Maximise your investment properties and 10 other ways to improve your financial fitness in 2013: Ken Raiss

Maximise your investment properties and 10 other ways to improve your financial fitness in 2013: Ken Raiss
Maximise your investment properties and 10 other ways to improve your financial fitness in 2013: Ken Raiss

With personal finances left looking fragile after the annual Christmas spending splurge, I thought it best to offer a list of simple strategies that can help Australians improve their financial fitness in 2013. 

If done properly, this includes assessing all aspects of personal finances, including strategies to boost retirement investments, such as including property and super, savings, a review of insurance policies, staying ahead of tax obligations and making an effort to improve financial literacy as more and more Australians take more control of planning their financial future.

1. Maximise the potential of any investment properties. Renovations to an existing property can reap huge rewards in the long run, with even the addition of air-conditioning dramatically increasing a property’s yield in terms of the amount you are able to receive in rent. Also, holding an investment property within a self-managed super fund trust is one of the most tax-efficient ways of managing these types of assets.

2. Ensure your property agents cover all property investment expenses (excluding interest). After all, you are paying them. This will greatly reduce your accountant’s costs and reduce your administration, as the agent will give you monthly and annual statements showing all income and expenses and will attach relevant invoices to each statement for your compliance needs.

3. Ensure loans are properly structured. Interest rates are near all-time lows, so while this is not great for savers, it is terrific for borrowers, who should ensure that their loans are properly structured and rates are in line with the competitive market rate. Many borrowers have not been given access to what is called the professional discount, although most are eligible. This potential  0.7% rate decrease applied to pay down a loan reduces the average loan by over $2,300 per year which equates to an overall saving of over $104,000 and reduces the term by nearly 6.5 years. The use of honeymoon credit card rates can also be very beneficial to enhance the faster payment of credit card debt while not increasing actual cash requirements.

4. Be aware of tax deductions. The use of a specialist property accountant will be able to show you all the legal tax deductions available to you, including the proper set-up of loans and the use of trusts for the astute property investor. Many investors forget to claim depreciation, which is a non-cash expense relating to the wear and tear of the building and fixtures and fittings. When doing a renovation, you should also prepare a scrapping schedule, which puts a value on everything you rip out and throw away. The taxman will pay you for your junk via an expense in the year of renovation and then allow depreciation on the new work. Remember depreciation and scrapping schedules must be prepared by a qualified quantity surveyor.

5. Ensure your will and enduring power of attorney are up to date. We have all heard of the horror stories of the wrong people getting your assets or, even worse, the government. Wills are a way to protect family wealth, and the common will, where assets are bequeathed to your children or surviving spouse, can have dire consequences if the receiver becomes bankrupt, has a family dispute, or has other medical issues. For many, a better alternative is required and therefore a different type of will is needed. This is normally referred to as a testamentary will. In this scenario, your will makes provision for your assets (such as property) to go to a trust set up after your death and you have your loved ones in control of the trust. This protects the assets from divorce, bankruptcy and taxes minors at adult tax rates and not the dreaded 66% on income generated from a normal death distribution. An enduring power of attorney (EPOA) is also recommended as the will does not take effect until death. If in a coma, access to bank accounts or the ability to sell assets for your medical treatment may be delayed or stopped without the EPOA. Remember your will only looks after what you own in your name and does not cover your superannuation or trust assets. Other documentation is required for these.

6. Consolidate super. Many of us have held a number of super funds over our working lives. These various superannuation balances can be quickly identified by visiting, then consolidating these funds within one appropriate fund will ensure that you have the maximum amount of capital working, while cutting out multiple administrative fees, reducing costs and increasing retirement benefits.

7. Have your life insurance in your superannuation. Life insurance in this day and age is a necessity. However, it must be purchased with after-tax dollars when held in your name, yet if life insurance is held in super, payment is tax-deductible, resulting in large savings. Payments can be funded either out of your super guarantee (9%), improving your weekly cashflow, or as an additional salary sacrifice, which is tax deductible.

8. Consider moving your super into pension stage. The trigger for this is your age, not whether you are working. It is understandable that for any number of reasons many of us are happy or need to continue working slightly longer than traditionally we would have in previous times. Many super trusts allow the option to trigger retirement in super while you are still working (a simple deed amendment will allow this if not currently available). The benefit of this strategy is that your super fund will no longer be taxed on income or capital gains from your pension balances. You will need to draw an annual pension, but this can be re-contributed if not needed. In your hands, the pension will not be taxed if you are over 60 and taxed at your marginal tax rates less 15% if you are between 55 and 60, greatly increasing cashflow.

9. Ensure tax returns are up to date. The ATO is increasingly clamping down on late tax returns, but tax office penalties should not be the only incentive to avoiding tardiness. Delaying your income tax returns can add additional costs and deprive you of funds if a refund is expected. Even if you are required to pay additional tax, it is recommended to start early and withhold lodgment until your due date. Working through a registered tax agent can allow you up until May 15 in the next year for lodgment.

10. Savings can be made by reviewing and consolidating existing insurance policies. Many Australians do not consider changing their existing insurance policies for a better deal, normally because they are concerned that they will need to undergo a new medical examination, which may impact costs or benefits of that policy. However, if you have undergone a medical in the past five years, in most cases there is no requirement to undergo another if there is no loading applicable and the same amounts are carried to a new insurer who in turn may be able to offer you a more competitive deal. There could also be benefits in having different policies with the one provider so as to source discounts.

11. Invest in your own financial education and literacy. There is an increasing amount of scrutiny on the financial services industry and the big super funds in terms of the value of their advice and returns in recent years. Many Australians are now opting for a more independent route in order to maximise their future financial wellbeing. A self-managed super fund may be the right option for you. Talk to a specialist SMSF adviser, who can not only discuss the normal areas such as insurance and investment plans but also understands the law and tax applicable to these funds. Many people are now using their SMSFs to purchase property with debt, but if poorly executed, this brings unintended penalties so work with a specialist to maximise your returns. Other useful sources of information include joining specialist associations such as the Australian SMSF Members Association, which is a voice for members and not driven for the benefit of the profession.

There is a lot of value in investing in improving financial literacy. Not knowing is like throwing money down the drain; as many of these steps show, simply altering the way existing finances are structured can dramatically increase your cashflow, giving you that added flexibility to generate more wealth, whether that be through property or other investments.

Ken Raiss is a certified accountant and director of Chan & Naylor national accounting firm. Ken’s experience lies in working with large publically listed multi-national companies, which gives Ken excellent insight into international market trends. Ken specialises in educating “mum and dad” property investors and small business owners with advice on wealth creation, asset protection, taxation, superannuation and compliance.

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