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Asking For Forgiveness Rather Than Permission Doesn’t Work With SMSF Breaches

There is a proverb that says that it is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask permission.

Generally speaking, the idea behind this saying is that if you ask for permission and you do not receive it, then the punishment will be a lot harsher than if you do the thing that you asked to do and get caught afterwards.

For example, if your children were to ask you if they could go to the local pool, and you deny them that request, the chances are that they would be in more trouble than if they simply circumvented you, and went anyway. It may also be said that you may never get caught doing the wrong thing, but asking for permission to do the act could have someone keeping watch over you.

The same cannot be said for Self Managed Superannuation Funds.

It is never a good idea to break the rules and then ask for forgiveness in that instance (or at least not intentionally). SMSF laws are complex. Breaking the rules could be thought of as being quite easy, but is not an excuse.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) makes each and every person appointed as a trustee sign a declaration that they are aware of the rules and enforce that that declaration must be witnessed.

Then, after signing a declaration that you are aware and know the rules, they also force you to appoint an independent auditor to thoroughly check everything you have done and to make sure that you have not breached any of the rules.

If they find out that you have breached the rules then that auditor must then report the breach to the Tax Office.

Once it has been reported, this breach must be addressed as quickly as possible. It is even better if you rectify the breach before the auditor reports the breach. Your attitude towards rectifying the breach has a lot of impact on the action that the Tax Office will take against you as a trustee.

Where you can show that this was an inadvertent breach and you fixed it immediately upon realising you made the breach then most likely you will not receive any type of punishment.

Conversely, where the breach was made knowingly and you show hesitancy in rectifying it you should expect to feel the full wrath of the regulator. The ATO does not take lightly to a person not administering their super to the letter of the law.

What Punishments Can The ATO Give You?

There are a number of sticks the ATO has to punish wayward SMSF trustees. The most common punishment used is a direction to do something. For example, you might have acquired an asset off a member that was against the rules. In this case, the ATO would direct you to sell that asset back to the members.

Further on the next level of punishment would be education directives. The ATO has the authority to force you to do some formal SMSF Trustee training. There are a number of providers of these training courses.

That is the extent of the punishments that do not incur monetary penalties. However, the next level of punishment is significant fines for each individual trustee or director of the corporate trustee. These fines can be up to $10,000 per person.

The biggest punishment that can occur is to classify the SMSF as “non-complying,” where the cost of this will be 47% of the accumulated taxable component of the whole fund.

Essentially, that’s half of your super taken from you.

That’s why we always recommend complying with the rules. When you are unsure of the rules, then you should seek further clarification from an expert (and keep off of the ATO’s naughty list while you’re at it).

If you’re someone who often finds it difficult to make large lump sum payments for goods or services, you may want to consider looking into “Buy Now Pay Later” services.

Buy now pay later essentially means that, rather than paying in a full lump sum payment for a product or services rendered, there may be an option to pay through instalments of a certain amount over a set period to make the sum of the full amount in total. This method should allow you to pay in full for the product or service without overly straining your finances – you pay back what you can, as agreed upon when you begin the buy now pay later service.

Some popular buy now pay later services include Afterpay, Zip Pay, Brightepay, and some credit card networks such as  Mastercard and Visa, can offer buy now pay later arrangements.

Though it can be a convenient, immediate solution, it may be challenging to juggle the necessary repayments with other financial commitments. It’s not always the most appropriate method for people, and you should bear in mind your situation and ability in paying back the amounts. 

Before you sign up, keep in mind: 

  • It becomes easier to overspend with buy now pay later services, so know your limits on what you can and can’t afford.
  • You will be charged fees and costs to use the service, which can add up to a princely sum in and of itself.
  • Keeping track of your payments can be tricky if you’ve signed up for multiple services.
  • It could affect your loan applications for a car or mortgage as lenders consider buy now pay later spending just as much as your credit score.
  • Late repayments can appear on your credit report, which affects your ability to borrow money in the future.
  • Layby can be a cheaper alternative to buy now pay later, with no account-keeping or late fees to consider

If you are someone who could make use of BNPL services, you may wish to:

  • Ensure that when using the BNPL service, you stick to a set limit on what you spend so that you can comfortably pay it back later. 
  • Aim only to have one BNPL account at a time to manage payments through, rather than confuse yourself with multiple payments across different providers.
  • Always budget for bills, loan payments and BNPL payments, and 
  • Rather than use your credit card for payments to your BNPL account, consider linking to your debit account instead.

If you would like assistance in planning your financial future, help in managing your budget or some friendly advice, see us for a chat about what we can do for you.

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John Briggs

Jane Noller has been my accountant for the last 15 plus years. I can testify to Jane’s professionalism and expeditious manner in dealing with the day to day issues that surrounds our business accounting.

John Briggs

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