan scheme – a form of reverse mortgage offered by the Government – will allow people to withdraw a capped lump sum from 1 July 2022. Currently income must be taken as regular income, which makes it difficult to fund larger purchases or home maintenance.

Under the new rules, a single person will be able to withdraw up to the equivalent to 50% of the maximum Age Pension each year, currently around $12,385 a year ($18,670 for couples).

The Government will also introduce a No Negative Equity Guarantee which means the loan amount can never exceed the value of the home.

Tax cuts for low-and-middle-income earners

Approximately ten million Australians will avoid a drop in income of up to $1,080 next financial year, with the low-and-middle-income tax offset extended for another 12 months at a cost of $7.8 billion.

Anyone earning between $37,000 and $126,000 a year will receive some benefit, with people earning between $48,001 and $90,000 to receive the full offset of $1,080.

Low and middle income tax offset

Taxable incomeOffset
$37,000 or less$255
Between $37,001 and $48,000$255 plus 7.5 cents for every dollar above $37,000, up to a maximum of $1,080
Between $48,001 and $90,000$1,080
Between $90,001 and $126,000$1,080 minus 3 cents for every dollar of the amount above $90,000

Source: ATO

Job creation and training

With companies warning of labour shortages while the nation’s borders are closed, the Government has been under pressure to do more to help unemployed Australians back into work.

So, the focus in this Budget is squarely on skills training with $6.4 billion on offer to increase workforce participation and help boost economic growth.

This includes a 12-month extension to the Government’s JobTrainer program to December 2022 and an additional 163,000 places. The Treasurer also announced funding of $2.7 billion for 170,000 new apprenticeships.

Job creation is also at the heart of an extra $15.2 billion in road and rail infrastructure projects, expected to create 30,000 jobs. This is on top of the existing 10-year $110 billion infrastructure spend announced previously.

Looking ahead

With an election due by May 21 next year, this is as much an election Budget as a COVID-recovery one. Although another Budget could be squeezed in before an election, it would have to be brought forward from the normal time.

The Government will be hoping that it has done enough to provide funds where they are needed most to continue the job of economic recovery.

If you have any questions about any of the Budget measures and how you might take advantage of them, don’t hesitate to call.

Information in this article has been sourced from the Budget Speech 2021-22 and Federal Budget support documents.

It is important to note that the policies outlined in this publication are yet to be passed as legislation and therefore may be subject to change.

https://tradingeconomics.com/commodities (viewed 11/5/2021)

ii https://www.health.gov.au/ministers/the-hon-greg-hunt-mp/media/354-million-to-support-the-health-and-wellbeing-of-australias-women

iii https://ministers.treasury.gov.au/ministers/josh-frydenberg-2018/media-releases/making-child-care-more-affordable-and-boosting

iv https://ministers.treasury.gov.au/ministers/josh-frydenberg-2018/media-releases/improving-opportunities-home-ownership

Bonds, Inflation & Your Investments

The recent sharp rise in bond rates may not be a big topic of conversation around the Sunday barbecue, but it has set pulses racing on financial markets amid talk of inflation and what that might mean for investors.

US 10-year government bond yields touched 1.61 per cent in early March after starting the year at 0.9 per cent.i Australian 10-year bonds followed suit, jumping from 0.97 per cent at the start of the year to a recent high of 1.81 per cent. ii

That may not seem like much, but to bond watchers it’s significant. Rates have since settled a little lower, but the market is still jittery.

Why are bond yields rising?

Bond yields have been rising due to concerns that global economic growth, and inflation, may bounce back faster and higher than previously expected.

While a return to more ‘normal’ business activity after the pandemic is a good thing, there are fears that massive government stimulus and central bank bond buying programs may reinflate national economies too quickly.

As vaccine rollouts gather pace, the OECD recently lifted its 2021 economic growth forecast for the global economy to 5.6 per cent, up from 4.2 per cent in December. Most of this is due to a doubling of its US growth forecast to 6.5 per cent, on the back of the Biden administration’s US$1.9 trillion stimulus package.iii

US 10-year bond yields vs Australian 10-year bond yields

Source: Reuters, CommSec

The OECD now expects Australia to grow by 4.5 per cent this year, up from its previous estimate of 3.2 per cent.iv

The risk of inflation

Despite short-term interest rates languishing close to zero, a sharp rise in long-term interest rates indicates investors are readjusting their expectations of future inflation. Australia’s inflation rate currently sits at 0.9 per cent, half the long bond yield.

