SMSF: How much does a DIY super fund cost? (updated figures)

Note: Article updated in June 2015, and enhanced with an extra table outlining fees for small and large SMSF account balances. This Q&A includes the latest SMSF cost data released in December 2014 by the ATO, and selected cost data released by ASIC in September 2013. The next SMSF cost update is expected to be released by the ATO in December 2015.

Q: My wife and I are considering setting up a self-managed super fund. I asked two advisers for a quote on the set-up costs for a self-managed super fund with a starting balance of $600,000. The first adviser charges approximately $8000; the second considerably less — about $1500. Which do you think would be the better option, and fundamentally, is an SMSF the most cost-effective option for a couple with this level of savings?

A: You ask 2 questions: which adviser quote is the best option, and whether an SMSF is the most cost-effective super option for you?

I have structured my response into four sections:

  • How do I calculate my SMSF fees?
  • How do you compare the costs of different SMSF service providers?
  • How much should a DIY super fund cost (including 2 tables that list average costs, and average costs for different account balance sizes)?
  • What is the minimum cost-effective balance for an SMSF?

SMSFs: How do you work out the cost of running your fund?

Based on the information that you have provided, an $8000 fee for advice on $600,000 in assets (assuming all of these assets move into your super fund) works out to be 1.3% of your fund’s assets but I’m guessing that the fee quoted involves set-up costs, annual running costs and perhaps a general financial plan.

For your comparison, according to the latest ATO report on SMSFs, the average operating expense ratio for SMSFs is 1.03% (and note that works out to be $10,200 (!) for the average fund balance of $992,000 recorded in the ATO report). A more helpful comparison is to look at the average cost of a SMSF for a fund of your size.

Note: The operating expense ratio is simply dividing the costs of running a SMSF by the value of the fund assets.

On a $600,000 account balance, an expense ratio of 1% means $6,000 in annual fees. An operating expense ratio (OER) of 0.25% on a $600,000 account balance works out to be $1500 in annual fees, although such a low expense ratio is associated with much higher account balances (according to the ATO, an 0.25% OER is lower than the average OER for a SMSF of any fund balance size, although that statistic does not mean that individual SMSFs can’t secure lower OERs, as the bullet list below confirms).

Note that the average OERs quoted by the ATO in its latest report (Statistical overview 2012-2013, released in December 2014) have increased markedly since its last report, due to new data on the non-deductible expenses incurred by SMSFs, especially those SMSFs in pension phase. According to the ATO, the average OER continues to decline in direct proportion to the increase in the size of the SMSF.

The following ATO statistics may be helpful:

  • SMSFs with fund balances of between $500,000 and $1 million have an average OER of 1.34%, which works out to be $8,040 on a fund balance of $600,000.
  • 62% of SMSFs have an estimated OER of 1.5% or less, according to the ATO.
  • Nearly half (47.7%) of all SMSFs have an OER of 1% of less.
  • 27.4% of SMSFs have an OER of one half of one per cent or less, with 13% of SMSFs having an OER of one quarter of one per cent (0.25%) or less, and 14.4% of SMSFs having an OER of between 0.5% and 0.25%.

I detail the actual costs of running a SMSF later in this response.

How do you compare the costs of different SMSF service providers?

The question you ask is an important one for anyone considering a SMSF. The difference in quotes is huge, but which service is the better option really depends on what you get for your money. Ask each adviser to itemise the following:

  • Advice component (if any).
  • Establishment costs (including trust deed).
  • Running costs, such as administration, reporting (including annual audit) and lodgement.
  • Any other costs that are included in the quoted fee.
  • Any other costs that may arise that are not included in the fee.

You can then compare which adviser is the most cost-effective, but cost is only one factor when selecting an adviser and/or an SMSF service. You can check out the total average cost of a SMSF later in this article, and compare your fund’s total costs to this average. The costs of set-up are not included in the annual running costs set out below.

I outline the costs of setting up a SMSF, and also the annual and one-off costs you can expect from operating a SMSF in my book DIY Super For Dummies, 3rd edition (published in 2015, Wiley). Briefly, the start-up costs for a SMSF can range from being free (with ongoing financial strings attached) to up to $2,200, although typically the start-up costs for most SMSFs cost somewhere in between these two figures.

Note: If you want a corporate trustee, then you need to add another $880 to $1,100 to your SMSF start-up costs.

