Ask Noel: How safe is super?

Are superannuation savings more protected from outside influences such as a global financial crisis than say a pension fund? I am 60 years old, working full time with about $400,000 in super. In the GFC I lost about 20 per cent of the paper value of my super. Is there any way of preventing that loss by shifting super to a pension fund before the predicted downturn. And, would my money be protected from fluctuations in a pension fund?

Superannuation is not an asset class like property or shares but merely a vehicle which lets you hold assets in a concessionally taxed environment.  Therefore, at least in theory, it should not matter whether you are in accumulation mode or pension mode – the outcome would depend entirely on the asset mix you have chosen. It is true that some pension funds automatically opt for a more conservative asset mix unless the member chooses otherwise. I think your best course of action is to discuss your asset allocation with your adviser and agree on a mix which suits your goals and your risk profile.

My wife and I have family, including grandchildren, in New Zealand. Last year we bought a small house there so we can spend time grandparenting. We are Australian citizens and residents for tax purposes, and we own our own apartment in Sydney. If we sell our NZ home will that trigger capital gains tax in Australia?

As you are Australian residents for tax purposes, any capital gain on assets sold overseas will need to be included in your assessable income in Australia.

I read with great interest your article on women’s super and thought you should highlight another barrier unique to married women who have followed tradition and changed their names. I have used two different ‘‘find my super’’ services – one I paid $90 – and both came back that I had no missing/inactive super. Having at least six accounts that had not been used for at least six years I was surprised and frustrated. It was later revealed to me that as I had changed my name when I got married and these accounts were in my maiden name they had not been found in the search. I was wondering if the Tax Office data match you mentioned would be able to overcome this barrier that many  Australian women are facing.

I’m pleased to report that progress is being made in this vital area. An ATO spokesperson tells me that the Tax Office has now achieved a high level of data matching across the superannuation industry. As a result, it is now able to data match the vast majority of records provided by super funds to individuals and display their super accounts and ATO Online which is available through myGov. The ATO Online service also displays separately any super that has been paid to the ATO as unclaimed monies on an individual’s behalf. ATO Online is a free service available to all individuals through their myGov account. Even though the ATO has a sophisticated data matching system to match up personal information provided by super funds to the personal information they hold, in a small number of cases they are not able to do so as a super fund has not reported their super account details to them.  It is important to ensure your super fund has your tax file number – you can check to see if they have your TFN by looking at the statements they send you.

When a mortgaged principal home is rented can the interest on the loan during the time the home is rented be claimed as a tax deduction?

It’s a general principle that for the interest on a loan to be tax deductible the purpose of that loan must be to buy an income producing asset. But a loan can change character – once your residence is available for rent the interest, and other outgoings such as rates insurance and maintenance become tax-deductible.

I refer to your recent article about claiming a tax deduction for personal contributions to super. I am looking at contributing to my super through salary sacrifice and wasn’t aware of the personal contribution option. Is there any financial benefit from doing fortnightly salary sacrifice or a lump sum personal contribution at the end of the financial year.

If you make the contributions by fortnightly salary sacrifice you would be taking advantage of the strategy of dollar cost averaging, and also have the benefit of automatic payments. If you chose to invest in one lump sum, it is possible that financial circumstances could prevent you making a contribution when you wished to do it. My advice would be do it by salary sacrifice – it’s then automatic.

  • Noel Whittaker is the author of Making Money Made Simple and numerous other books on personal finance.