Are SMSFs still worth it for self-employed business owners?

Get across the ins and outs of going solo for super

Contrary to common myths, SMSFs offer compelling benefits for those in the know. Discover if the pros outweigh the cons for SMSFs for self-employed business owners.

The nuts and bolts of SMSFs

Most people have their superannuation in a fund managed by a third party – usually a fund manager, large investment corporation or an industry body. A self-managed super fund (SMSF) allows you to take your super investments into your own hands with a superannuation fund that you manage yourself. 

Sounds simple, right? Not so fast – SMSFs require a big investment in time, skills and risk management. And if things go wrong, it could leave you much worse off in retirement.

A SMSF works much the same as a regular third-party super fund, but there are some differences in how it is administered and regulated. Key rules include:

  • funds can have no more than six members
  • funds must be run by all the members collectively
  • members cannot be an employee of another member – unless they are related.

A SMSF is in essence a trust, and like any trust, is run by the trustees. There are two SMSF trustee structures:

  1. Members appointed as trustees in their individual capacity
  2. Company appointed as the trustee, with the SMSF’s members being the directors of that company.

Certain individuals cannot act as a trustee, including those who have been convicted of an offence involving dishonest conduct, are insolvent or under administration, or subject to civil penalty under the superannuation legislation.

SMSF myths

SMSFs have long been shrouded in mystery, so let’s bust some common myths:
  1. You need a balance of at least $200k to start: Wrong. Whilst sub-$200k balances make it challenging to compete with mainstream returns, new technology and electronic administration means lower balances can now be competitive.
  2. SMSFs are only for the over-60s: Incorrect. Young and middle-aged investors are increasingly embracing SMSFs as a way to take control of their investments and financial future.
  3. SMSFs are too complex and expensive: Not necessarily. New technology, online education courses and professional advisory firms mean it’s easier and cheaper than ever before to set up and manage an SMSF.
  4. SMSFs are too risky: It depends. Risk is connected to the ability of trustees to make good investment decisions. Provided you have the skills and knowledge, or seek quality advice from a licenced professional, the opportunities of diversified investment should outweigh the risks.


SMSFs for self-employed business owners

A SMSF becomes a particularly compelling prospect in the context of small business ownership. At its core, a SMSF gives you more control over what you choose to invest your super funds in. This works especially well for small business owners as it enables you to use your super as an investment strategy to support your business goals.

Benefits of SMSF for small business owners include:

  1. Maximise the value of your business by using SMSF to fund assets For example, you could use your SMSF to purchase commercial property and then lease the property back to your business. Owning the property that your business resides in gives you something to fall back on in the event of bankruptcy and can also provide additional income by leasing unused spaces in the property to other businesses.
  2. Enjoy tax breaks Claim the rent you pay as a business expense, along with repairs and maintenance, renovations and other improvements, and property management fees. If you choose to sell commercial property purchased by your SMSF you’ll pay little to no capital gains tax, adding significant wealth to your SMSF.
  3. Set yourself and your family up for the future You’ve worked hard to build a successful business. A SMSF enables you to leverage your achievement and multiply it by taking control of your investments and maximising your wealth for the future.

Choosing your SMSF support team

While the appeal of choosing a SMSF is complete control, unless you have a high degree of investment knowledge, plus plenty of free time, it’s likely you’ll need some professional help. SMSF service providers can assist with legal, taxation, auditing, administration and investment advice.

While there are many providers available, not all are created equal. It’s important to remember that even if you outsource some tasks, as a trustee of your fund you’re liable for fines and penalties if it all goes pear shaped. So, it pays to get quality support.

When selecting your SMSF support team, look for:

  • Qualifications and licences: For example, investment advisers need to be licenced by ASIC and accountants should be appropriately qualified.
  • Track record: Look for providers with several years’ experience across diversified investment portfolios and a long list of satisfied clients.
  • Fees: Make sure you fully understand the fee structure, checking the fine print for any hidden fees and making sure you won’t be locked into lengthy service contracts.

Planning your SMSF exit strategy

SMSFs don’t last forever with trustees choosing to wind them up for many reasons. It could be the death of a trustee, management being too time consuming or costly, or the investment strategy performing poorly. Whatever the case, it pays to be prepared with a thorough exit strategy to ensure you can get out smoothly and funds end up in the hands of the right people.

Given the complexities of exiting a SMSF, it pays to get professional advice and assistance, but in brief the process is usually as follows:

  1. Hold a trustee meeting to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding the exit
  2. Calculate outstanding expenses, tax and refunds
  3. Dispose of assets and calculate member entitlements
  4. Transfer entitlements
  5. Pay outstanding expenses and tax
  6. Complete final accounts and lodge annual return
  7. Notify the Australian Tax Office and members
  8. Receive confirmation that the fund’s ABN has been canceled and bank accounts closed
  9. Keep the fund’s records for ten years.

Go solo and reap the rewards

For self-employed business owners, a SMSF offers compelling benefits – provided you have the time, skills and support to maximise opportunities and manage the risks. If in doubt about whether a SMSF is right for you or how to make it happen, it pays to get advice from an expert accountant with proven SMSF experience.

Make a SMSF work for you and your business with expert accounting advice. 

Ask for a callback from O'Bryan and O'Donnell.