Self Managed Superannuation Funds (SMSF) are becoming increasingly popular with Australians who want to take control of their superannuation investments.But there are growing concerns that SMSF property investments are being pushed by aggressive unlicensed property spruikers who are not acting in their best interests. 

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) recently warned real estate agents that they must have an Australian Financial Services Licence (AFSL) before they recommend the use of a SMSF to invest in property. While a financial adviser is licensed under an AFSL, many unsuspecting people don’t realise many “property experts” are not licensed and are sometimes incentivised by developers to “promote” property that may not be appropriate as an SMSF investment.

Property investment has been heavily promoted to SMSF trustees since a change in superannuation legislation allowed them to borrow for investment. At present SMSFs hold around 15 per cent of their assets in direct property.

Residential property has been a reliable investment for generations of Australians, but the decision to buy inside or outside super needs to be weighed up carefully. There are benefits and restrictions with each form of ownership.

Property inside super

The main benefit of buying inside a SMSF is that capital gains are tax-free if you sell your property after you retire and have converted to pension phase. If you sell earlier and have held the property for over 12 months, the effective tax rate is 10 per cent. Of course you can’t take the proceeds out of super until you retire or start a super pension.

In addition, the tax benefits of negative gearing are smaller inside super where income is taxed at 15 per cent. What’s more, banks will generally only lend up to 80 per cent of the purchase price, and will generally charge higher rates of interest than those on offer outside super.

Outside super

If you buy property in your own name you may be able to borrow up to 100 per cent of the purchase price if you already have sufficient property as security. You can also sell your investment and access the cash whenever you like.

Set-up costs are cheaper outside super and tax deductions for interest and other investment-related costs are often greater. This is because they are made at your marginal tax rate rather than the 15 per cent super tax rate.

On the downside, when you sell the property you pay capital gains tax at your marginal tax rate.

The best outcome will depend on your personal financial circumstances and investment strategy. If you would like to discuss any the points raised in this article, please see your financial adviser.

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Zac Zacharia (Managing Director) has been assisting clients to create wealth and secure their futures for over 14 years.

He is also an accomplished presenter and educator

Co-authoring the popular investment book, Property vs Shares.