SUMMARY: Age pension and health care card changes start on 1 January. It’s not too late to shore yours up. Here’s what to do.
There’s a deadline silently sneaking up on super pensioners – one which could cost thousands annually to those who don’t take action.
From next year, account-based pensions (ABPs) will be deemed for income purposes for government benefits on at least two fronts – the government age pension and the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (CSHC). The first was announced in the the 2013 Budget and the second in the 2014 Budget.
The deadline is 31 December, which is just eight weeks away. Seven, really, if we accept that nothing except over-eating, drinking and frivolity happens from about December 24.
From next year, your super and super pension accounts will count in a way they have not previously towards these two sought after government benefits.
Importantly, it’s not too late to act. ABPs that are in place prior to 1 January 2015 will be grandfathered and will not count towards the means-testing of those two benefits. And this will be important both for those who might wish to get new ABPs in place before the deadline, but also those who might wish to adjust their ABPs to put them in a better position – or grandfather a larger pension sum – before the new laws come into force.
What happens on 1 January, 2015?
When applying for the government age pension, or the CSHC, from 1 January 2015, your super and account-based pensions will be used to deem income under means tests.
Anyone who applies for either benefit from that date – which will generally be those who can apply on turning 65 after 1 January – will have their super and pension accounts deemed.
However, under the grandfathering rules, those already on those two existing government benefits will have their super and pension accounts grandfathered.
Here’s probably the most important part. Only pension arrangements that are in place prior to 1 January are grandfathered. If you have an existing pension and make changes to it after 1 January, then that will be seen as a new pension and will be counted under the deeming rules.
Therefore, if you are considering making changes, make them before the new year, not afterwards.
Why would you want to make changes to your pension? And how could they be to your benefit?
Here are some examples. If you wished to combine existing pensions: to create reversionary pensions, or; to increase pensions.
The last one is likely to be the most common. If you have a pension, but have made, or are considering making, further contributions in this financial year, consider making them all prior to 31 December.
That is, if you were likely to make your $35,000 concessional contributions before 30 June next year, and then roll that into a new pension in June 2015, you should consider making those contributions early and having them wound into the pension before 1 January.
It is common practice to do this every year for many clients who are continuing to work while taking the pension. That is, roll back your pension, collect the contributions you have made since you started the pension, then start a new pension.
For example, you have an existing pension of $500,000, but have made $29,750 ($35,000 less 15% contributions tax) worth of contributions so far this financial year. If you roll back your pension to collect the $29,750 after 1 January, then it’s a new pension and it will be deemed under the post 1 January rules. Do it before.
And the same applies, but perhaps with bigger consequences, for those putting in non-concessional contributions, for which the limit is $180,000 a year (or $540,000 using the three-year pull forward rule). However, if you’re putting in big licks of capital like this, then it’s more likely that you’ll be hit under the assets test in any case.
And possibly the most obvious. If you’ve already turned 65 and have been considering applying for (or have been procrastinating) the age pension … then delay no longer. If you apply after 1 January, or don’t get around to doing your pension until after that date, then it will be too late and your super and pensions will forever be deemed assets.
And if you have considered making a change to your pension, such as adding a reversionary pensioner, then make those changes before, as they will also be considered the creation of a new pension.
What about those who are pension age, still working, but considering finishing up early in the new year? Depending on your situation, it might do you medium-term financial harm if you don’t consider taking advantage of these rules and finishing up work early. If you know you are thereabouts in potentially getting the age pension, see a qualified adviser immediately. Finishing up work before Christmas could be to your benefit.
Who will be negatively affected?
The following are likely to be impacted by the changes:
- Some who are currently only asset tested might find they become income-tested and lose some pension also.
- Those who are going to be affected are those who are already impacted by income testing, including those with defined benefit pensions, foreign pensions and other income or wages.
- Those in aged care could see a lower aged pension and higher income-tested fee.
- Those pre-retirees who are receiving the Low Income Health Card might lose their entitlement.
Who will be positively affected, or not affected?
Somewhat counter-intuitively, those who take larger super pensions than the minimum could end up winners.
If you take more than the deductible amount from your super pension, then the deemed income used for the test could be less than the income being taken. That is, if you have a $500,000 pension fund, then you will be assessed on, for example, deemed income from the fund, rather than the actual income you have taken.
Those who won’t be impacted are those with relatively higher super and pension balances, as they would be assessed, and possibly fail, under the assets test in any case.
And who can’t benefit from acting?
Who can’t escape it? If you turn 65 after the cutoff and therefore can’t apply for the age pension and CSHC beforehand, then there is little you can do.
Unless you really know what you’re doing, get assistance from your advisers (either financial adviser or accountant) with considering and potentially implementing these changes.
The information contained in this column should be treated as general advice only. It has not taken anyone’s specific circumstances into account. If you are considering a strategy such as those mentioned here, you are strongly advised to consult your adviser/s, as some of the strategies used in these columns are extremely complex and require high-level technical compliance.