The graduation of super contributions tax


David Barrett
Monday 30 November 2015

Debate regarding the taxation of superannuation contributions has re-arisen in the context of broader taxation and superannuation reform proposals. In particular industry discussion has recently focused on a shift from a flat 15 per cent tax on concessional contributions to a graduated rate of taxation partially based on the individual’s marginal tax rate. In this article we examine the possible impact on certain individuals of a change to graduated taxation of concessional superannuation contributions.

The Henry recommendation

Financial services professionals may recall the recommendation made in Australia’s future tax system Report to the Treasurer (the ‘Henry Tax Review’), released in December 2009.

Henry Tax Review recommendations:

Recommendation 18: The tax on superannuation contributions in the fund should be abolished. Employer superannuation contributions should be treated as income in the hands of the individual, taxed at marginal personal income tax rates and receive a flat-rate refundable tax offset.

  1. An offset should be provided for all superannuation contributions up to an annual cap of $25,000 (indexed). The offset should be set so the majority of taxpayers do not pay more than 15 per cent tax on their contributions. The cap should be doubled for people aged 50 or older.
  2. An annual cap on total contributions should continue to apply.
  3. The offset should replace the superannuation co-contribution and superannuation spouse contribution tax offset.
  4. Compulsory superannuation contributions made by employers should not reduce eligibility for income support or family assistance payments. They should also not form part of the calculation for child support.

The recommendation involves:

  • changing the amount of tax payable on concessional superannuation contributions
    • from a flat 15 per cent
    • to the individual’s marginal tax rate less a superannuation contributions tax offset, the level of which is yet to be determined, and
  • transferal of the liability to pay the tax from the superannuation fund to the individual.

Implications of the Henry recommendation

Under the Henry recommendation many individuals would have less ‘take home’ wages, but more in their superannuation fund, as illustrated in the example below.

Example: Genevieve

Genevieve currently receives $70,000 per annum of wages, plus her employer contributes $10,000 per annum to her superannuation account. Her current position and the impact of the Henry proposal are shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Impact on Genevieve of the Henry recommendation

Current positionPosition assuming Henry Tax Review recommendation no 18
Wages 70,000 70,000
Super contributions N/A 10,000
Taxable income 70,000 80,000
Tax and Medicare 15,697 19,147
Super contribution tax offset (eg 20%) N/A 2,000
Net wages 54,303 52,853
Super contributions 10,000 10,000
Contributions tax (15%) 1,500 N/A
Net super contributions 8,500 10,000
Total remuneration benefits after tax 62,803 62,853

Genevieve’s net wages would be $1,450 less if the Henry recommendation is implemented with a 20 per cent superannuation contributions tax offset. But her superannuation account would be $1,500 greater than it otherwise would be after her employer makes the contribution.

Chart 1 below projects Genevieve’s position over 10 years, assuming:

  • her wages and superannuation contributions do not change
  • she has $300,000 in super today
  • the fund achieves a pre-tax gross return of 7.36 per cent per annum, less fees of 1.5 per cent per annum

Values are in today’s terms assuming a discount rate of 2.5% per annum.

Genevieve’s super account is $18,086 higher under the Henry recommendation, but assuming her personal savings would be impacted by the annual cash flow detriment ($1,450 in year 1), she would have $16,607 less in personal savings (assuming the same gross return rate mentioned above).

So overall Genevieve would be $1,479 better off with the Henry recommendation after 10 years.

This result is not unexpected as Genevieve’s marginal tax rate (including Medicare levy) is 34.5 per cent. Deducting the assumed 20 per cent superannuation contributions tax offset means her concessional superannuation contributions would be taxed at 14.5 per cent, rather than the flat 15 per cent that currently applies, which accounts for the small ($1,479) overall difference in positions. In addition, because Genevieve would be required to pay the tax on her superannuation contributions personally, she would effectively be contributing towards her superannuation benefits, resulting in $18,086 extra in her superannuation account.

Genevieve’s position is consistent with the Henry recommendation that the “offset should be set so the majority of taxpayers do not pay more than 15 per cent tax on their contributions.” Given that full time average weekly ordinary time earnings (AWOTE) equates to $77,406 per annum1, the majority of taxpayers have a marginal tax rate of 34.5 per cent or less (the upper threshold of the 34.5 per cent marginal tax rate is $80,000). It follows that setting the superannuation contribution tax offset at 20% will achieve the result referred to above in the Henry recommendation.

Pros and cons of the Henry recommendation

A flat tax offset (rather than a flat tax rate) applied to concessional superannuation contributions would improve the fairness perception of superannuation by addressing the criticism that high marginal tax rate payers gain the greatest tax benefit from concessional superannuation contributions.

Removing contributions tax from the superannuation system means each concessional contribution would be 17.6 per cent higher than otherwise (e.g. in Genevieve’s case, her net contribution increases from $8,500 to $10,000). As a result, the current Superannuation Guarantee (SG) rate of 9.5 per cent would effectively increase by 17.6 per cent to a comparison SG rate of almost 11.2 per cent. Furthermore, if the currently legislated progression of the SG rate to 12.0 per cent proceeds, ultimately the comparison SG rate will be 14.1 per cent. This would substantially boost the replacement income rate in retirement, reducing pressure on the Government funded age pension system.

The recommendation does, however, involve a reduction in cash flow for all taxpayers, which may not be popular generally, and may lead to consideration of different models for the payment of the tax liability (which potentially raise other complexities). In addition, those on the higher marginal tax rates will pay substantially more tax on their concessional superannuation contributions.

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