To quash inflation fears, Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Governor Philip Lowe recently repeated his intention to keep interest rates low until 2024. The RBA cut official rates to a record low of 0.1 per cent last year and also launched a $200 billion program to buy government bonds with the aim of keeping yields on these bonds at record lows.v

Governor Lowe said inflation- currently 0.9 per cent – would not be anywhere near the RBA’s target of between 2 and 3 per cent until annual wages growth, currently at 1.4 per cent, rises above 3 per cent. This would require unemployment falling closer to 4 per cent from the current 6.4 per cent.

In other words, there’s some arm wrestling going on between central banks and the market over whose view of inflation and interest rates will prevail, with no clear winner.

What does this mean for investors?

Bond yields move in an inverse relation to prices, so yields rise as prices fall. Bond prices have been falling because investors are concerned that rising inflation will erode the value of the yields on their existing bond holdings, so they sell.

For income investors, falling bond prices could mean capital losses as the value of their existing bond holdings is eroded by rising rates, but healthier income in future.

The prospect of higher interest rates also has implications for other investments, normally tipping the balance away from growth assets such as shares and property to bonds and other fixed interest investments.

Shares shaken but not stirred

In recent years, low interest rates have sent investors flocking to shares for their dividend yields and capital growth. In 2020, US shares led the charge with the tech-heavy Nasdaq index up 43.6%. This was on the back of high growth stocks such as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google – the so-called FAANGs – which soared during the pandemic.vi

It’s these high growth stocks that are most sensitive to rate change. As the debate over inflation raged, FAANG stocks fell nearly 17 per cent from mid to late February and remain volatile.

That doesn’t mean all shares are vulnerable. Instead, market analysts expect a shift to ‘value’ stocks. These include traditional industrial companies and banks which were sold off during the pandemic but stand to gain from economic recovery.

Property market resilient

Against expectations, the Australian residential property market has also performed strongly despite the pandemic, fuelled by low interest rates.

National housing values rose 4 per cent in the year to February, while total returns including rental yields rose 7.6 per cent. But averages hide a patchy performance, with Darwin leading the pack (up 13.8 per cent) and Melbourne dragging up the rear (down 1.3 per cent).vii

There are concerns that ultra-low interest rates risk fuelling a house price bubble and worsening housing affordability. In answer to these fears, Governor Lowe said he was prepared to tighten lending standards quickly if the market gets out of hand. Only time will tell who wins the tussle between those who think inflation is a threat and those who think it’s under control. As always, patient investors with a well-diversified portfolio are best placed to weather any short-term market fluctuations.

If you would like to discuss your overall investment strategy, give us a call.

i Trading economics, viewed 11 March 2021, https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/government-bond-yield

ii Trading economics, viewed 11 March 2021, https://tradingeconomics.com/australia/government-bond-yield

iii https://www.reuters.com/article/us-oecd-economy-idUSKBN2B112G

iv https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/growth-prospects-for-australia-and-world-upgraded-by-oecd-20210309-p57973.html

https://rba.gov.au/speeches/2021/sp-gov-2021-03-10.html

vi https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/12/31/stock-market-record-2020/

vii https://www.corelogic.com.au/sites/default/files/2021-03/210301_CoreLogic_HVI.pdf

Autumn 2021

After an eventful summer of weather extremes, on-again off-again lockdowns and the swearing in of a new US President, many will be hoping that Autumn ushers in a change of more than the season. As the vaccine rollout begins, there are also promising signs that economic recovery may be earlier than expected.

Australia’s economy has improved and the downturn was not as deep as feared. That was the message Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe delivered to Parliament on February 5, citing strong employment growth, retail spending and housing. Unemployment fell from 6.6% to 6.4% in January, although annual wage growth remains steady at a record low of 1.4% after a 0.6% increase in the December quarter. Retail trade rose 0.6% in January, 10.7% higher than a year ago. While home lending jumped 8.6% in December. This helped fuel the 3% rise in national home values in the year to January, led by a 7.9% increase in in regional prices.

Business and consumer sentiment is also improving. The NAB Business Confidence Index was up from 4.7 points to 10.0 points in January, although 60% of businesses say they are not interested in borrowing to invest. Halfway through the corporate reporting season, 87% of ASX200 companies reported a profit in the December half year, although earnings were 14% lower in aggregate while dividends were 4% higher. The ANZ-Roy Morgan Consumer Confidence rating eased slightly in February but is still up 67% since last March’s low. Higher commodity prices lifted the Aussie dollar to a three-year high. It closed the month around US78.7c, on the back of a 31% rise in crude oil prices and an 8.5% lift in iron ore prices in 2021 to date.

