Salary sacrificing and super: 10 facts you should know

Salary sacrificing superannuation, by making before-tax super contributions, is a popular strategy for employees on middle-to-high incomes. The deal is that you increase your superannuation balance (and pay 15% contributions tax, and for those earning an adjusted taxable income of more than $300,000, 30% tax on super contributions) while reducing the amount of income tax payable (up to 49% including Medicare levy) on your salary or wages.

Before you decide to embark on a salary sacrifice arrangement using superannuation contributions, chat to your accountant about the tax implications, and ensure you do not lose out financially on your employment package.

1. How does salary sacrificing work?

Under a superannuation salary sacrifice arrangement, your employer can make additional super contributions when you arrange for some of your pre-tax salary to be paid into your super fund. Your salary for tax purposes is then reduced while the additional contributions are treated as employer contributions. As employer contributions, you don’t pay income tax on these amounts (although ‘contributions’ tax of 15% is deducted from the contribution, and an additional 15% tax if our adjusted taxable income is more than $300,000 – see Super Fact No 3). Your employer receives a tax deduction for the super contribution, just as the employer would have received a deduction when paying you cash salary.

2. A salary sacrifice contribution is a concessional contribution

Any super contributions made under a salary sacrifice arrangement are treated as concessional contributions and need to be counted towards your concessional contributions cap (see Super Fact No 8). The concessional contributions cap applicable to you depends on your age. For the 2015/2016 year, the concessional cap is $30,000 for anyone aged 48 years or younger on 30 June 2015, and $35,000 for anyone aged 49 years or older on 30 June 2015.

Special rules apply for Australians aged 65 years and over, and voluntary contributions are not permitted for Australians aged 75 years and over.

Note: For the 2014/2015 year, the concessional contributions cap was $30,000 for individuals aged 48 years or younger on 30 June 2014, and $35,000 for individuals aged 49 years or over on 30 June 2014.

3. Two special cases for low-income earners and high-income earners

I have some good news, and I have some bad news:

  • For the 2012/2013 year through to the 2016/2017 year, if you earn less than $37,000 a year, you may have your contributions tax refunded. For more information on the Low Income Super Contribution see the SuperGuide article (for more information see SuperGuide article Super tax refund for lower-income earners available until 2016/2017 year).
  • Since 1 July 2012, if your adjusted taxable income is greater than $300,000, then the contributions tax on your concessional contributions, such as salary sacrifice and Superannuation Guarantee contributions, is 15% PLUS an additional tax of 15%, taking the total tax on your concessional contributions to 30% (for more information see SuperGuide article Double contributions tax for high-income earners).

4. Your employer may not agree to salary sacrifice

Salary sacrificing is a voluntary arrangement between an employee and employer. An employer does not have to consent to putting such an arrangement in place for his or her employee. If your employer does not consent to such an arrangement then you will not be able to salary sacrifice. Even when your employer refuses to allow you to salary sacrifice super contributions, your employer is still required to make compulsory Superannuation Guarantee contributions on your behalf.

5. Get your arrangement in writing, and have it signed before the contributions commence

A salary sacrifice arrangement is a contractual arrangement between you and your employer and for your own protection, a written agreement ensures you can confirm the terms of the agreement, if there is any confusion. You can even include the timing of the payment of the super contributions in the agreement. Will it be paid at the same time as you receive your weekly, fortnightly or monthly pay, or does the employer intend to pay the super contributions less regularly than your regular pay? For example, some employers pay compulsory Superannuation Guarantee contributions quarterly, and an employer may decide to delay direction of your voluntary super contributions until the business pays SG contributions. Always check the timing of super contributions.

