7 Common SMSF Pension Errors


Having set up over 120 pensions and taken over many other clients we know that having the right documentation and following the guidelines set down for accessing pensions is essential to remain compliant and access tax exempt status. Here are some of the common mistakes we see on documentation of pensions that clients bring to us from other sources.

1.  Pension entitlement – don’t bend the rules

You must be over the preservation age to commence a pension. This means that you must have reached the preservation age at the time the pension documents say the pension starts.  A common mistake is to assume this means at the time the first pension payment is made, which is wrong. For example, you may be turning  which is your preservation age on the 1st of October and think that you can start the pension on the 1st of July but not pay any pension payments until after the 1st of October and get the full year of tax exempt  income. This is not possible; in order to start the pension you must have reached the preservation age at the 1st of October. the income for that year will be split pro-rata across the period in accumulation phase pre- 1st of October and in pension phase after that date.

2. Market valuation of assets funding the pension

SMSF Advisors, Accountants and trustees must make sure the assets of the fund are valued at market rates before the pension is calculated. Further they should ensure the assets are revalued at the end of financial year. This is important in determining the level of pension in the coming year is correct and reflects the true value of the assets in the fund. There used to be some leeway especially with property but auditors now seem to be implementing a more rigorous checking system to ensure property values are updated annually.

3. Use a Comprehensive Pension Kit

Timely documentation is essential to ensure that the pension actually commences when you want it to commence. Typically, a pension may start well before an actual pension payment is made as often the financials for the SMSF are not completed yet. Often the pension start date will be 1st July and the actual pension payment may be made quarterly or half-yearly later in the year. The pension kit should reflect this and include at a bare minimum such things as a pension request form from the member to the trustee(s), minutes of the trustee acknowledging and agreeing to the request, notification from the trustee to the member with a draft pension agreement stating the type of pension, start date, frequency of payments and if a reversionary pension is to be applied.  Importantly, it should also include a Product Disclosure Statement which is a legal requirement. The initial pension documentation does not have to have the exact figure of the pension amount but should refer to the fact that this figure will be clarified once the financials are completed. We update the initial kit with a set of minutes after the financials are provided which shows the exact amount in the pension and the relevant minimum and maximums or selected pension payment for that year and the Tax free component of the pension.

Your SMSF advisor of accountant should be able to help with this documentation.

4. Minimum Pension Payments (don’t ignore letters from your advisor!)

Pension payments are only tax-free if you met the conditions required to take advantage of the Tax Exempt Pension Income within the fund (0% tax on the income from the assets supporting the pension). The minimum pension amount must be paid within the financial year. This means that the pension payment must physically leave the SMSF bank account by the 30th June. That is a benefit is paid when the member accepts the money, banks the cheque which is subsequently honoured or receives a credit by way of electronic transfer from the SMSF. As an example, if at the 30th June you have made $6,000 worth of pension payments but your minimum pension payment for the year is $10,000, the $4,000 cannot be carried over and paid at a later date.  In this instance the fund has failed to meet its pension requirements and the pension would be invalid and the entire pension account subject to tax for the full year.

During the financial year all pensions paid must be paid in “cash”;. That is a benefit is cashed when the member accepts the money, banks the cheque which is subsequently honoured or receives a credit by way of electronic transfer from the SMSF. Therefore if a member receives a cheque dated 30/6 and banks it after 30/6, this amount cannot be classed as “cash” for the year ending 30/6 on the cheque. Also a member cannot receive a pension via an in-species transfer from the SMSF to the member.

Our process is to remind clients in April/May each year by advising them in writing the minimum amount payable by the 30th June. We ask clients to confirm they have taken these payments by ticking a questionnaire and returning it to us. If you are receiving a Transition to Retirement Pension the advice also indicates the maximum amount of pension and requests confirmation that this has not been exceeded.

Some strategies are in place for correcting errors before the 30th of June but once that clock ticks over to 1st of July there is little that can be done to amend strategies.

5. Tax and Estate Planning -Tracking the Tax Free Component Amount/Percentage

On commencing a pension the Tax Free and Taxable Components need to be calculated. This percentage split remains the same for the life of the pension. The tax free percentage is calculated by dividing the Tax Free Components by the total starting balance of the pension. The Tax free component should be shown in your Pension Kit (once financials completed) and then reaffirmed in your members account statement annually.

Why is this important if Pension payments are tax free?

The tax free component does not refer to the annual pension payments. The Tax Free Component percentage becomes relevant upon death of the last member without a reversionary beneficiary and can make significant difference to the tax paid by your dependents (particular adult children). Good pension planning may see more than one pension being set up for a member with each Pension allocated towards the most tax efficient recipient beneficiary. i.e. spouse may receive pension with low tax free % while adult children receive the pension with a higher Tax free %.

Some smaller accountants or those who do not have the relevant software may not be tracking your Tax Free component and this may cause a problem later when your remainder pension needs to be distributed.  Check your last statement and If in any doubt you should discuss with your accountant or SMSF Advisor.

6. Ongoing Contributions

A member’s pension account cannot receive new contributions during the year. You can make contributions but these contributions must be credited to a separate accumulation account. A SMSF a member may have more than one pension account but cannot have more than one accumulation account. As an aside this is necessary for a Transition to Retirement Strategy combined with Salary Sacrifice to work properly.

You can rollback (stop) a pension and add the accumulation account balance and then start a new pension.  We term this as RCR (Rollback, Consolidation and Recommencement). Before stopping a pension you must ensure that you first pay the minimum pension to keep the fund tax exempt for the year to that date. For this reason we often rollback the pension at the end of the financial year and recommence on 01st July.

7. Actuarial Certificate

If you have a pension account and accumulation account during the year (i.e you have made contributions) and the fund’s assets have not been segregated you will need to obtain an actuarial certificate to identify the tax exempt percentage of the investment income. The Actuarial Certificates are normally outsourced by the Accountant to an Actuary but you should ensure that they do take responsibility for arranging it for you annually.

As you can see these pension rules can be a minefield to negotiate and advice from a SMSF Specialist Advisor is highly recommended. Through Verante’s SMSF Coaching Service we remind our clients that when it comes to “their money” that there is no such thing as a silly question. With pensions it is essential to get it right up front and double-check before June 30th!

I hope these thoughts  have been helpful and please take the time to comment if you know of other common mistakes as I know this is not an exhaustive list. Would love some feedback as well.

Liam Shorte B.Bus SSA™ AFP

Financial Planner & SMSF Specialist Advisor™

SMSF Specialist Adviser 

 Follow SMSFCoach on Twitter Liam Shorte on Linkedin NextGen Wealth on Facebook   

Verante Financial Planning

Tel: 02 98941844, Mobile: 0413 936 299

PO Box 6002 BHBC, Baulkham Hills NSW 2153

5/15 Terminus St. Castle Hill NSW 2154

Corporate Authorised Representative of Magnitude Group Pty Ltd ABN 54 086 266 202, AFSL 221557

This information has been prepared without taking account of your objectives, financial situation or needs. Because of this you should, before acting on this information, consider its appropriateness, having regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs. This website provides an overview or summary only and it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon as such.

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  1. Everyone loves it whenever people come together
    and share views. Great website, continue the good work!

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