There’s more than one way to boost your retirement income

After spending their working life building retirement savings, many retirees are often reluctant to eat into their “nest egg” too quickly. This is understandable, given that we are living longer than previous generations and may need to pay for aged care and health costs later in life.

But this cautious approach also means many retirees are living more frugally than they need to. This was one of the key messages from the Government’s recent Retirement Income Review, which found most people die with the bulk of the wealth they had at retirement intact.i

One of the benefits of advice is that we can help you plan your retirement income so you know how much you can afford to spend today, secure in the knowledge that your future needs are covered.

Minimum super pension withdrawals

Under superannuation legislation, once you retire and transfer your super into a pension account, you must withdraw a minimum amount each year. This amount increases from 4 per cent of your account balance for retirees aged under 65 to 14 per cent for those aged 95 and over. (These rates have been halved temporarily for the 2020 and 2021 financial years due to COVID-19.)

One of the common misconceptions about our retirement system, according to the Retirement Income Review, is that these minimum drawdowns are what the Government recommends. Instead, they are there to ensure retirees use their super to fund their retirement, rather than as a store of tax-advantaged wealth to pass down the generations.

In practice, super is unlikely to be your only source of retirement income.

The three pillars

Most retirees live on a combination of Age Pension topped up with income from super and other investments – the so-called three pillars of our retirement system. Yet despite compulsory super being around for almost 30 years, over 70 per cent of people aged 66 and over still receive a full or part-Age Pension.

While the Retirement Income Review found most of today’s retirees have adequate retirement income, it argued they could do better. Not by saving more, but by using what they have more efficiently.

Withdrawing more of your super nest egg is one way of improving retirement outcomes, but for those who could still do with extra income the answer could lie in your nest.

Unlocking housing wealth

Australian retirees are some of the wealthiest in the world, with median household wealth of around $1.4 million. Yet close to $1 million of this wealth is tied up in the family home.

That’s a lot of money to leave to the kids, especially when many retirees end up living in homes that are too large while they struggle to afford the retirement lifestyle they had hoped for.

For these reasons there is growing interest in ways that allow retirees to tap into their home equity. Of course, not everyone will want or need to take advantage of these options. But if you are looking for ways to use your home to generate retirement income, but don’t relish the thought of welcoming Airbnb guests, here are some options:

  • Downsizer contributions to your super. If you are aged 65 or older and sell your home, perhaps to buy something smaller, you may be able to put up to $300,000 of the proceeds into super (up to $600,000 for couples).
  • The Pension Loans Scheme (PLS). Offered by the government via Centrelink, the PLS allows older Australians to receive tax-free fortnightly income by taking out a loan against the equity in their home. The loan plus interest (currently 4.5 per cent per year) is repaid when you sell or after your death.
  • Reverse Mortgages (also called equity release or home equity schemes). Similar to the PLS but offered by commercial providers. Unlike the PLS, drawdowns can be taken as a lump sum, income stream or line of credit but this flexibility comes at the cost of higher interest rates.

The big picture

While super is important, for most people it’s not the only source of retirement income.

If you would like to discuss your retirement income needs and how to make the most of your assets, give us a call.

i Retirement Income Review, https://treasury.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-11/p2020-100554-complete-report.pdf

Tax Alert March 2021

Individuals and small business owners who have taken advantage of the government’s COVID-19 support programs will find themselves increasingly under the tax man’s microscope in coming months. This is just one of the key developments occurring in the world of tax at the moment.

Data matching program expanded

The Tax Commissioner has applied for additional data from Services Australia to allow the ATO to verify the eligibility of applicants for the government’s key COVID-19 support schemes.

The ATO will begin matching the data against eligibility criteria for the JobKeeper, temporary early access to superannuation, Temporary Cash Flow Boost and JobMaker Hiring Credit schemes.

Objectives of the program include “verification of applications and identify compliance issues”, identifying individuals and businesses “failing to meet their registration and/or lodgment obligations”, and ensuring all tax and super reporting obligations have been met.

Expenses shortcut extended again

Employees using the shortcut method to calculate their working from home expenses can continue using this method after the ATO extended the deadline for the scheme to 30 June 2021.

The ATO has updated its guidance to enable employees and business owners working from home between 1 March 2020 and 30 June 2021 to claim a flat 80 cents per work hour for running expenses during this period.

Clock runs down on STP exemption

The ATO has reminded small employers (with 19 or less staff) exemptions from the single touch payroll (STP) system end on 30 June 2021.