Note: Historically, if you were subject to an industrial award or workplace agreement, you couldn’t reduce your salary below the minimum wage set in an award or agreement. According to a 2010 Fair Work Australia court case, it is now lawful, via a salary sacrifice arrangement, to reduce your salary below the minimum wage set under an award or agreement. In a 27 January 2011 PwC Australia LegalTalk Alert, PwC reported that Fair Work Australia Vice President Lawler said “a salary sacrifice arrangement entered into consistently with the FW Act will need to have been genuinely assessed as advantageous by the employee and genuinely agreed to. Such an arrangement cannot properly be seen as undermining the safety net because the employee still derives the full benefit of the minimum award rate of pay albeit that it better suits the employee to receive part of the benefit of the minimum award rate of pay in employer payments to a third party on the employee’s behalf.” PwC advise that employers should ensure that any salary sacrifice arrangements are authorised in writing by the relevant employee and genuinely assessed as advantageous and agreed to by the employee. In such circumstances, where an employee is planning to salary sacrifice below the minimum wage, especially if he or she is considering a 100% salary sacrifice, it would probably be wise for both parties to get some advice on the matter.

6. Do you have a pretend salary sacrifice arrangement in place?

For the 2015/2016 year, the law requires an employer to pay the equivalent of 9.5% of an individual’s salary into a super fund under the Superannuation Guarantee (SG) laws. A person’s salary (for the purposes of SG) is generally ordinary hours of work although salary also includes over-award payments, and any shift loading and commissions, but not overtime.

Note that ‘the equivalent of 9.5% of your salary’ can mean different SG amounts depending on how, or if, you negotiate a salary package. Depending on your contract or award, if you earn, say, $80,000 a year, this salary amount may include your SG entitlement or you may receive 9.5% SG in addition to the $80,000 salary. If the $80,000 includes SG entitlement then your cash salary is $73,059 and your SG entitlement is $6,941. If your SG entitlement is in addition to your $80,000 salary amount, then your super fund receives $7,600 in SG contributions, and your total package works out to be $87,600.

A little word like ‘including’ can make a huge difference financially.

Note: For the 2014/2015 year, the SG rate was 9.5% of ordinary times earnings, for the 2013/2014 year, the SG rate was 9.25% of ordinary times earnings, and for the 2012/2013 year and earlier financial years, the SG rate was 9%.

7. Don’t lose your SG entitlements

A relatively unknown loophole in the SG rules enables an employer (if they’re nasty) to cut an individual’s SG entitlements when an employee reduces their taxable salary via a salary sacrificing arrangement. If an employer cuts an individual’s SG entitlements when the employee enters a salary sacrifice arrangement, this in effect cuts the employee’s total salary package, unless the employee has a written contract specifying a total amount.

For example, say, Joan earns $90,000 a year plus SG. Joan can expect to receive $8,550 in SG contributions taking her total entitlements to $98,550. Joan has been chatting to her adviser who suggests that a tax-effective way to accumulate more super is to salary sacrifice. Instead of paying 39% tax (37% plus 2% Medicare levy) on any income that exceeds $80,000 (for the 2015/2016 year), Joan can divert money to her super fund, which means 15% tax is deducted from the before-tax super contributions rather than 37% income tax if she takes the salary as cash. Any taxable income below $80,000 but above $37,000 is taxed at 32.5 cents in the dollar plus Medicare levy (for the 2015/2016 year).

Note: If Joan decides to salary sacrifice $20,000 into her super fund, it is not automatic that her SG entitlement will continue to be based on her original salary amount. She may only receive SG contributions based on the lower cash salary of $70,000. Joan’s employer’s annual SG contributions may well then be $6,650 (9.5% of $70,000) rather than $8,550 (9.5% of $90,000), that is, $1,900 less than the original arrangement. This can mean tens of thousands of dollars less in super over several years.

A better and fairer result would be to retain the original SG entitlements. When the ALP was in opposition in the mid-2000s, they announced that they intended to change the laws so that an employee’s SG entitlement would be based on an individual’s salary before the salary sacrifice arrangement takes effect. Unfortunately, nothing happened while the ALP were in government. The Liberals have been silent on whether they intend to fix this issue, and meanwhile, nothing has happened to protect workers from losing SG when choosing to reduce taxable salary via a salary sacrificing arrangement.

8. Watch your contributions cap

Your salary sacrificed contributions and your employer’s Superannuation Guarantee contributions and any additional employer contributions count towards your concessional (before-tax) contributions cap.

