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Cutting the Super Cake

Our financial partner Elston Private Wealth has the latest commentary on superannuation.

The superannuation cake has been cut the same way for the last thirty years. The Government gets a little 15% slice, and the rest is ours.

Now, on superannuation's 30th birthday, there's talk of the Government taking a bigger slice.

Not from all of us.

Just from those people with super balances over $3 million.

The proposed tax is designed to levy an extra 15% tax on earnings from super balances above $3 million, on top of the 15% already levied. While most would agree that $3 million is more than needed to fund a comfortable retirement, the proposal has some concerning aspects.

Firstly, there is no plan to index the $3 million threshold at this stage. Although the tax is expected to impact only the wealthiest 80,000 superannuants initially, the number impacted could be much more significant by the time the first calculations are made in July 2026. And the number of people affected will grow over the coming decades.

For those that are 30 now, if we assume average inflation of 2.5%, the $3 million threshold will be the equivalent of only $1.4m by the time they reach 60. This would have broad-ranging impacts.

Secondly, the current plan is to tax the increase in the fund balance. This is controversial as it involves taxing glasses' value increases before selling. Imagine a super fund is invested in a property where the value increases, but the property is not sold. The fund member will have a tax bill, but they may not have the cash to pay the tax because the property is still held. They could be forced to sell the property.

Other issues should be dealt with, including whether exemptions should be given to people facing particular challenges. For example, someone who is permanently disabled will often receive a lump sum payment from an insurance claim. Currently, they are allowed to transfer a large compensation payment into super. Will the increase in a super balance following the receipt of a disability insurance payout be subject to this new tax? At the moment, it isn't clear.

The good news is that, like all new proposals, this measure and any others that come along need to go through a process. This involves government consultation with experts from the financial services industry to address concerns and issues. It then needs to get through the parliamentary process and could be subject to amendments or defeated.

Therefore, it is never worth worrying about these changes until they become law and we have clarity on the impact. Only once they are legislated should people address how this affects their strategy and make any necessary alterations.

While this new tax will not initially affect most of the population, it has led to many wondering where the tinkering with super might end. "What's next?" has become a familiar cry around the country.

Last year, compulsory super turned 30 years old. The $3.3 trillion Australians have amassed in retirement savings is a significant pool of capital and will attract attention from future governments. Even a minor change can have a massive budgetary impact on this money.

Does this mean we should stop using super?

We do not believe that people should. While some tweaks to the system are inevitable, the fact remains that super will still be a far more attractive structure to hold retirement savings than any other option available.

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