From 1 July 2021, employers who are currently exempt from reporting closely held payees will need to report them through STP. (Closely held payees include family members, directors or shareholders of the business and beneficiaries of a trust). They will, however, have the option to report the information on a quarterly basis.

Super choice expanded for employees

On 1 January 2021, the rules relating to choice of super fund changed and the ATO is warning employers they must comply.

Any new workplace determination or enterprise agreement made on or after 1 January 2021 must now offer employees the right to choose the super fund into which their employer pays their compulsory Super Guarantee (SG) contributions. This applies to both existing and new hires.

Once an employee has nominated a fund using the ATO’s Standard Choice Form, the employer must pay their SG contributions into that fund. Employers who fail to comply risk being audited and penalised by the ATO.

JobMaker Hiring Credit

Businesses considering hiring new employees aged 35 and under may be eligible for a government payment through the new JobMaker Hiring Credit scheme.

Employers will receive payments of up to $200 a week for each eligible employee aged 16 to 29, or $100 a week for an employee aged 30 to 35. Eligibility criteria include holding an ABN, being registered for PAYG withholding tax, reporting through STP, and being current with your income tax and GST lodgment obligations.

Businesses can register for JobMaker on the ATO website at any time until the program closes.

Business concessions start

Small to medium-sized businesses with an annual turnover of $10 to $50 million are eligible for several new tax concessions from 1 April 2021.

The concessions were announced and legislated late in 2020. Under the new rules, eligible businesses are exempt from 47% FBT when they provide employees with car parking or work-related portable devices (such as phones and laptops).

Eligible businesses are also able to access simplified trading stock rules and remit their PAYG instalments based on GDP adjusted notional tax. From 1 July, they will have up to two years to seek an amendment to a tax assessment.

Claiming GST credits

The ATO is reminding businesses about the rules relating to claiming GST credits for business purchases.

Although a credit is available for most business purchases, valid claims cannot be made if the supplier is not registered for GST, even if their tax invoice lists an ABN and GST amount. The ATO recommends businesses use the ABN Lookup tool to check their suppliers prior to making a claim.

If a purchase is used for both personal and business use, you need to work out the business use portion of the GST and only claim that portion.

Give your finances a shake out

Like trees losing their leaves in autumn, why not take a leaf out of their book and choose this time of year to shed some of your own financial baggage.

In the style of Marie Kondo, the Japanese organising whizz who has inspired millions to clean out their cupboards, decluttering your finances can bring many benefits.

While you work through all your contracts, investments and commitments, you will no doubt discover many that no longer fit your lifestyle or are simply costing you in unnecessary fees.

And if that is the case, then it is likely that such commitments will not be sparking any joy. And joy is the key criteria Kondo uses to determine whether you hold on to something or let it go.

So how does decluttering work with your finances and where do you start?

Where are you?

The first step is probably to assess where you are right now. That means working out your income and your expenses.

There are many ways to monitor your spending including online apps and the good old-fashioned pen-and-paper method.

Make sure you capture all your expenditure as some can be hidden these days with buy now pay later, credit card and online shopping purchases.

The next step is to organise your expenditure in order of necessity. At the top of the list would be housing, then utilities, transport, food, health and education. After that, you move on to those discretionary items such as clothes, hairdressing and entertainment.

Work through the list determining what you can keep, what you can discard and what you can adapt to your changed needs. Remember, if it doesn’t spark joy then you should probably get rid of it.

Weed out excess accounts

Now you need to look at the methods you use when spending. Decluttering can include cancelling multiple credit cards and consolidating your purchases into the one card. This has a twofold impact: firstly, you will be able to control your spending better; and secondly, it may well cut your costs by shedding multiple fees.

Another area where multiple accounts can take their toll is super. Consider consolidating your accounts into one. Not only can this make it easier to keep track of, but it will save money on duplicate fees and insurance. If you think you may have long forgotten super accounts, search for them on the Australian Tax Office’s lost super website. Since July 2019, super providers must transfer inactive accounts to the tax office.

Once you have reviewed your superannuation, the next step is to check that your investments match your risk profile and your retirement plans. If they aren’t aligned, then it’s likely they will not spark much joy in the future when you start drawing down your retirement savings.

If you have many years before retirement and can tolerate some risk, you may consider being reasonably aggressive in your investment choice as you will have sufficient time to ride investment cycles. You can gradually reduce risk in the years leading up to and following retirement.

Sort through your insurances

Another area to check is insurance. While insurance, whether in or out of super, may not spark much joy, you will be over the moon should you ever need to make a claim and have the right cover in place.