If you’re under the age of 50 (aged 48 years or under on 30 June 2015), you can make concessional contributions worth up to $30,000 (for the 2015/2016 year), and if you were 49 years or older on 30 June 2015, then you can make concessional contributions worth up to $35,000 for the 2015/2016 year, before you have deal with excess contributions issues. Your concessional contributions will be subject to a maximum of 15% tax ( or 30% tax if your adjusted taxable income is more than $300,000), which generally means such a strategy is tax-effective only for employees paying more than 15 cents in the dollar income tax.

Note: See Super Fact No 3 earlier in this article for the super tax refund applicable to those who earn less than $37,000, and for an explanation of the extra tax on higher income earners.

If you do exceed your concessional cap, the excess contributions can also count towards your non-concessional (after-tax) contributions cap, if you choose not to withdraw your excess concessional contributions. Exceeding your concessional cap can mean paying higher tax, although you do have the option to withdraw excess contributions rather than pay penalty tax.

Tip: Check when your salary-sacrificed contributions are to be paid into your super fund because even though you may receive your salary in one financial year, the salary-sacrificed contributions may be paid at a later date, and in a different financial year, potentially causing you excess contributions issues, and potentially extra super tax, or extra income tax.

9. Your salary sacrifice agreement can only relate to future income

Any salary sacrifice arrangement that you agree to can only relate to future salary, not past earnings. You can salary sacrifice performance bonuses if the agreement regarding your salary sacrifice was entered into before you became entitled to your performance bonus.

Warning: Some employers use an external party to arrange salary sacrifice agreements and the external party charges a flat fee for every transaction. The costs can add up very quickly if your employer plans to make small super contributions on a regular basis.

10. Where do I go for more information on salary sacrificing?

The following information or advisory sources may help you:

  • ATO website (ato.gov.au/super).
  • Your super fund. Check out your super fund’s website for information, and the forms required for salary sacrificing. Many super funds now offer a limited advice service (intra-fund advice) on certain topics such as salary sacrificing and changing investment options.
  • Your HR department/employer. If you work for a large employer it is likely they have salary sacrifice arrangements in place for other employees. If you work for a smaller employer, they may or may not have experience with salary sacrificing.
  • Your accountant. If you plan to make substantial salary sacrifice contributions it is worthwhile getting tax advice on the strategy.

You can also check out other articles about salary sacrificing and other concessional contributions on the SuperGuide website. For starters, here’s two helpful articles:


IMPORTANT: SuperGuide does not provide financial advice. SuperGuide does not answer all questions posted in the comments section. SuperGuide may use your question or comment, or use questions from several readers, as the basis for an article topic that we publish on the SuperGuide website. We will not disclose names or personal information in these articles. Comments provided by readers that may include information relating to tax, superannuation or other rules cannot be relied upon as advice. SuperGuide does not verify the information provided within comments from readers. Readers need to seek independent advice about their personal circumstances.

Comments

  1. Hi Trish
    I have just turned 60 and earn a gross salary of $98739. I am in a defined benefit scheme and salary sacrifice $952 per fn or $24773 per annum. My fund tells me this is the max I can sacrifice due to it being a defined benefit fund. I would like to put in more, is what they are telling me correct? Also if I get an annual salary increase of 2.5% am I safe in increasing my contribution by 2.5%? I currently pay $240.83 fortnightly which is 6% and buys me the max of 6 units per year and I pay an additional $712 fortnightly (as advised by the fund) which makes up the $952 per fn.

    Cheers Roy

    • Hi Roy
      I am unable to answer your question because it would be classified as financial advice. I suggest you chat to an accountant who is familiar with your scheme (your colleagues may be able to suggest one).

      If your super fund is unable to accept further contributions due to super rules, it may be possible to contribute to another fund, subject to the $35,000 contributions cap in place for over-50s. Don’t forget that your employers SG contributions are also counted your cap, and it may be the case that you have reached your contributions limit, but I am just making a general observation.

      For more information on the contributions caps see http://www.superguide.com.au/boost-your-superannuation/super-concessional-contributions-survival-guide

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