Self-managed super fund (SMSF)

Do it yourself super

Some people want the control that comes with managing their own super, but taking control means being responsible for managing your retirement funds which will involve significant time and effort.

SMSFs can be suitable for people with a lot of super and extensive skills in financial and legal matters. 

You must understand your legal responsibilities and the investments you make because even if you employ professionals to help you, at the end of the day you are still the one responsible.

How self-managed super funds work

SMSFs are a legal tax structure with the sole purpose of providing for your retirement. SMSFs are regulated by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO)

An SMSF can have one to four members. Each member is a trustee (or director if there is a corporate trustee).

Running your own fund is complex. When you run your own SMSF you must:

  • Carry out the role of trustee or director, which imposes important legal duties on you
  • Set and follow an investment strategy that ensures the fund is likely to meet your retirement needs
  • Use the money only to provide retirement benefits
  • Keep comprehensive records and arrange an annual audit by an approved SMSF auditor. 

Important

If you decide to set up an SMSF you are personally liable for all the decisions made by the fund even if you get help from a professional or another member makes the decision.

If you're running an SMSF you will typically need:

  • A large amount of money in the fund to make set up and yearly running costs worthwhile
  • To budget for ongoing expenses such as professional accounting, tax, audit, legal and financial advice
  • Enough time to research investments and manage the fund
  • The financial experience and skills to make sound investment decisions
  • To organise life insurance, including income protection and total and permanent disability cover.

You can pay an adviser a fee to do the administration or help with the investment decisions for your SMSF. However, make sure you understand what your adviser is doing because you cannot pass on the responsibility of being a trustee or director. 

Video: SMSF's - You can't do it all yourself

Video about SMSF's.

SMSFs are often called 'do-it-yourself funds' but that isn't really the case. Meet the people who you will have to work with or who can help you meet your obligations as an SMSF trustee in this ATO video.

SMSFs - You can't do it all yourself transcript

Questions to ask about SMSFs

Before setting up an SMSF, ask yourself these questions:

Have you considered other do-it-yourself (DIY) super options?

Many professionally managed super funds have DIY investment options which let you choose which assets you'd like your super invested in such as shares, exchange traded funds and term deposits. This gives you some control over your specific investments without the legal and administrative requirements of running an SMSF.

Have you considered other super funds or investment options?

If you're thinking about setting up an SMSF because you're not happy with your current fund or the way your money is invested, consider changing to another fund or investment option first. See choosing a super fund.

Will your self-managed fund outperform your current fund?

Super funds use highly skilled professional managers to invest your super money. Can you do better than the professionals? Consider whether the investments you choose will perform as well as your professionally managed super fund. Are you confident you can accurately measure returns?

Have you considered the costs?

Like all super funds, your SMSF will have costs associated with running the fund. These include the cost of investing, accounting and auditing for your SMSF, which may be much higher than what you are currently paying. These costs cut into your retirement savings. 

Will you lose valued benefits?

Super funds usually offer discounted life and disability insurance. If you set up an SMSF you will have to purchase your insurance separately. Make sure you look into your insurance options before closing your current super account as age and health issues can limit your ability to buy a new policy and increase your premiums.

Do you know enough?

Are you aware of all your legal responsibilities? Do you understand the different investment markets? Can you construct and manage a diversified portfolio of investments?  Do you know the tax implications?

What if your relationship with others in the fund changes?

If there is more than one member in your SMSF, have you written a plan outlining what will happen in the event of ill health, death, relationship breakdown, or waning interest?

Warning

If an SMSF member loses money due to theft or fraud they do not have access to any special compensation schemes. Also, SMSF members do not have access to the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal to resolve disputes.

SMSF investments

Having access to a broader range of investments is often a reason for starting an SMSF. Through an SMSF you can invest in the usual investments such as shares, term deposits, managed funds and property. You can also hold alternative assets such as antiques and artwork in an SMSF.

Shares

The ability to choose your own shares may have been a driver for setting up an SMSF, but unless you have a lot of money to invest, you are unlikely to be as diversified as a fund manager, who has the advantage of using pooled funds to buy a broad range of shares. 

Property

Some people use their SMSF to invest in property. For information on the rules around property investment within super and the costs involved go to our SMSFs and property webpage. 

Collectibles

Many SMSFs hold collectibles such as artwork, jewellery, antiques, coins, stamps, vintage cars and wine. There are very strict rules on holding these assets in your SMSF.

These assets, when held within an SMSF, must be insured and they cannot provide a present day benefit. This means that artwork cannot be displayed in your home or business, you cannot drive a vintage car, you cannot wear jewellery or drink the wine.

For more information, see the ATOs webpage on collectibles and personal use assets.

SMSF scams

Be wary of people who approach you to set up an SMSF with the aim of withdrawing some or all your super to pay off debts. These arrangements are illegal.

See superannuation scams for more information.

SMSF courses and further education

If you're thinking of running an SMSF, consider completing a free Self Managed Superannuation Fund Trustee Education Program designed to assist trustees in understanding their role and responsibilities.

The ATO has a section about self-managed super funds and a range of other useful resources listed below, that you can download from their website or order a hard copy.

If you do get SMSF advice make sure you get it from an expert, for example a member of the Self-Managed Super Fund Association.

If you're thinking about setting up an SMSF you need to be 100% committed. Before you make that decision, do some research and ask yourself what the real benefit is.


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Last updated: 07 Aug 2015

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