GeersSullivan 2019 Federal Election Series Commentary – Part 1
Posted on 22nd March 2019 by Tom Francis
With an election looming GeersSullivan have been carefully monitoring the announced tax policies of both parties. This month we are focusing on the already announced policies of the Labor party and in April’s edition, following the release of the budget, we will highlight what the Liberal party are offering.
While both parties will announce a variety of tax policies and changes, we believe the following will have the biggest impact on our clients:
Reduced access to franking credit refunds
Franking credits represent tax paid by a company on its profits and are passed on to shareholders when dividends are declared. The logic is that the company has already paid a certain amount of tax and you as the final recipient should only have to pay the difference between that amount and what you would pay if you earned the same profit personally. Where your tax rate is lower than the company, you have been able to receive a cash refund for the difference since 1 July 2000.
Labor will remove the right to a refund for 1 July 2019, meaning franking credits can only reduce your total tax bill to zero and not be taken as a cash refund. For individuals whose main source of income is dividends this could be a big deal depending on their income level. However, where your income is from mixed sources and includes salary and wages the impact should be minimal.
Self-Managed Superannuation Funds are expected to be more heavily affected due to their low tax rate of between 0% and 15%, especially those with a high percentage of franked income (dividends, trust distributions with franking credits).
Some exemptions to the change were also announced, most importantly that pensioners earning franked income and SMSFs with at least one pensioner member will be exempt. A pensioner has been defined as a person in receipt of a government pension or allowance, most commonly the age pension or a disability pension.
Changes to tax on investments
Labor propose an end to negative gearing of investments (think rental properties, shares and similar assets) and also a reduction to the CGT discount. These are commonly reported in the media as changes to property taxes but will actually impact all investments.
In ending negative gearing Labor propose two specific changes:
- That losses incurred through investing, such as holding a portfolio of shares and other listed securities or operating a rental property, be quarantined and only available to offset other investment income or any capital gain eventually made on the sale of the assets
- That existing investments will be grandfathered and exempt from the change, as will investments in new residential housing stock (the construction of a rental property)
In reducing the CGT discount Labor will:
- Reduce the discount from 50% to 25% for assets that have been held for more than 12 months
- Grandfather the 50% discount for all assets purchased before the start date of the policy
- Make no changes to the superfund CGT discount which is currently 1/3rd
- Preserve the discount as is for small business assets
A start date for both policies is yet to be announced.
Minimum tax rate on discretionary trust distributions
Currently an adult beneficiary of a trust pays tax at their marginal rate on any distribution received. This created planning opportunities where profits could be distributed to the beneficiary with the lowest possible tax rate. Under Labor’s policy the minimum tax rate for trust distributions will be 30%. This policy will only apply to discretionary trusts (commonly family trusts) so therefore excludes unit trusts and public unit trusts (commonly managed investment products from BT, MLC and similar are public unit trusts).
A 30% tax rate is still substantially lower than the top marginal rate of 45% and therefore we expect trusts to remain popular for managing family wealth. Notably the high tax rates for income paid to minors will remain under the policy.
Faster depreciation for larger plant and equipment
Labor will introduce a 20% instant write off (known as the Australian Investment Guarantee) for plant and equipment purchased after 1 July 2021 and costing more than $20,000. Notably the policy will exclude passenger vehicles and expenditure on buildings and structure.
The 20% write off will be in addition to normal depreciation deductions.
Let’s assume Manufacturing Co purchases new machinery costing $5 million. Manufacturing Co will be able to immediately expense 20 per cent ($1 million) of its investment in the first year. The remaining 80 per cent ($4 million) is then depreciated over the effective life of the asset from the first year— which in this case is 10 per cent per year, or $400,000.
This means Manufacturing company A can write off a total of $1.4 million in the first year
No more borrowing in super funds
Labor have announced they will bring an end to limited recourse borrowing arrangements in super funds. These have been extremely popular as a way to invest in property through super. Labor’s policy appears to exclude existing arrangements so no changes will need to be made to existing investments.
Labor have released a raft of policies effecting individuals:
- The top marginal tax rate will increase from 45% to 47% for four years. We’re currently unsure if this would be achieved through a levy like the previous Temporary Budget Repair Levy or by increasing the actual tax rate
- Deductions for managing tax affairs will be limited to $3,000 per person. This change is only applicable to tax agent fees claimed in individual tax returns, not trust, company or partnership returns
- Tax cuts proposed in 2022 and 2024 will be abandoned, existing cuts beginning in 2019 financial year will be maintained
- The non-concessional super contributions cap will be reduced from $100,000 to $75,000. No start date has been advised
- Division 293 tax (additional tax on concessional super contributions) will now apply to those earning $200,000 or more rather than $250,000. Again, no start date has been announced
- Catch-up concessional contributions for those with low super balances ($500,000 or less) will be abandoned, as will deductible personal super contributions for salary and wage earners (Labor will re-introduce the 10% rule)
- Super guarantee will begin to increase again from 9.5% to 12%. Labor have added a caveat that this will apply ‘when prudent’ to do so
- The $450 per month minimum threshold for paying super will be abolished meaning super must be paid on the first dollar of salary and wages