DO YOU NEED A FINANCIAL PLANNER?

Some of us were lucky enough to be raised by people who knew how to save, budget and plan for the future, but statistics show that many of us missed those lessons, to our financial detriment. The most recent figures show that home ownership in Australia has dropped from 85% of the working population to around 62%, and our young people don’t consider saving as important as past generations.

Now is the time to look at our personal financial situation to see if we could do more to build wealth. For those running businesses it is absolutely essential, in these difficult times, to be open to all possibilities, and one of those is to consider whether to engage a financial planner to assist.

Like most things, there are pros and cons to be considered before making this decision. The role of a financial planner is to help you set and achieve personal goals. This is quite different from the role of your accountant, which is to help you manage your personal and business tax affairs.

Pros to having a financial planner are that they use a structured process to encourage their clients to take setting personal goals seriously. While we might say that we could do this, ourselves, very few of us actually do. A financial planner does this in a way that is discussed and documented. Once goals are established, a financial planner then creates an investment plan to help clients realise these goals.

How good are most of us at investing their money? We are not very good, according to the statistics. A financial planner has current knowledge and understanding of financial markets and assists clients with their investments. For clients who already have an investment portfolio, the financial planner reviews and optimises its performance. They also provide budgeting and debt consolidation advice.

Naturally, all this professional expertise comes at a cost, so this is one of the major cons to be considered. The other concern is that financial planners identify and recommend financial products, opening the possibility of a conflict of interest between the needs of the client and financial rewards for the planner.

For those who are trustees of their own SMSFs (self-managed superannuation fund), having the services of a financial planner is essential. An SMSF is a financial planner product. In Australia, only a licensed person can offer advice about the different financial products on offer, and there are consequences if the financial planner does not act in the best interests of clients.

SMSF trustees also use the services of companies such as SMSF Assure to perform the administration, year-end and regulatory work required by the ATO (Australian Taxation Office). This allows them to spend more time working with their financial planners in order to build the wealth needed to provide retirement incomes for their members.

HAS THE END OF THE FINANCIAL YEAR CAUGHT YOU OUT?

The end of the financial year is almost here, so business operators should already have their tax planning strategy for this year established. If not, there is still time to review the situation and have some short-term processes in place in order to meet the 30 June transaction deadline. The following information should assist for those business owners who do not have the guidance of a bookkeeper or accountant.

Where possible, pre-pay some of next financial year’s expenses in this financial year. Typical expenses that could be paid now are rent, insurance, professional subscriptions and others. At the same time, review customer invoices already in your system to identify those you could postpone until July. The object is to increase expenses and reduce income in this current year by deferring both until next year. Just make sure your cash flow can accommodate these transactions.

This year, the ATO (Australian Taxation Office) is allowing instant tax write-offs of $150,000 for both new and used assets, so you can immediately deduct the business assets purchased from the assessable tax. Check the ATO website for eligibility criteria.

Every business has debtors it is hoped will settle their outstanding invoices, but now is the time to be realistic and review them objectively. If they are unrecoverable, you can write off these debtors in the current financial year, regardless of the year in which they were incurred.

Superannuation is another area where you need to be up to speed with tax planning. If you are a sole trader or a micro business, you may be paying into a retail superannuation fund. If you haven’t already done so, top up your voluntary superannuation contributions before 30 June, up to a limit of $25,000. However, if you have an SMSF (self-managed superannuation fund), there are specific things you need to be doing before the financial year end.

Remember that an SMSF exists solely for the purpose of providing retirement benefits for its members or their dependents. SMSFs are regulated by the ATO and there are severe penalties for non-compliance with items such as reporting, timelines for lodging documents and other statutory requirements.

For this reason, tax planning for an SMSF could differ from the typical end of financial year transactions that a business can legally perform. For business owners who, especially at this time of the year, are knee-deep in running their businesses, the last thing on their minds is likely to be the extra work involved in managing their SMSF.

Many business owners have found the best of both worlds by engaging companies similar to SMSF Assure to help them manage their administration responsibilities, make smart decisions and avoid costly mistakes. In this way, they are able to still be involved in building the investment portfolios that will ensure a comfortable retirement for the members, without the time-consuming and administration work involved.

For those of you who have left your tax planning until the last minute, deal with today’s issues and start planning for the next financial year. It will come around soon enough.

WHY CAPITAL GROWTH IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF AN INVESTMENT STRATEGY

Residential real estate in Australian capital cities and large regional centres has been an attractive and relatively secure option for investors for many years. Steady and continuous economic growth for 29 consecutive years was reversed only by the pandemic. Tax incentives such as negative gearing opened up investment in real estate to people who might not otherwise get the opportunity.

There are two factors that need considering when investing in real estate. The first is the rental income that can be gained from sound property management and good tenants. The second is capital growth which occurs as the value of the property increases over time. Choosing one over the other is not a simple decision and often depends on individual circumstances.

Regular rental income is important to investors who are relying on the net income to assist with the mortgage repayments on their investment property. Any shortfall would usually be made up by the owners out of their own funds, so the longer the property remained without a paying tenant, the more difficult their financial position could become unless they had considerable alternative resources.

Capital growth is a long-term proposition as it is something that occurs largely due to market forces. Economic conditions, fluctuations in supply and demand, an increase or decrease in the population of a certain area and other demographic shifts are events which are out of the control of the investor. The only thing they can control is the condition of the investment property. Regular maintenance, improvements and renovations keep it in good condition, allowing it to increase in value.

