Note: Since the concessional contributions cap was halved to $25,000 for over-50s (announced in May 2012, and effective from July 2012), anyone using the popular transition-to-retirement pension/salary sacrifice strategy, or considering using such a strategy, will need to review this strategy, and/or seek taxation advice on the merits of such a strategy for your personal circumstances. I explain this strategy in the article below.
I have often described transition-to-retirement pensions (TRIPs) as the super saver’s version of ‘having your cake and eating it’.
A transition-to-retirement pension enables Australians aged 55 or over to access their super in the form of a pension (income streams) without retiring or satisfying another condition of release.
TRIPs were originally introduced in July 2005 to help Australians wanting to transition to retirement via part-time work. By starting a TRIP, you don’t have to retire to withdraw your super benefits. You can work part-time or full-time or even casually.
Although some individuals use TRIPs for a gradual transition into retirement, the majority of TRIPpers have used the strategy for boosting super savings and tax minimisation.
The key marketing message many advisers use when promoting a TRIP is: most Australians aged 55 and over can boost super savings while cutting their tax bill, depending on an individual’s level of income and marginal tax rate. One of the more popular TRIP strategies is to salary sacrifice into your super fund up to your concessional (before-tax) contributions cap, and replace that income with tax-free (if over 60) or concessionally taxed pension payments (if under 60). The right combination of salary and super will depend on your salary level, your age, your tax position, the size of your super benefit and your income needs (see Fact 6 below for an example of how this strategy works). Note however, that since the over-50s concessional contributions cap has been halved to $25,000, the right balance of salary sacrifice contributions and pension payments may need to be revisited.
Want to know more? Check out the following 10 interesting facts and figures about TRIPs.
1. You must have reached preservation age
If you have reached your preservation age (that is, the minimum age that you can access your super — currently 55), you can start a transition-to-retirement pension (TRIP) and continue to work, and continue making super contributions. If you were born before 1 July 1960, your preservation age is 55. If you were born after June 1964, then your preservation age is 60 (see table below).
|Date of birth||Preservation age|
|Before 1 July 1960||55|
|1 July 1960 – 30 June 1961||56|
|1 July 1961 – 30 June 1962||57|
|1 July 1962 – 30 June 1963||58|
|1 July 1963 – 30 June 1964||59|
|After 30 June 1964||60|
Source: Adapted from the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Regulations 1994, Regulation 6.01
2. Tax breaks on TRIPs can be compelling
Any earnings on assets financing your transition-to-retirement pension (TRIP) are exempt from tax. If you receive pension payments from a TRIP and you’re over 60, your pension payments will be tax-free. If you’re under the age of 60, the taxable component of pension income is taxed but you gain access to a pension tax offset of 15%. The tax-free component of the pension will be tax-free, even when under the age of 60.
3. You must withdraw no more than 10% of your TRIP account balance
You can withdraw no more than 10% of your account balance each year. For example, if the account balance of your TRIP is $500,000 on 1 July, then you can withdraw no more than $50,000 for the year. If your TRIP’s account balance is $200,000, then you can withdraw no more than $20,000.
4. You must withdraw a minimum amount each year from your TRIP
You must also ensure that you withdraw a minimum payment from an account-based TRIP, which usually means you must withdraw at least 4% of the assets financing the pension each year. For an individual aged from 55 to 64, the minimum payment is 3% for the 2012/2013 year, and unless the Federal Government makes an announcement, the minimum pension payment for a TRIP for the 2013/2014 year, will revert to 4% of the account balance as at 1 July 2013 (see table below).
Minimum annual pension (income stream) payments
|Regular Percentage factors||Temporary relief|
|2012/2013 year (75%)||2011/2012 year (75%)|
|95 or older||14%||10.5%||10.5%|
Note: Amount calculated on 1 July each year, unless first year of account-based income stream, and then pro-rated from commencement day. Minimum amount to be rounded to nearest $10.
Source: Adapted from Schedule 7, Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Regulations 1994 and Federal Government news release dated 18 February 2009, and 12 May 2009, and 30 June 2010, and 29 November 2011. Figures for 2011/2012 year and 2012/2013 year calculated by Trish Power.
5. You cannot withdraw lump sums from your TRIP
A TRIP is like any other account-based income stream, with two major exceptions: you can only withdraw a maximum of 10% from a TRIP (refer to Fact 3), and you cannot withdraw lump sums until you retire, or until you satisfy another condition of release such as reaching the age of 65.
You cannot convert your TRIP to a lump sum; that is, a TRIP is a non-commutable income stream. You may be able to commute your TRIP into a lump sum when you retire, or turn 65, or satisfy some other condition of release, depending on the type of income stream you have chosen as your TRIP.
6. A popular TRIP strategy
A popular TRIP strategy is to salary-sacrifice up to your annual concessional contributions cap ($25,000 a year for financial years 2012/2013 and 2013/2014), and then receive pension income from a TRIP. This strategy can offer the following advantages:
- salary sacrificing reduces a person’s taxable income while the sacrificed contributions reside in a concessionally taxed environment.
- earnings on pension assets are tax-free within the fund, and the earnings on contributions will be subject to up to 15% tax compared to a person’s marginal rate of tax on income outside the fund.
- pension income paid from a TRIP to a fund member is tax-free for over-60s, which means tax is payable only on the reduced taxable income from a person’s salary. (For under-60s, pension income still forms part of an individual’s assessable income and the individual is eligible for a 15% pension offset/rebate.)
For example, Joan is 62 and earns $90,000 a year plus super. If she does nothing, her income tax bill will be $21,247 plus Medicare Levy (for the 2012/2013 year). She commences a typical TRIP strategy. She salary sacrifices $16,000 into super (her annual concessional cap is $25,000 and her employer contributes $9,000 in Superannuation Guarantee payments). She then receives pension income from her TRIP, which is tax-free so the pension income doesn’t form part of her taxable income. Her taxable income is reduced to $74,000 and Joan’s pension income is tax-free. Joan’s income tax bill is now $15,597 rather than $21,247 plus Medicare Levy (although her additional super contributions are subject to 15% contributions tax of $2,400). Potentially, if Joan runs a self-managed super fund, she can offset the 15% contributions tax by receiving franked dividends from Australian shares. In summary, Joan has saved at least $3,250 in total taxes (while boosting her super account with the tax savings).
7. Not all super funds offer TRIPs
Not all super funds offer transition-to-retirement pensions. You will need to check with your current super fund whether they offer this pension option.
8. Ensure your fund’s trust deed permits TRIPs
If you run your own super fund (SMSF), and you want to start a TRIP, you need to ensure that your fund’s trust deed permits such income streams.
9. Running a TRIP and contributing to a SMSF may require segregation
If an individual runs his or her own SMSF and chooses to salary sacrifice while taking a TRIP, then the SMSF trustees must either segregate the fund’s assets that finance the TRIP, or obtain an actuarial certificate. If a fund does not segregate pension assets from assets representing accumulation phase, then the SMSF trustees must then obtain an actuarial certificate each year to identify the tax-exempt income derived from pension assets.
10. A TRIP is not necessary if you can already access your super
If you can already access your super benefits then you don’t need a TRIP. You can start a regular retirement income stream or take your benefit as a lump sum without having to go through the process and cost of a TRIP. For example, if you’re aged 65 or over, then you don’t need a TRIP. If you’re eligible to contribute to super (satisfy work test) and you’re over 65, then you can also take advantage of strategies to cut your income tax bill by making before-tax contributions while receiving an income stream.