So, how much should a DIY super fund cost?

The cost of setting up a SMSF is not the only key information you need to investigate. The annual running costs of your SMSF are more important to the long-term viability of your SMSF than the set-up costs, and will have a greater impact on your investment returns and the size of your superannuation account over time.

The average operating expense ratio (OER, which is calculated by dividing the costs of running a SMSF by the value of the fund assets) had declined over time up to 2012, with an average annual OER of 0.66% over the 4 years to 2012 according to the ATO. For the 2013 year however the average OER increased to 1.03%, due to new data collection on non-deductible expenses, from the 2012/2013 year onwards.

Note: For verification, see the following ATO reports:

  • Self-managed superannuation funds: A statistical overview 2012-13 (released in December 2014)
  • Self-managed superannuation funds: A statistical overview 2011-12 (released in December 2013)
  • Self-managed superannuation funds: A statistical overview 2010-11 (released in May 2013)
  • Self-managed superannuation funds: A statistical overview 2009-10 (released in April 2012)
  • Self-managed superannuation funds: A statistical overview 2008-09 (released in December 2011).

Table 1 below outlines the average costs for an average SMSF balance. Note that the annual cost of a SMSF is dependent on the value of the fund assets because many SMSF costs are fixed costs, such as fund audit, preparation of accounts and the ATO supervisory levy. Also, the average fund balance (see table below) is reasonably high which means the fixed costs are spread over a larger value of assets.

Table 2 below outlines the average costs for different account balances, based on data from the 2012-13 year (released in December 2014). You can check your SMSF’s annual fees against this table to assess whether your fund’s costs are above or below average.

For example, if you have a small SMSF fund balance, then you can expect to devote a higher percentage of your fund assets to annual expenses. For example, a SMSF with $50,000 or less in fund assets, has an average operating expense ratio of 10.85% (equates to costs of up to $5,425) according to the ATO’s statistical overview for the 2012-13 year. Note that I consider the average OER for $50,000 balances reported by the ATO doesn’t seem to stack up when compared against the costs of the $100,000 fund balances (see Table 2 below).

If you have a large SMSF fund balance, say, $2 million, then your expense ratio will be a lot lower than the average. According to earlier ATO statistics, SMSFs with more than $2 million in assets had operating expense ratios of 0.47% (2006), 0.43% (2007), 0.39% (2008), 0.35% (2009), 0.30% (2010), 0.27% (2011), and 0.29% (2012). For the 2013 year, SMSFs with account balances of $2 million or more have a higher average expense ratio of 0.60%, due the ATO taking into account expenses that were not tax-deductible.

The ATO also reports that if you have between $100,000 and $200,000 in your SMSF, then the average expense ratio for such an SMSF is 4.11% ($4,110 on a $100,000 balance, to $8,220 on a $200,000 balance). Note that I am aware of many SMSFs with roughly $200,000 of assets within a SMSF who manage to keep total costs to about $2,000 to $2,500 (or 1% to 1.25% of fund assets); although with recent increases in the ATO supervisory levy and increases in audit fees, achieving such cost management at this fund asset level is becoming increasingly rare.

If you have a SMSF with a fund balance of between $200,000 and $500,000 then the average expense ratio for such a SMSF is 2.27% ($4,540 on a $200,000 balance, to $11,350 on a $500,000 balance), according to the ATO.

For more detail see the following tables below:

  • Table 1: SMSFs – Average operating expense ratio
  • Table 2: SMSFs – 2013 average operating expense ratio for different account balances

Table 1: SMSFs – Average operating expense ratio

Table 1: SMSF – Average operating expense ratio
Financial yearAverage fund balance ($)*Average operating expense ($)Average operating expense ratio (%)
2012$1 million$5,6000.56%

Source: Extracted from ATO reports, ‘SMSFs: A statistical overview 2008-09’ and ‘SMSFs: A statistical overview 2009-10’, ‘SMSFs: A statistical overview 2010-11’, ‘SMSFs: A statistical overview 2011-12, and SMSFs: A statistical overview 2012-13. *The average fund balance has been calculated by SuperGuide using the average operating expense figures and expense ratios, and the balances are rounded to the nearest $1000, or $100.

