What assets can you have before losing your pension?

3 mins

There are many benefits to receiving a pension or even a part pension, but there are limits to the level of income or assets you can have to be eligible.

Regarding assets, the key limits as at 20 March 2020 are as follows1:

To receive a full pension, assets (excluding the value of the primary residence) must be less than: 

  Homeowner Non-homeowner
Single

$263,250

$473,750

Couple

$394,500

$605,000


Indexed every 1 July. Source: Australian Government Department of Human Services2.

 

To receive at least a part of a pension, assets must be less than:

  Homeowner
Non-homeowner
Single
$578,250
$788,750
Couple $869,500
$1,080,000
Couple – separated by illness $1,024,500 $1,235,000


Indexed every 20 March, 1 July and 20 September. Recipients of Rent Assistance will have higher thresholds. Source: Australian Government Department of Human Services3.

There are a number of strategies that may be used to reduce asset levels, which may result in qualifying for a part pension or increasing the current pension amount received.

However, before reducing your assets it is important to bear in mind whether your remaining savings can support any shortfall in your retirement income needs, as any increased pension amount may still be inadequate. Personal circumstances can also change and increase the reliance on your reduced savings. For example, future health issues may require a move into aged care, which can bring increased expenses.

With that in mind, here are six possible asset reduction strategies:

1. Gift within limits, or more than 5 years before qualifying age

If there is a desire to provide financial assistance to family or friends, gifting may be able to reduce your assessable assets. The allowable amounts a single person or a couple combined may gift is $10,000 in a financial year or $30,000 over a rolling five financial year period. Any excess amounts will continue to count under the assets test (and deemed under the income test) for five years from the date of disposal. This is called deprivation.

If you are more than five financial years away from reaching your age pension age or from receiving any other Centrelink payments, you can gift any amount without affecting its eventual assessment once you reach Age Pension age.

2. Homeowners can renovate

Your home is an exempt asset and any money spent to repair or improve it will form part of its value and will also be exempt from the assets test.

3. Repay debt secured against exempt assets

Debts secured against exempt assets do not reduce your total assessable assets. An example is a mortgage against the family home. However, using assessable assets to repay these debts may reduce the overall assessed asset amount. Crucially, you must make actual repayments towards the debt; depositing or retaining cash in an offset account is unlikely to achieve this outcome.

4. Funeral bonds within limits or prepaying funeral expenses

If you wish to set aside funds or pay for your funeral costs now, there are a couple of ways to do this which may reduce your assessable assets.

A person can invest up to $13,250 (as at 1 July 2019) in a funeral bond and this amount is exempt from the assets test. Members of a couple can have their own individual bond up to the same limit each. By contrast if a couple invests jointly into a funeral bond, this must not exceed $13,250, not double the individual limit4.

In comparison, there is no limit to the amount spent on prepaid funeral expenses. For the expenses to qualify, there must be a contract setting out the services paid for, state that it is fully paid, and must not be refundable. Importantly, both methods of paying for funeral costs are designed purely for this purpose preventing assets being accessed for any other reason.

5. Contribute to younger spouse's super and hold in accumulation phase

If you have a younger spouse who has not yet reached their age pension age and is eligible to contribute to super, contributing an amount into their super account may reduce your assessable assets. The elder spouse may be able to withdraw from their own super, generally as a tax-free lump sum, to fund the contribution.

Generally, investments held in the accumulation phase of super are not counted towards a person’s assessable assets if the account holder is below age pension age. Before using this strategy, you may want to think about any additional costs that may be incurred. Holding multiple super accounts may duplicate fees. Shifting funds into an accumulation account may increase the tax on the earnings on these investments to as much as 15%. Alternatively, earnings on the funds, may be tax-free if invested in an account-based pension or potentially even personally.

Additionally, contributing to a younger spouse who is under pension age and still working may 'preserve' these funds. However, you may want to consider whether contribution caps will be exceeded5.

6. Purchase a lifetime income stream

Lifetime income streams such as an annuity purchased after 1 July 2019 may be favourably assessed, according to the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Supporting Retirement Incomes) Bill 20186. Where eligible, only 60% of the purchase price is assessed. This drops to 30% once the later of age 84 (based on current life expectancy factors) or five years occurs.

To receive concessional treatment, the lifetime annuity must satisfy a 'capital access schedule' which limits the amount that can be commuted voluntarily or on death6. This is illustrated below:

Capital Access Chart

Source: Parliament of Australia7

Voluntary commutations must follow a 'straight-line' declining value, falling to nil at life expectancy. The death benefit can be up to 100% until the investor reaches half of their life expectancy, at which point it will follow the voluntary withdrawal value.

Conclusion

Reducing your assessable assets within the relevant assets test threshold may provide provide benefits such as increasing your existing pension or allowing you to qualify for a part pension, if you were currently above the upper asset test threshold.

While it may be tempting to intentionally reduce your asset levels to gain these benefits, it is important to remember the payment rate is determined by applying both an income and assets test. The test that results in a lower entitlement determines the amount payable. If the income test is the harsher test, reducing your assessable assets may provide little or no benefit.

If the assets test is harsher, you should not lose sight of the fact that any reduction in your assets may mean that there are fewer assets for you to call upon if required.

 

References

1 https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/age-pension/how-much-you-can-get/assets-test/assets
2 https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/age-pension/how-much-you-can-get/assets-test/assets
3 https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/age-pension/how-much-you-can-get/assets-test/assets
4 https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/age-pension/how-much-you-can-get/assets-test/assets/funeral-bonds-and-prepaid-funerals
5 https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/age-pension/how-much-you-can-get/assets-test/assets/income-streams
6 https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Fems%2Fr6224_ems_58c16ce0-95fa-4ef6-afe4-668b3e41fb62%22
7 https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Fems%2Fr6224_ems_58c16ce0-95fa-4ef6-afe4-668b3e41fb62%22

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This information is current as at 3 June 2020. This information does not take into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs and so you should consider its appropriateness, having regard to these factors before acting on it. This document provides an overview or summary only and it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon as such. This document may contain material provided by third parties derived from sources believed to be accurate at its issue date. While such material is published with necessary permission, the Westpac Group accepts no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of, nor does it endorse any such third party material. To the maximum extent permitted by law, we intend by this notice to exclude liability for this third party material.

Superannuation is a means of saving for retirement, which is, in part, compulsory. The government has placed restrictions on when you can access your investment held in superannuation. The Government has set caps on the amount of money that you can add to superannuation each year on both a concessional and non-concessional tax basis. There will be tax consequences if you breach these caps. For more detail, speak with a financial adviser or visit the ATO website. BT cannot give tax advice. Any tax considerations outlined in this article are general statements, based on an interpretation of the current tax law, and do not constitute tax advice. The tax implications of superannuation can impact individual situations differently and you should seek specific tax advice from a registered tax agent or registered tax (financial) adviser.