Should you transfer your Pension Fund to Australia?
Relatively recent superannuation changes in Australia and specifically the fact that pension payments from a complying Australian super fund will generally be tax-free after the age of 60 can make the transfer of foreign pensions into superannuation attractive but has not affected the fundamentals of any analysis.
Significant pension transfers should involve a detailed calculation comparing the merits of transferring the money with retention in the existing fund. This is a complicated analysis which compares the after-tax cash flows, including any lump sum payments, expected from the existing fund with the cash flow paid from an Australian superannuation fund at retirement. The assumptions used in such an analysis, including tax and inflation rates, exit and entry costs, earning rates and longevity are crucial and should be carried out by a qualified Actuary or specialist financial planner.
Ideally, this analysis should be undertaken as soon as possible upon arrival in Australia, or in fact, pre-date your arrival. The reason is simply that under Australian tax law you have 6 months to transfer your super funds to avoid taxation of any transfer if your current fund qualifies as a "foreign superannuation fund" (FSF) for tax purposes - as is the case with UK pension transfers. If you don’t transfer your pension within this period you will be required to pay tax on the incremental growth since you became resident. The physical transfer of pensions can prove complicated, so the earlier this process starts the better so as to meet any deadline. Currently, after-tax contributions put into your Australian super fund ("non-concessional contributions) are subject to a limit of $100,000 per financial year or $300,000 averaged over three years (for under 65s).
In assessing the desirability of a transfer you also need to consider a number of other benefits to transferring funds to Australia, including:
- More flexibility in Australia in the format of how benefits are accessed (eg. lump sum and income stream)
- Elimination of long-term currency risk by having your liabilities and assets in the same currency
- Greater local control and investment choice
- Greater flexibility in arranging death benefits to a spouse
What is the impact if you choose to leave a pension overseas rather than transfer it to Australia? In normal circumstances, it means that the pension will be fully assessable in Australia and subject to normal levels of income tax. While the lack of taxation in Australia under the new regimes has a significant impact on any comparative analysis, there may be situations where there is a benefit to leaving the pension fund in place - particularly with defined benefit or final salary schemes. For example, the pension may be generously inflation adjusted; you may wish to maintain some sort of income in that currency or the cash value of the pension calculated by the Fund is considered inadequate. Additionally, in some cases, and this includes a number of American 401(k) plans, the taxation levied on early exit may be too high and the cash balances too small to justify a transfer.