Moving accumulated superannuation benefits to pension phase is a common way to fund retirement income. If you have a self managed superannuation fund (SMSF), there are a few things you should think about when starting a pension.

What is an account-based pension?

An account-based pension is like a personal retirement income account operating in a superannuation fund. You receive regular income payments, while at the same time your account may earn investment income. Any investment income earned in pension phase is generally tax free. Note that before you can start to receive a pension with your super benefits, you must have met a condition of release.

The most common conditions of release are:

  • reaching your preservation age
  • permanently retiring after reaching preservation age
  • reaching age 65, or
  • permanent incapacity.

If you were born...
... your preservation age is
Before 1 July 1960 55 years
1 July 1960 - 30 June 1961 56 years
1 July 1961 - 30 June 1962 57 years
1 July 1962 - 30 June 1963 58 years
1 July 1963 - 30 June 1964 59 years
After 30 June 1964 60 years

Your preservation age depends on when you were born

Check your trust deed

Your SMSF’s trust deed must allow the payment of an account-based pension. It is a good time for a general review of your trust deed, and an update, if appropriate. This will generally require a legal professional.

Consider your fund’s investment strategy

The investment strategy that suited you in accumulation phase might not be appropriate in pension phase. One of the objectives of an account-based pension may be to have your capital last throughout your lifetime, so setting up your account based pension marks an important time to review your investment strategy.

Studies show1 that in general the impact of negative returns can be greater when drawing down on your capital, compared to when in accumulation phase (where generally you won’t be drawing down, and may be adding to your capital), so your investment strategy should take into consideration this additional risk. Your adviser will be able to assist you in determining an appropriate investment strategy for your SMSF.

Make the minimum payments

When running an account-based pension, one of the key requirements is to ensure you draw at least the minimum payment amount each financial year. This is an important criteria in maintaining the tax-free status of your fund’s earnings in pension phase.

The minimum amount you have to draw is a percentage of your account balance based on your age, which is calculated as follows:

Required minimum payment amount = payment factor x account balance

Your minimum percentage depends on your age
Age                                                                                                Payment Factor
Under 65 4%
65 - 74 5%
75 - 79 6%
80 - 84 7%
85 - 89 9%
90 - 94 11%
95 and over 14%

To calculate your minimum payment amount follow these simple steps:

Step 1: Work out the payment factor that applies to you. This will be based on your age when you started your pension (in the year of commencement) or at 1 July (for subsequent years).

Step 2: Work out the value of your pension. When starting a pension, it’s important to get a current market valuation of the assets for each member’s pension account. If you are planning to start multiple pensions, this will involve a market valuation for each pension account. Your accountant or fund administrator may be able to assist with these valuations. The value of your account is required to calculate your minimum payment level, and to complete your fund’s tax returns.

Step 3: Calculate the minimum payment amount you need to make by multiplying the result of steps 1 and 2. This amount may be modified in certain circumstances, outlined in the table below:

If you start your account based pension part way through the year (but not in June)...
  • The payment factor will be applied to the account balance on the date you commenced your pension.
  • You are able to 'pro rate' your minimum pension for the number of days in the financial year that it was in place for.
If you start your account based pension in June of a given financial year...
  • There is no minimum pension payment amount for the remainder of that financial year.

If you don’t meet the minimum payment amount requirements then the entire balance of the account based pension may be treated as if it were in accumulation phase for the whole year. This will result in assessable investment earnings being taxed at 15%, rather than being received tax free.

It’s not enough for your fund to simply ‘account’ for the minimum payment through a journal entry; funds must actually be paid from your account and leave your SMSF.

Keep your records safe

SMSF trustees are required by law to keep records of transactions of the fund, including those relating to pension payments. These records will also assist your accountant in substantiating your fund’s tax position. Generally records relating to pension payments must be kept for a minimum of 5 years, but note that some records (eg minutes of trustee meetings) must be kept for 10 years.

Estate Planning

If you are receiving a pension from your fund, the rules of your SMSF may allow you to nominate one of your dependants (usually your spouse) to continue to receive the pension after your death, generally referred as a reversionary pension. Alternatively you may be able to nominate one of more dependants to receive either a lump sum payment or a pension after your death, or your estate to receive a lump sum payment.

It is important to consider these options when establishing your pension, and it may be appropriate to review all your estate planning arrangements at this stage. You may wish to seek advice from an estate planning specialist.

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Macquarie Bank Limited ABN 46 008 583 542 AFSL & Australian Credit Licence 237502 (MBL). This information does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before making any financial investment decision or a decision about whether to acquire any product mentioned on this page, a person should obtain and review the terms and conditions relating to that product and also seek independent financial, legal and taxation advice.

1 AFSA “The future of retirement income”, March 2015