7 age pension traps to avoid
By Robert Wright /June 03,2022/
After a lifetime of hard work, it’s important you maximise your entitlements in retirement. So you need to structure your finances carefully to make sure you don’t lose your age pension. After all, you’ve earned it. Here are some common traps to be aware of.
Helping loved ones out
It’s only natural to want to help younger family members get a leg up financially. But if you’re nearing or already in retirement, you need to be careful how you go about this, as you could inadvertently affect your age pension entitlements.
If you’re thinking of giving money, the rules are you can gift $10,000 per financial year, and no more than $30,000 over a five-year period.
Any excess amount is counted as an asset, and deemed to earn income, for a full five-year period from the date of the gift.
With house prices so high and home ownership getting out of reach for younger Australians, it’s no surprise that many parents want to help their kids get a foot on the property ladder. But with property you need to be extra careful in how you set things up.
Let’s look at an example. A couple aged 55 want to help their daughter buy her first home. Without taking advice they buy a 50% share of a house worth $500,000 so she can obtain a loan.
Fast forward 12 years and the house is now worth $1,000,000, of which their half share is $500,000. Their other financial assets are worth $700,000 so they believed they would be eligible for a part age pension. To their dismay they discover their equity in their daughter’s home has taken them over the assets test cut-off point, meaning they won’t be getting any age pension from the Government.
So what can they do? If they transfer their ownership share to their daughter the capital gains would be as high as $125,000 after the 50 per cent tax discount, on which capital gains tax could be as much as $50,000. And they would have to wait five years to qualify for the pension because Centrelink would treat the $500,000 as a deprived asset. The total value of the capital gains tax and the lost pension could be as much as $150,000!
If they’d been aware of the trap, or taken advice, they could have gone guarantor for their daughter, possibly putting up their own home as part security, and this would have had no effect on their future pension eligibility. Alternately, they could have transferred their ownership to their daughter at least 5 years before they became eligible for the age pension. They still would have had a capital gains tax liability, but at least the 5-year period for counting the gift would have elapsed by the time they applied for the age pension.
Borrowing against the family home to invest
If you’re already, or about to be, on the age pension, purchasing an investment property with the loan secured against your family home (primary residence) can be a trap.
Normally, the debt against an investment asset—for example, an investment property—is deducted from the asset value when working out whether you’re eligible for an age pension. But if the mortgage is secured against another asset like the family home, then the gross amount is counted. So this may affect your age pension as the full value of the investment is counted as an asset.
A way to avoid this could be to secure the asset against the investment instead.
Downsizing the family home
If you’re thinking of selling your family home and buying a smaller place, there’s an added incentive as the Government is allowing downsizer contributions into super for eligible Australians of up to $300,000.
But there could be a Centrelink sting in the tail, as you’re converting an exempt asset (the family home) into a counted asset (money left over) that could affect your eligibility for the age pension.
Let’s look at an example. Ray (70) and Gina (67) receive close to the full age pension, based on their assets and income.
They want to downsize their family home, which they could sell for $2.5 million. They’d prefer to buy an apartment closer to their kids for around $1.5 million.
If they go ahead, they’d have surplus assets of up to $1 million, which will either considerably reduce their age pension, or cut it off altogether.
By consulting their financial adviser, Ray and Gina could decide either to proceed as planned, or perhaps buy a more expensive replacement property and have less surplus capital, with less of an impact on their age pension.
And their adviser could help to invest the surplus capital to generate an income—for example, by making downsizer contributions into super and starting an account-based pension.
There’s plenty to think about if you’re looking at downsizing, so you might want to get some advice.
Leaving a bequest in your will
Many retired couples leave all their assets to each other in their wills if they pass away.
While this is perfectly understandable, it could cause grief to the surviving partner if their age pension is reduced or lost altogether. The asset cut-off points for singles and couples are quite different—$595,750 for a single person and $901,500 for a couple.
Let’s look at an example. Jack and Jenny have assessable assets of $740,000 and are getting around $11,800 a year in age pension payments. Jack dies suddenly and leaves all his assets to Jenny, taking her over the assets test limit for a single person and she loses the pension entirely.
Unfortunately, Jenny can’t get around this by passing the assets on to their children. If you’re a named as a beneficiary in someone’s will, and you gift it away to, say, your children, it’s still counted as part of your assets and subject to the income test for the next five years.
If Jack and Jenny had consulted a financial adviser, one solution could have been to leave specific assets to their children and bypass the surviving spouse altogether.
Starting a super income stream early
If you start a super income stream once you reach preservation age and before you reach age pension age—for example, as part of a transition to retirement strategy—it could affect your entitlements to Centrelink allowances like Jobseeker. So it’s important to get financial advice.
Advice can make all the difference in how you set up your super and pension arrangements in general. If you have a younger partner, one option could be moving assets into super as a non-concessional contribution for the spouse who is underage pension age.
The amount placed in super for the younger spouse is preserved until they meet a condition of release. This may work well if their condition of release is only a few years away but could be a concern if there’s more of an age gap.
Changing account-based pensions
If you’ve been receiving an account-based pension (ABP) for a while, you should be aware of a change made on 1 January 2015 which impacted how much income from the ABP is counted towards the age pension income test.
If you were in an existing ABP you were exempt from the new rules—but only for as long as you continued with the same provider.
So if you change providers you could inadvertently reduce your age pension entitlements.
A financial adviser can help work out the best option for your particular circumstances—the benefits of a new ABP or the higher age pension.
Setting up a family trust
If there’s a family trust or private company involved in your affairs, the rules are even more complex, so you’ll need expert advice before applying for the age pension.