Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Australian Investment/Insurance Bonds

Investment/insurance bonds are an Australian investment vehicle, which is a bit like a superannuation fund but actually is formally a type of life insurance. You make an investment like in a super fund, but instead of earnings being taxed at 15% they are taxed at the corporate income tax rate, which is 30% currently. If you withdraw the money after 10 years, no additional tax is payable. This can be a good idea in two cases:

1. If you are in a high tax bracket so that additional investments are taxed at up to a 47% marginal tax rate and you either have maximized your superannuation contributions or want the flexibility to get the money out before you retire.*

2. You want to invest in your children's name. Investments for children in their name are subject to very high penalty rates of tax in Australia to prevent income-splitting tax dodges. You can invest in a "trust account" in the child's name and avoid these penalty rates but you are liable to pay tax on the earnings.** You can specify a vesting age when the investment bond will be transferred to the child.

My mother's will specifies that each of her grandchildren will get £25k when they are 23 y.o. My brother and I are interpreting that as investing £25k now. We set up trust accounts for his children below 23 and my son in Falafeland where he lives and my mother lived. But then on 26 June this year our second child was born. It seems I haven't mentioned this on this blog before! My brother and I agreed to also invest £25k for him.

I began to explore setting up an Australian trust for him. An Australian will can set up a "testamentary trust" in the name of a child or grandchild etc. The income on that inherited money won't be subject to the penalty rates. The twist is that the money for our newborn son is my hands now. If I just set up a trust for him I will have a battle with the ATO to claim that the penalty rates don't apply. I talked to a lawyer on the phone and she said she needs to do research on whether we can set up a testamentary trust now. This would be a lot of upfront expense and then there is the hassle of running the trust and investing on its behalf and submitting annual tax returns etc. So, I am skeptical that this is going to work and if it does it would be a lot of hassle, I think. Also a trust must pay out all its earnings every year. So our son will need a bank account to receive them and this will be an income stream that his brother won't be getting.

An investment bond seems like a simpler option and is very similar to our first child's trust account In Falafeland, which doesn't pay distributions and is taxed at 25%. The 30% tax rate seems high, but there is a trick. If you make an additional investment that is greater than 125% of the previous year's investment then the bond resets to year 1 of the 10 year period. As the previous year's additional investment could be zero this is not hard. When that happens if the child withdraws money from the bond the money is taxable at their tax rate but they get a 30% non-refundable tax offset somewhat like a franking credit. But this will only reduce your tax if currently you earned less than AUD37k per year, which is below the full time minimum wage.*** But a 23 year old might earn that little if they were doing graduate study, for example.

There are six providers according to Macquarie:
The first three have all been very controversial and the first two are in the process of selling their life insurance businesses to offshore firms. AMP has the lowest management fees and Australian Unity the highest of the first 4. Centuria's PDS is really not transparent. Generation Life has index fund options which would be cheaper than any of the other providers' options. Generation Life is a specialist investment bond provider. So, I am going to look at this one in more detail. I am also following up with Unisuper, whose website mentions investment bonds.

* Investment bonds don't get a long-term capital gains tax discount. So, they aren't as effective if your not in the top bracket.

** Income children earn from labor/their own entrepreneurship isn't subject to the penalty rates and neither is inherited money in a testamentary trust. Trust accounts don't work for us as the children must get the money from them at age 18.

*** It's crazy that the minimum wage is already taxed at a marginal 32.5% + Medicare Levy.

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