Money

Do your homework before joining the SMSF army

More working age Australians are opting to put their compulsory retirement savings into a self-managed super fund.

The average age of self-managed superannuation fund trustees fell to under 50 years for the first time in 2015 as more working-age Australians opted to pull their compulsory retirement savings out of the industry fund their employer nominated and start their own. 

According to the latest available data from the Australian Taxation Office, self-managed super fund owners now control about 30 per cent of the more than $2 trillion superannuation sector. 

Working-age women are increasingly opting for self-managed superannuation funds.
Working-age women are increasingly opting for self-managed superannuation funds. Photo: Supplied

In the five years to June 30, 2014, the average assets of SMSFs grew by 23 per cent to more than $1 million for the first time, while average assets per member hit an all-time high of $564,000. 

SMSF Association chief executive Andrea Slattery welcomes the trend for more people, particularly women, to start their own DIY fund at a younger age, as seen in the charts.

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"What these numbers show is that people are taking the opportunity to set up an SMSF during the years they are still earning and becoming more engaged in building their wealth," Slattery says. 

"It's a trend that should be encouraged, as people are setting out earlier in their working lives to ensure they are self-sufficient in retirement, which is the prime goal of our compulsory superannuation system."

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Working-age women are increasingly represented among SMSF trustees, a cohort traditionally dominated by men in retirement. 

Women now represent 66 per cent of SMSF owners aged between 35 and 64. Many of these women have a joint SMSF with their male partner, but a growing number are going it alone. 

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Most financial planners see the increasing popularity of SMSFs, among men and women, as a positive sign, but some caution people against falling into the trap of establishing an SMSF as a status symbol. 

"The biggest consideration people need to make when deciding whether an SMSF is the right vehicle for them is whether they are confident they understand how their money will be invested," Dartnall Advisers principal Eleanor Dartnall​ says. 

"Running an SMSF is not a game, it is your retirement, so it is really important to ensure your financial literacy is up to scratch before opening one". 

People who do not feel confident in their investment knowledge should seek advice and education, before withdrawing their super from an Australian Prudential Regulation Authority-regulated super fund to start an SMSF, she says. 

"Good financial advice is important, but it is not enough to trust your adviser. You need to take responsibility for understanding how your own SMSF is run."  

Scale also matters. "Due to the costs involved with establishing and running an SMSF, it is usually a more effective strategy for individuals with a balance over $200,000," Dartnall says. 

Clancy Yeates is on leave.