Like other superannuation (super) funds, self-managed super funds (SMSFs) are a way of saving for your retirement. The difference between an SMSF and other types of funds is, generally, that members of an SMSF are the trustees. This means the members of the SMSF run it for their own benefit.
SMSFs aren’t for everyone and you should think carefully before deciding to set one up. It’s a major financial decision and you need to have the time and skills to do it. There may be other, better options for your super savings. Either way, you should certainly get professional advice.
If you set up an SMSF, you become a trustee of the fund. This means you’ll be responsible for managing your SMSF according to its trust deed and the laws and rules that apply to SMSFs. The key principle is that you run your SMSF for the sole purpose of providing retirement benefits to fund members.
You need to manage your fund’s investments in the best interests of fund members and in accordance with the law. Your investments must be separate from the personal and business affairs of fund members, including yourself.
You can accept money contributions for your members from various sources, but there are some restrictions, mostly depending on the member’s age and whether they’ve exceeded the contribution caps. Generally, you can’t accept an asset as a contribution from a member, although there are some exceptions.
As a trustee you’ll have a number of administrative obligations – for example, you’ll need to arrange an annual audit of your fund, keep appropriate records and report to us on the fund’s operation.
Accessing the super in your SMSF to pay benefits is generally only allowed when a member reaches what’s called their ‘preservation age’ and meets one of the specified conditions of release – for example, they retire. There are very limited circumstances, such as death or terminal illness, where a member’s super can be accessed before this. There are significant penalties for unlawfully releasing super benefits.
The income of your SMSF is generally taxed at a concessional rate of 15%. To be entitled to this rate, your fund has to be a ‘complying fund’ that follows the laws and rules for SMSFs.
At some point, you may need to wind up your SMSF. This could happen if all the members and trustees have left the SMSF or all the benefits have been paid out of the fund.