Table 2: SMSFs – 2013 average operating expense ratio for different account balances

Table 2: SMSFs – 2013 average operating expense ratio for different account balances
Fund sizeAverage operating expense ratio (%)*Average operating expense ($)
$1-$50,00010.85%Up to $5,425
$50,001- $100,0005.35%$2,675 to $5,350
$100,001 – $200,0004.11%$4,110 to $8,220
$200,001 -$500,0002.27%$4,540 to $11,350
$500,001 – $1 million1.34%$6,700 to $13,400
$1,000,001 – $2 million 0.86%$8,600 to $17,200
$2,000,001 and higher0.60%$12,000 and higher

Source: Extracted from ATO reports, ‘SMSFs: A statistical overview 2008-09’ and ‘SMSFs: A statistical overview 2009-10’, ‘SMSFs: A statistical overview 2010-11’, ‘SMSFs: A statistical overview 2011-12, and SMSFs: A statistical overview 2012-13. *The average operating expense dollar amount has been calculated by SuperGuide using the differing account balances and the relevant average operating expense ratios, reported by the ATO.

What is the minimum cost-effective balance* for an SMSF?

You also ask the question: is an SMSF the most cost-effective option?

In September 2013, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission published a consultation paper (Consultation Paper 216) considering specific disclosure requirements when advisers are providing advice on SMSFs, including SMSF costs. As part of the process, ASIC commissioned Rice Warner to examine the minimum cost-effective balance for SMSFs compared with large super funds (which are regulated by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority). Some interesting points from the Rice Warner report, Costs of Operating SMSFs (May 2013), include:

  • Less than $100,000. SMSFs with fund balances of less than $100,000 were not cost-effective in comparison to a large super fund, unless the SMSF could grow within a reasonable time.
  • Between $100,000 and $200,000. SMSFs with fund balances between $100,000 and $200,000 can be competitive with the more expensive type of large super funds (typically retail funds), but only if the SMSF trustees undertake some of the administration and investment functions themselves.
  • More than $200,000*. SMSFs with fund balances of $200,000 or more, are competitive with both cheaper and more expensive large funds, provided the SMSF trustees undertake some of the administration.
  • More than $250,000*. SMSFs with fund balances of $250,000 or more are the cheapest alternative compared with all types of super funds, provided the SMSF trustees do some of the fund’s administration.
  • More than $500,000*. If SMSF trustees require full service from SMSF administrators, then a fund balance of $500,000 is needed to be more cost-effective than a large super fund.
  • Pension funds. The cost analysis is transferable to SMSF pension funds. A SMSF in pension phase is more expensive to run, but so is a pension account in a large super fund.

*According to the Rice Warner report, account balances larger than $200,000 are competitive with larger super funds, subject to some qualification.

For more information on SMSF costs, and minimum cost-effective balances see SuperGuide article, SMSFs: How much money do you need to start one?


  1. Paul G Day says:

    We went to see a superfund manager about using our super to invest in a rental property and they quoted us $30,000 to set up the fund for less than a $200,000 investment. It appears to me there are sharks out there who think nothing of ripping you off. So glad we decidex not to do it and do more research.

  2. Of course, if you setup an SMSF because you want to save on fees, you have been sorely misguided. Some industry funds give you access to direct shares, ETFs, term deposits, cash and managed funds for a flat rate of $260 per annum, making it a cheaper solution than SMSFs for ANY LEVEL OF ASSETS.

    • Please let us know the name of the industry fund which charges $260.00 per annum.
      Thank you.

    • An issue with such funds is that you need to crystallise a CGT event to access the pension phase of the plan, which can be costly in real terms. An SMSF provides a degree of flexibility that serves to limit to a degree these issues and also gives the owner some control over the timing of taxable events.

      Industry type funds that offer the DIY type approach are certainly cheaper up front. The question is what is the goal and the strategy to achieve that goal. Not just the lowest cost upfront…… Having modelled an industry fund with growth option, an SMSF with a low cost provider, and an industry fund(IF) with the DIY option. The ID-DIY option is cheapest in terms of fees including the FUM component.

      The taxation strategy transitioning into the pension phase is where the SMSF option for my situation changes the game completely and hands down supports the SMSF approach.

      The answer is having a strategy, getting appropriate advice, and going in with ones eyes open.

      • Hi Justin,

        I am not sure that it is necessary to crystallize a GST event when transitioning from accumulation to pension. As far as I can tell the legislation on this issue is same for SMSFs and APRA funds.