When it comes to insurance, make sure your cover reflects your life stage. For instance, if you have recently bought a home or had a child, you may need to increase your life insurance cover to protect your family. Or if your mortgage is paid off and the kids have left home, you might decide to reduce your cover.

Prune your investments

If you also have investments outside your super, they too might benefit from some decluttering. As the end of the financial year approaches, now is a good time to look at your portfolio, sell underperforming assets and generally rebalance your investments.

Many people who have applied Marie Kondo’s decluttering rules to their possessions talk about the feeling of freedom and release it engenders. It may well be that applying the same logic to your finances gets you one step closer to financial freedom.

If you would like to review or make changes to your finances, why not call us to discuss.

Summer 2020

December and summer are finally here, along with a renewed sense of optimism that strict lockdown measures will ease by Christmas. It’s been a tough year, but once again Australians have proved extremely resilient. We wish all our clients and their families a relaxed and happy Christmas.

November was an extraordinarily action-packed month for the global and local economy. Joe Biden’s US election victory released a pressure valve on global markets, with US shares reaching new historic highs and Australian shares up more than 9% over the month.

Markets also responded positively to the potential early release of effective coronavirus vaccines despite a rise in global cases. Oil prices were quick to respond to the prospect of borders reopening, with Brent Crude up almost 22% over the month.

In Australia, the Reserve Bank (RBA) cut its target cash rate and 3-year government bond yields from 0.25% to 0.1%, or one tenth of one percent. The RBA is not expecting to increase rates for at least three years. Early indications are that swift action by the government and the RBA have limited the impact of the COVID recession. Economic growth is now forecast to contract 4% in 2020, before rebounding 6% in the year to June 2021. Unemployment, which rose slightly to 7% in October, is forecast to peak at 8% this year but to remain at a relatively high 6% in December 2022. This is reflected in the fall in annual wages growth from 1.8% to 1.4% in the year to September. The Aussie dollar rose 5% on US dollar weakness in November, to close at US74c. The US currency is falling as a spike in coronavirus infections and delays in government stimulus raise the prospect of more money printing.

What the US election means for investors

Democrat Joe Biden is pressing ahead with preparations to take the reins as the next President of the United States. Despite legal challenges and recounts, the early signs are that markets are responding positively.

In fact, the US sharemarket hit record highs in the weeks following the November 3 election as Biden’s lead widened.

So what can we expect from a Biden Presidency?

Biden’s key policies

The policies Joe Biden took to the election which stand to have the biggest impact on the US economy and global investment markets include the following:

  • Corporate tax increases. The biggest impact on corporate America would come from Biden’s plan to lift the corporate tax rate to 28 per cent. This would partially reverse President Trump’s 2017 cut from 35 per cent to 21 per cent. Biden is also considered more likely to regulate the US tech giants to promote more competition. These plans may face stiff opposition from a Republican Senate (which appears likely).
  • Stimulus payments to households. Biden supports further fiscal stimulus to boost consumer spending. While there were hopes that this could be delivered before the end of the year, action now seems unlikely until after January 20.
  • Infrastructure program. Biden has promised to rebuild America’s ageing public infrastructure, from roads, bridges, rail and ports to inland waterways. This would stimulate the construction and engineering sectors.
  • Climate policy. Biden is expected to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and join other major economies pledging zero net carbon emissions by 2050. To achieve this, he would likely promote renewable technologies at the expense of fossil fuels.
  • Expand affordable healthcare. Biden wants to create affordable public health insurance and lower drug prices to put downward pressure on insurance premiums.
  • Turn down the heat on trade. Biden will continue to put pressure on China to open its economy to outside investment and imports. But unlike President Trump’s unpredictable, unilateral action, he is expected to take a more diplomatic approach and build alliances with other countries in the Asian region to counter China’s expansionism. 

While a Republican Senate may oppose measures such as higher corporate taxes and tougher regulation of industry, it is expected to be more open to other policy initiatives.

The outlook for markets

The general view is that further stimulus spending should support the ongoing US economic recovery which will in turn be positive for financial markets.

While Biden is committed to heeding expert advice in his handling of the coronavirus, a return to lockdown in major cities may put a short-term brake on growth.

Longer-term, recent announcements by pharmaceutical company Pfizer and others have raised hopes that vaccines to prevent COVID-19 may not be far off. This would provide an economic shot in the arm and continued support for global markets.

However, as sharemarkets tend to be forward looking, the US market appears to have already given Biden an early thumbs up with the S&P500 Index hitting record highs in mid-November.

