The transfer balance cap

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The transfer balance cap limits the total amount of superannuation that can be transferred into the retirement phase, where there is no tax on investment earnings.

The transfer balance cap (TBC) applies from 1 July 2017. It limits the total amount of superannuation that can be transferred into the retirement phase, where there is no tax on investment earnings, to $1.6 million.

The cap applies to the combined balance of all superannuation held in retirement phase (regardless of how many accounts are held) and is monitored by the ATO.

Each time a client transfers money into a superannuation income stream, it counts towards their personal TBC. Importantly, amounts held in transition to retirement (TTR) pensions will not count towards a client’s TBC. The earnings on the assets supporting these pensions will be taxed at 15%, the same as accumulation benefits.

For clients wanting to hold more than their TBC within superannuation, the remainder will have to be in accumulation phase. The general TBC amount will be indexed periodically in increments of $100,000 in line with CPI.

There are special rules for defined benefit schemes to ensure the treatment of those members is broadly commensurate with members of other schemes. This applies even where the defined benefit scheme has no commutation value.

How the transfer balance cap works

A client’s personal TBC is equal to the general TBC at the time of commencing a superannuation income stream. If a client commences a superannuation income stream and reaches their TBC, they will be unable to commence a retirement phase superannuation income stream even if the general TBC is indexed to a higher amount, unless they commute some of their existing income streams.

Example 1

Jenny commences an account based pension with $1.6 million on 1 August 2017. By 1 August 2021, the balance of Jenny’s account based pension has fallen to $1.5 million and the general TBC has hypothetically indexed to $1.7 million (whether or not this happens will depend on inflation rates not yet published).

Despite Jenny’s account based pension balance being $200,000 below the general TBC, she cannot roll any further money into an income stream.

If a client uses up some of their TBC but has never utilised it all, their personal TBC is subject to proportional indexation in line with CPI increases in the general TBC.

Example 2

Brad commences an account based pension on 1 August 2017 with $1.4 million. At this time, Brad has used up 87.5% of his personal TBC. On 1 July 2021, the general TBC increases to $1.7 million.

Brad can transfer a further amount of $212,500 ($1.7 million x 12.5%) into another account based pension without exceeding his TBC amount.

Advice tip

Clients could consider not using up their entire TBC amount into a superannuation income stream. This would allow them to add more into retirement phase later on if the general TBC increases. However, consideration should be given as to how this impacts the client if they leave additional money in accumulation where it will be taxed at 15 per cent.

Debits and credits to the transfer balance cap

The amount assessed against a client’s personal TBC is called their transfer balance. This is tracked by the ATO using near real-time recording from superannuation providers when new retirement phase pensions are commenced or amounts are withdrawn from pension accounts.

Changes to the value of a client’s income streams, such as a reduction due to income payments or increases due to investment earnings do not impact the client’s transfer balance.

Their transfer balance will change using a system of debits and credits, with debits reducing the transfer balance.

This includes:

  • commutations from superannuation income streams (including where an amount is rolled back to accumulation or received as a lump sum benefit)

  • structured settlement contributions which are then rolled into a superannuation income stream

  • reductions in the income stream due to bankruptcy or where an amount is split due to a relationship breakdown

  • where an income stream ceases to be a complying superannuation income stream.

Example 3

Harry commences an account based pension on 1 August 2017 for $1.6 million. At this time, the general TBC is $1.6 million.

On 1 August 2019, the account based pension is valued at $1.8 million due to investment earnings. Harry fully commutes the account based pension as a lump sum.

This creates a debit of $1.8 million leaving him with a transfer balance of minus $200,000.

Harry’s personal TBC is still $1.6 million regardless of whether the general TBC has been indexed as it was set when Harry first commenced an income stream. He can roll up to $1.8 million into a new account based pension without exceeding his personal TBC.

Generally, credits for a client’s transfer balance will include:

  • the value of all superannuation income streams (except TTR pensions) held on 30 June 2017

  • any new superannuation income streams (except TTR pensions) commenced on or after 1 July 2017

  • excess transfer balance earnings that accrue on excess transfer balance amounts.

Penalties for exceeding the transfer balance cap

If a client exceeds their transfer balance cap (TBC), excess transfer balance earnings will be compounded daily and credited to their transfer balance using the general interest charge (GIC) which is seven percentage points over the RBA 90 Day Bank Accepted Bill rate.

The effect of the earnings being added to the client’s personal transfer balance is that the client will have to commute a higher amount from their superannuation income stream to bring their transfer balance back within their TBC.

In addition to having to commute the excess and the notional earnings, the notional earnings is also taxed.

The tax rate is 15 per cent for first breaches. The second breach from 1 July 2018 will be taxed at 30 per cent.

Example 4

Janice purchased a $1.8 million account based pension on 1 July 2018. This means she has $200,000 in excess of the TBC amount. Janice rectifies this after 30 days.

Therefore, her total transfer balance equals $1,801,478.131. This includes the excess earnings.

To get under her TBC of $1.6 million, Janice needs to commute at least $201,478.13 instead of $200,000.

She will also be assessed for tax on the notional earnings at 15% resulting in a tax liability of $221.72.

Importantly, while the amount of notional earnings to be commuted is set at the time the ATO sends the determination to the client, they continue to accrue for the calculation of tax purposes until the excess is rectified.

Further penalties if the excess is not rectified

If the client receives an excess transfer balance determination from the ATO and still does not rectify the situation, the ATO will issue a commutation authority to the relevant superannuation fund instructing the fund to commute a sufficient amount to bring them back under the cap.

The requirement to comply with a commutation order is a regulatory provision for SMSFs and failure to comply could invite serious penalties. In any event, the income stream in question will cease to be in the retirement phase from the start of the financial year in which the superannuation income stream provider failed to comply with the commutation authority and all later financial years.

Things to consider

Where there are funds in accumulation which cannot be used to commence an income stream, consideration should be given whether to hold them in superannuation or outside. While accumulation funds are taxed quite concessionally, there may be benefits to holding them personally or in an entity controlled by the family.

This makes it essential to determine each client’s income stream history before providing advice.

1 Assumed GIC rate of 8.96% for this period.

Download "Superannuation death benefits".

Super death benefits are subject to the transfer balance cap rules where a death benefit income stream is paid. Child pensions also have special rules.
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