        One Industry fund that provides a DIY option (called a “direct investment option” which includes S&P300, term deposits,and Selected ETFs and LICs) has a document that directly addresses this issue.

        I will quote from it below (I have disguised the name of the fund with XXXXs):

        When a member transfers from an accumulation account
        to a XXXXXsuper Pension, generally superannuation
        investment options are redeemed and pension
        investment options are invested in. The exception is the
        Direct Investment Option.
        If you have a XXXXXsuper Direct Investment Option
        account as part of your superannuation investment
        options, you may be able to request a transfer of that
        existing Direct Investment Option to a XXXXXsuper
        Pension without having to sell your investments.
        END QUOTE

        It goes on:

        What are the benefits of a DIO
        account transfer to Pension?
        If you are able to transfer your existing superannuation
        Direct Investment Option account, you will not have to
        sell your investments. The benefits of a transfer may
        • no liability for capital gains tax on unrealised gains
        on assets transferred and subsequently sold ;
        • no ‘out of market risks’ associated with selling and
        repurchasing investments; and
        • the avoidance of brokerage costs and early
        redemption fees.
        END QUOTE

        There are a few eligibility requirements but these don’t appear at all restrictive.


  3. The logic of a fund’s costs being based on invested assets escapes me. Surely, the fee for annual preparation of accounts and audit etc should be based on the amount of work involved..

    eg if there are several hundred share trades, with accompanying dividends and franking credits, that’s going to be a lot more work for an accountant than a fund where the full balance has been sitting in a term deposit all year.

    Can someone please explain how a % of assets fee can of itself be justified?

    My SMSF is a little under $1M and the combined fee for tax return, preparation of investment strategy, everything, including audit is around $2000 unless I do a large number of trades.
    There are good suburban accountants charging much less than the big city firms with their glossy offices.

  4. Trish…..hello, as an SMSF Trustee/Administrator of 10 years experience I’ve been at war with the Superannuation press for years now over the repeated publication of grossly overstated and shockingly misleading reports about the cost of running an SMSF. Your article “What is the minimum cost effective balance for an SMSF’ is the first I’ve seen (of MANY) that presents an accurate and objective treatment of the subject and demonstartes that it’s possible to beneficially have your own SMSF with a balance in the sub $200K range. Congratulations, keep up the excellent work.

  5. Trish,

    A SMSF with an individual trustee wants to convert to a corporate trustee. Can the cost of setting up a corporate trustee be paid by the super fund?

  6. I just saw in the Financial Review today that non-SMSFs have made on average 3.3% p.a. for the 10 years between 2000 and 2010. The same article said inflation was 3.1% p.a. on average over that time, so the non-SMSFs have made the grand total of: 0.2% p.a.

    Same article said they had lost in 4 out of the 10 years: 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009.

    What are they doing? You’re better off even if you just put your money in the bank.

    • Adam Jones says:

      Hi Stuart

      Could you tell me who you get to audit your fund, $800 sounds really good and you seem happy with it.


  7. I’ve used an SMSF administrator for nearly 2 years now. The first year was free and then every year after that is a fixed cost of under $800. It’s been great so far. Running my own SMSF has already done many times better in one year than my retail fund did for me in 10 years, and it’s a great feeling being in control of your own money.

    The big super funds are useless. I really don’t know what they do. Even if you put your money into a term deposit you’ll be far better off.

  8. Mike Walsh says:

    Hi Trish, Just a comment on running costs for SMSFs and in particular the average fee paid for the annual compliance audit. The SuperSystemReview states the average fee to be $608 with this data being obtained from ATO SMSF tax returns. As the label for this info in the tax return is for taxable deductions, any fund which is fully in the pension phase will have $0 here as it can not claim any taxable deductions and if a fund has 50% in pension and 50% in accumulation the amount entered at the audit fee label will only be half of what is actually paid. In fact looking at table 26 in the report it is stated that data from funds that have $0 are ignored. To have $0 at this label only means that the fund has paid possibly thousands of dollars for the compulsary audit but because they are in pension phase can not claim it as a deduction.
    I know from my experience as a SMSF trustee who does all the admin and preparation of the financial reports myself that it is very difficult to get an audit done for around the $600 figure.
    I must commend you for a very informative site. It has helped me greatly.

  9. Thanks for the article Trish!

    Some good information and it is good that you make reference to actual real life information and examples.

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