Lessons of history

Despite the Republicans’ more overt free market stance, US shares have done better under Democrat presidents in the past with an average annual return of 14.6 per cent since 1927. This compares with an average return of 9.8 per cent under Republican presidents.

While the past is no guide to the future, it does suggest the market is not averse to a Democratic president.

What’s more, shares have done best during periods when there was a Democrat president and Republican control of the House, the Senate or both with an average annual return of 16.4 per cent.i

Implications for Australia

Australian investors should also benefit from a less erratic, more outward-looking Biden presidency.

Any reduction in trade tensions with China would be positive for our exporters and Australian shares. While a faster US transition to cleaner energy might put pressure on the Morrison government and local companies that do business in the US to do the same, it could also create investment opportunities for Australia’s renewables sector.

Ultimately, what’s good for the US economy is good for Australia and global markets.

If you would like to discuss your overall investment strategy as we head towards a new year and new opportunities, don’t hesitate to contact us.

https://www.amp.com.au/insights/grow-my-wealth/joe-biden-on-track-to-become-us-president-implications-for-investors-and-australia

Tax Alert December 2020

Although individuals and small business owners are now enjoying welcome tax relief in the wake of some valuable tax changes, there is more on the horizon as the government seeks to reboot the Australian economy.

Here’s a quick roundup of significant developments in the world of tax.

Temporary carry-back of tax losses

Previously profitable companies struggling with tough COVID-induced business conditions may find the government’s new tax loss carry-back provisions a useful tool to help keep their operation running.

Businesses with a turnover of up to $5 billion can now generate a tax refund by offsetting tax losses against previous profits.

Under the new measures, eligible companies can elect to carry-back tax losses incurred in 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22 against profits made in 2018-19 or later years to gain a refund.

Full expensing of capital purchases

Another valuable initiative is the introduction of a temporary tax incentive allowing the full cost of eligible capital assets to be written off in the year they are first used or installed ready for use.

The measure applies from 6 October 2020 to 30 June 2022 and applies to new depreciable assets and improvements to existing assets.

Small businesses with an annual turnover under $10 million can also use it for second-hand assets.

Depreciation pool changes

From 6 October 2020, small businesses with a turnover under $10 million are allowed to deduct the balance of their simplified depreciation pool. This applies while full expensing is in place.

The current provisions preventing small businesses from re-entering the simplified depreciation regime for five years also remain suspended.

Early start to personal tax cuts

Individual taxpayers are now enjoying the next stage of the government’s tax plan, after the start date was brought forward to 1 July 2020.

Under the Stage 2 changes, the low income tax offset increased from $445 to $700; the upper limit for the 19 per cent tax bracket moved from $37,000 to $45,000; and the upper limit for the 32.5 per cent bracket rose from $90,000 to $120,000.

During 2020-21, there is also a one-year extension to the low and middle income tax offset, which is worth up to $1,080 for individuals and $2,160 for dual income couples.

Shortcut for home expenses extended again

Employees using the shortcut method to calculate their working from home expenses can continue using it following the ATO’s decision to extend its end date again – this time until 31 December 2020.

The ATO has updated its guidance on the shortcut measure and stated consideration will be given to a further extension.

The shortcut method allows employees and businessowners working from home between 1 March 2020 and 31 December 2020 to claim 80 cents per work hour for their running expenses.

Additional small business tax concessions

Small businesses should also check out their eligibility for several tax concessions now the annual turnover threshold for them has been increased from $10 million to $50 million.

From 1 April 2021, eligible businesses will be exempt from the 47% FBT on car parking and work-related portable devices (such as phones and laptops) provided to employees.

Eligible business will also be able to access simplified trading stock rules, remit their PAYG instalments based on GDP adjusted notional tax and have a two-year amendment period for income tax assessments from 1 July 2021.

Granny flats to be CGT exempt

Families considering building a granny flat on their property will benefit from the announcement of a new capital gains tax (CGT) exemption for granny flat arrangements. Although the exemption is yet to be legislated, the planned start date is 1 July 2021.

The exemption will clarify that CGT does not apply to the creation, variation or termination of a formal written granny flat arrangement within families. CGT still applies to commercial rental arrangements.

Refresh your ABN details

The ATO is reminding business taxpayers to keep their Australian Business Number (ABN) details updated so government agencies can identify business in affected areas during natural disasters.

Incorrect details could see you miss out on valuable assistance or potential grants during and after a disaster.