Prudent investors enter the property market on the understanding that they are embarking on a long-term strategy. Historical data shows that the capital growth to be had by holding a property for as long a time frame as possible will far outweigh the value of the rental income over a corresponding period of time. However, for some investors, an immediate injection of rental income may be part of their own, albeit short-term, strategy.

Property investment is a popular wealth-creating strategy, not only among the general population but also for the trustees of SMSFs (self-managed superannuation funds). While they are also looking for rental returns, their focus is long-term as they build sound foundations on behalf of their fund members.

Fund trustees also carry the responsibility of the reporting requirements necessary to keep their funds compliant with ATO (Australian Taxation Office) requirements. This is in addition to managing the fund investment portfolio. However, many fund trustees are now turning to companies like SMSF Assure that specialise in managing the administration tasks on behalf of their clients, allowing the trustees to keep their focus on fund investments.

WHAT IS A FAIR PRICE FOR ACCOUNTING FEES?

Most large businesses and corporations have the financial means to employ qualified accountants as permanent staff members, but this is out of the financial reach of small businesses. For them, having a competent bookkeeper, either full or part time depending on the size of their business, is sufficient for most of the year. At tax time, or if they need more than basic financial advice, they meet with their external accountant.

Fees for these consultations can sometimes be difficult to quote upfront, especially if the work is more than a basic tax return. As the accountant begins the work it may become far more complex than was first thought, and if the business owner has agreed on an hourly rate, a couple of hours work can quickly increase from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.

Some accounting firms offer fixed price agreements, which provide their clients with some certainty regarding the fees, but this is usually a private arrangement that is not universally available. For the business owner, finding out if the fees they are being charged are fair and comparable to others doing the same work can be difficult.

There are several regulatory and professional bodies that can assist. Before choosing an accountant, regardless of fee arrangements, business owners should check credentials. Ensure the accountant is a member of a professional body such as Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, Institute of Public Accountants or Certified Practising Accountants Australia.

Members must have an accredited tertiary qualification and comply with a set of professional standards. If a client feels their accountant has not complied with these standards, they can make a complaint to the relevant professional body. Business owners should also be aware that only registered tax agents can prepare and lodge tax returns. Accountants who are doing this work must also be registered with the Tax Practitioners Board.

As with most decisions, a good place to start is by seeking recommendations from other business owners, including asking them about the fees they are paying. In Australia, the accountancy profession is not regulated so there are no scheduled fees. The marketplace is the final arbitrator of accounting fees, which ensures they stay competitive.

This is also the case for companies offering their services to assist SMSF (self-managed superannuation fund) trustees to keep their funds compliant with regulatory requirements. Companies such as SMSF Assure provide administrators who understand the complexities of SMSF legislation and work with their clients to ensure that all documentation is in place and all lodging and other requirements are met.

A REGULAR, STRUCTURED ROUTINE KEEPS EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE

The management of every business, whether it is a multi-national entity, an SME (small to medium enterprise), a micro-business or a sole trader, it must have up-to-date and accurate data about every aspect of their trading operations. In these volatile times, the health of a business can be compromised overnight, so managers must have access to relevant information so they can make operational corrections quickly.

In this mix is the financial data which is always critical to the health of any business. Mistakes and omissions in entering the data into the business systems will appear in the various management reports used to make decisions. One of the most important duties of a bookkeeper is to ensure this does not happen and good bookkeepers usually have a few regular habits to keep them focused.

Making it a habit to regularly check the status of the accounting software being used, then performing updates and backups will be an important task for most bookkeepers in small companies. Larger entities will most likely have in-house computer experts to keep the software up to date, but for the others, including contract bookkeepers, the habit of setting reminders for this important task is on top of the list.

Next, is the important habit of entering all daily transactions on the day they occur, or if that is not possible, within the week they occur. Sometimes it may seem more efficient to leave customer receipts, invoices and other source documents until there is a sufficient mass to occupy an afternoon putting them into the software. This is a dangerous practice, because if management requests a report unexpectedly, none of these transactions will be there.

Also, a recurring nightmare for accountants with small business clients who do not have a regular bookkeeper is to be handed a large box full of transaction documents and be asked to prepare a yearly tax return. Leaving all the data entry until this point in the financial year not only creates a huge workload but also, the owner has missed out on the benefit of reporting information that informs key decisions.

The third important habit is to keep the filing up to date. Some micro-businesses may still use a paper-based system, but the most efficient way to keep everything readily accessible is to upload the documents into the filing systems built into the software. This still requires setting up a system of folders for each financial year, appropriately named to suit the business.

It is also important to remember that there are certain documents that the ATO (Australian Taxation Office) requires businesses to keep for sometimes up to seven years, so this habit is essential to providing the correct documents in the event of a tax audit. Also remember that any filing system is useless if documents cannot be retrieved when they are needed.

Consistency is the thread that runs through this discussion about good habits. It is also something that business owners managing their own SMSFs (self-managed superannuation funds) struggle with. Administering an SMSF is time consuming, with many reporting deadlines and other statutory requirements set down by the ATO. Many business owners are now using companies such as SMSF Assure who are specialists in the administration of SMSFs, so they can concentrate on managing their businesses.