Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Superannuation Reform

I started writing this on Twitter but it got too long :) Peter Martin proposes taxing superannuation contributions at ordinary income tax rates and then not taxing earnings or payouts of superannuation funds. This would greatly simplify the superannuation system and is the logical progression of Costello's introduction of tax free superannuation pensions and the recent move to increase the contributions tax people earning more than $300k p.a. It is equivalent to the U.S. Roth IRA. It could, in theory make running a self-managed super fund as simple as having an ordinary brokerage account (as it is in the U.S.) as the funds wouldn't owe tax.

There is one drawback, though. Taxing up front, leaves less capital to accumulate and so super payouts and the tax collected will be smaller than if instead we followed the U.S. 401k model. This is where payouts are taxed at regular income tax rates and contributions and earnings are tax free.* But, at this point, this would be a more radical change than the Roth IRA route. Existing superannuants would have to be grandfathered or they would complain about double taxation compared to current contributors. So, it's more likely we go down the Roth IRA route.

Most likely, of course, is a relatively minor change that complicates the system further or doesn't reduce the complication such as reducing the contributions tax concession to 15% across the board. Or eliminates the up-front concession but doesn't eliminate taxing superannuation earnings.

* There are probably some equilibrium effects that reduce the difference between the two....

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