Maybe just maybe, Christmas is a little more in 2020

What if Christmas, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
― Dr. Seuss

This year has looked different to other years, as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted our lives in many ways. As we look towards the festive season after what has been quite a challenging year for many, we need to consider how this celebration too might change.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Gratitude has been a real focus to the year, and as a result many people are shifting away from the silly season’s materialism and excess to reassess what Christmas means to them.

Our “new normal” festive season , can be one that is memorable and joy-filled, whether you celebrate this holiday or just enjoy unwinding at the end to the year.

Expressing gratitude

Being thankful for what we have is important; especially so in a year in which bad news may have overpowered the good. While perhaps you will be unable to travel to your annual holiday destination or see as many people as you ordinarily would, it’s helpful to focus on what you still have instead of what is missing.

Rather than merely being a buzzword, gratitude has been shown to reduce depression, anxiety and stress.i Whether it’s around the table at Christmas or in the lead up to the holidays, tell your loved ones what you’re thankful for, as this can inspire them to also reflect on this. It can also help reframe the year from being one of hardship to also having contained moments of happiness and opportunities.

Creating memories

As many of us have been separated from loved ones due to restrictions, the holidays provide an opportunity to reconnect in person. Even if you’re unable to continue certain traditions, such as a family road trip or a big indoor gathering, what truly matters is the time you spend with those you care for.

Perhaps even new traditions can be formed as you create memories together. Depending on what the restrictions will be come late December, you might be able to spend time with family and friends trying something different – if there has always been one designated Christmas host, perhaps this year you have a family picnic where everyone brings a dish to share.

Supporting others

Christmas time is synonymous with extending goodwill to all – and this year there are more people who are doing it tough as a result of the pandemic, as well as the bushfires earlier in 2020.

Give a helping hand to those who have fallen on hard times by volunteering some of your time to a worthy cause (such as a free meal service to those in need) or donating money if you’re able to. These gestures can also reaffirm your understanding of what you have to be thankful for.

Reducing overspending

Whether or not you were financially impacted by the pandemic this year, there is expected to be a trend of reduced spending over the Christmas period. A recent survey by Finder reported that 37% of Aussies plan to spend less on average this Christmas.ii

To reduce your spending, set and then stick to a budget. Don’t leave gift buying to the last minute when you’re more likely to miss bargains or to panic buy. Also watch your usage of your credit card, or buy-now-pay-later schemes so you don’t have a debt hangover in the new year to worry about.

As this year wraps up, we would like to express thanks for your support during 2020 and wish each and every one of you a safe and happy holiday season.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439760.2016.1221127

ii https://www.finder.com/christmas-spending-statistics

Federal Budget 20-21 Analysis

Building a bridge to recovery

In what has been billed as one of the most important budgets since the Great Depression, and the first since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic dragged Australia into its first recession in almost 30 years, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the next phase of the journey is to secure Australia’s future.

As expected, the focus is on job creation, tax cuts and targeted spending to get the economy over the COVID-19 hump.

The Treasurer said this Budget, which was delayed six months due to the pandemic, is “all about helping those who are out of a job get into a job and helping those who are in work, stay in work”.

The big picture

After coming within a whisker of balancing the budget at the end of 2019, the Treasurer revealed the budget deficit is now projected to blow out to $213.7 billion this financial year, or 11 per cent of GDP, the biggest deficit in 75 years.

With official interest rates at a record low of 0.25 per cent, the Reserve Bank has little firepower left to stimulate the economy. That puts the onus on Government spending to get the economy moving, fortunately at extremely favourable borrowing rates. And that is just as well, because debt and deficit will be with us well into the decade.

The Government forecasts the deficit will fall to $66.9 billion by 2023-24. Net debt is expected to hit $703 billion this financial year, or 36 per cent of GDP, dwarfing the $85.3 billion debt last financial year. Debt is expected to peak at $966 billion, or 44 per cent of GDP, by June 2024.

The figures are eye-watering, but the Government is determined to do what it takes to keep Australians in jobs and grow our way out of recession.

So, what does the Budget mean for you, your family and your community?

It’s all about jobs

With young people bearing the brunt of COVID-related job losses, the Government is pulling out all stops to get young people into jobs. Youth unemployment currently stands at 14.3 per cent, more than twice the overall jobless rate of 6.8 per cent.

As we transition away from the JobKeeper and JobSeeker subsidies, the Government announced more than $6 billion in new spending which it estimates will help create 450,000 jobs for young people.

“Having a job means more than earning an income,” Mr Frydenberg said.

Measures include:

  • A new JobMaker program worth $4 billion by 2022-23, under which employers who fill new jobs with young workers who are unemployed or studying will receive a hiring credit of up to $10,400 over the next year. Employers who hire someone under 29 will receive $200 a week, and $100 a week for those aged 30-35. New employees must work at least 20 hours a week to be eligible.
  • A $1.2 billion program to pay half the salary of up to 100,000 new apprentices and trainees taken on by businesses.

In recognition that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women’s employment, the Budget includes the promised “Women’s economic security statement” but the size of the support package may disappoint some.

Just over $240 million has been allocated to “create more opportunities and choices for women” in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as well as male-dominated industries and business.

Housing and infrastructure

As part of its job creation strategy, the government also announced $14 billion in new and accelerated infrastructure projects since the onset of COVID.

The projects will be in all states and territories and include major road and rail projects, smaller shovel-ready road safety projects, as well as new water infrastructure such as dams, weirs and pipelines.

The construction industry will also be supported by the first home loan deposit scheme being extended to an extra 10,000 new or newly built homes in 2020-21. This scheme allows first home owners to buy with a deposit as low as 5 per cent and the Government will guaranteeing up to 15 per cent.

Personal tax cuts

As widely tipped, the government will follow up last year’s tax cut by bringing forward stage two of its planned tax cuts and back date them to July 1 this year to give mostly low and middle-income taxpayers an immediate boost.

As the table below shows, the upper income threshold for the 19 per cent marginal tax rate will increase from $37,000 a year to $45,000 a year. The upper threshold for the 32.5 per cent tax bracket will increase from $90,000 to $120,000.

As a result, more than 11 million Australians will save between $87 and $2,745 this financial year. Couples will save up to $5,490.

Marginal tax rate*Previous taxable income thresholdsNew taxable income thresholds
0%$0-$18,200$0-$18,200
19%$18,201-$37,000$18,201-$45,000
32.5%$37,001-$90,000$45,001-$120,000
37%$90,001-$180,000$120,001-$180,000
45%More than $180,000More than $180,000
Low income tax offset (LITO)Up to $445Up to $700
Low & middle income tax offset (LMITO)Up to $1,080Up to $1,080**

*Does not include Medicare Levy of 2%
**LMITO will only be available until the end of the 2020-21 income year. You don’t need to do anything to receive the tax cuts. The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) will automatically adjust the tax tables it applies to businesses and simply take less. It will also account for three months of taxes already paid from 1 July this year so workers can catch up on missed savings.

Business tax relief

In another move that will help protect jobs in the hard-hit small business sector, business owners will also get tax relief through loss carry back provisions for struggling firms. This will allow them to claim back a rebate on tax they have previously paid until they get back on their feet.

Businesses with turnover of up to $5 billion a year will be able to write off the full value of any depreciable asset they buy before June 2022.

Cash boost for retirees

Around 2.5 million pensioners will get extra help to make up for the traditional September rise in the Age Pension not going ahead this year. However, self-funded retirees may feel they have been left out.

Age pensioners and as well as people on the disability support pension, Veterans pension, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card holders and recipients of Family Tax Benefit will receive two payments of $250 from December and from March.

This is in addition to two previous payments of $750 earlier this year.

Health and aged care

After the terrible toll the pandemic has waged on aged care residents and the elderly, the Government will add 23,000 additional Home Care packages to allow senior Australians to remain in their home for as long as possible.

Funding for mental health and suicide prevention will also be increased by $5.7 billion this year, with a doubling of Medicare-funded places for psychological services.

Super funds on notice

Underperforming super funds are to be named and shamed with a new comparison tool called Your Super. This will allow super members to compare fees and returns.

All funds will be required to undergo an annual performance test from 2021 and underperforming funds will be banned from taking on new members unless they do better.

Looking ahead

As the underlying Budget assumptions are based on finding a coronavirus vaccine sometime next year, Government projections for economic growth, jobs and debt are necessarily best estimates only.

Only time will tell if Budget spending and other incentives will be enough to encourage business to invest and employ, and to prevent the economy dipping further as JobKeeper and JobSeeker temporary support payments are wound back.

Another test will be whether the Budget initiatives help those most affected by the recession, notably young people and women.

The Government has said it is prepared to consider more spending to get the economy out of recession. The Treasurer will have another opportunity to fine tune his economic strategy fairly soon, with the next federal budget due in just seven months, in May 2021.

If you have any questions about any of the Budget measures and how they might impact your finances, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Information in this article has been sourced from the Budget Speech 2020-21 and Federal Budget support documents.

It is important to note that the policies outlined in this publication are yet to be passed as legislation and therefore may be subject to change.