Six things you didn't know about the capital gains tax

Six things you didn't know about the capital gains tax

Since its introduction in 1985, the capital gains tax (CGT) has been a constant thorn in the side of anyone taking out a home loan for an investment property. Suddenly, the profit you made from selling your home wasn’t untouchable – a part of it had to be handed over to the tax man. 

Despite its high-profile status, many Australians don’t know all that much about the CGT. Given that its 20th anniversary is coming up this year, we thought we’d outline some of the most important, useful and interesting things you should know about it. Who knows – they might inspire a few property investment strategies. 

1. It doesn’t just apply to property

Because the CGT is so often discussed in relation to property, there’s a misconception that it’s purely to do with selling a home. In fact, CGT applies to any asset that you’ve sold for a higher price than you bought it for. This list includes everything from shares, land and units in a managed fund, to intangible things like business goodwill and contractual rights. 

2. It’s not a separate tax

Because it’s so often referred to by its own particular name and rules, you might have gotten the impression that the CGT is its own tax. In fact, it’s simply a part of the regular income tax. This is because any of the profit you make from investing is treated as part of your income, making it easier to simply pay it through your annual income tax return. 

3. You can reduce your CGT through capital loss

Not every investment is going to be profitable. Whether it’s a house, stock or another type of asset, you could end up selling it for less than what you initially paid for it, leaving you needing to dip into your savings account. According to the latest CoreLogic RP Data Pain and Gain report, 8.6 per cent of all home sales in December 2014 recorded a loss. While you cannot claim a capital loss against your income, you can deduct it from any capital gains in the same year or, even carry it forward to subsequent ones. 

4. Your family home doesn’t count

Anyone who’s worried they’ll end up paying a big slice of the re-sale profit from their family home can take this opportunity to breath a hearty sigh of relief. Your ‘main residence’ – or home – is exempt from the CGT. However, there are strict rules around this –  if you’ve only lived in it for part of the time, you might only get a partial exemption, for example. You also mustn’t have run a business out of it, among other requirements. 

5. Neither do a lot of other assets

In fact, quite a few different items aren’t counted under the CGT. Have you ever used a credit card to buy art, jewellery, stamps and antiques and other collectables for your own or others’ enjoyment? If they’re under a certain value, those are exempt. The same goes for your car, and any asset you acquired before September 20 1985 – including a property. 

6. You can get a discount

Whether you’re a regular Aussie worker or a small business owner, it’s possible to get a discount on the amount of CGT you pay. Generally, if you’ve held the asset you’re selling for more than a year, you need only pay 50 per cent of the CGT you would normally pay. Small businesses have a number of extra concessions that can be useful. Take the 15-year exemption for example – if you’re 55 years or older, are retiring and selling a business asset you’ve owned for 15 years, you’ll pay no CGT on the profit. 

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Learn more about home loans

What are the pros and cons of no-deposit home loans?

It’s no longer possible to get a no-deposit home loan in Australia. In some circumstances, you might be able to take out a mortgage with a 5 per cent deposit – but before you do so, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons.

The big advantage of borrowing 95 per cent (also known as a 95 per cent home loan) is that you get to buy your property sooner. That may be particularly important if you plan to purchase in a rising market, where prices are increasing faster than you can accumulate savings.

But 95 per cent home loans also have disadvantages. First, the 95 per cent home loan market is relatively small, so you’ll have fewer options to choose from. Second, you’ll probably have to pay LMI (lender’s mortgage insurance). Third, you’ll probably be charged a higher interest rate. Fourth, the more you borrow, the more you’ll ultimately have to pay in interest. Fifth, if your property declines in value, your mortgage might end up being worth more than your home.

What is an investment loan?

An investment loan is a home loan that is taken out to purchase a property purely for investment purposes. This means that the purchaser will not be living in the property but will instead rent it out or simply retain it for purposes of capital growth.

How much money can I borrow for a home loan?

Tip: You can use RateCity how much can I borrow calculator to get a quick answer.

How much money you can borrow for a home loan will depend on a number of factors including your employment status, your income (and your partner’s income if you are taking out a joint loan), the size of your deposit, your living expenses and any other debt you might hold, including credit cards. 

A good place to start is to work out how much you can afford to make in monthly repayments, factoring in a buffer of at least 2 – 3 per cent to allow for interest rate rises along the way. You’ll also need to factor in additional costs that come with purchasing a property such as stamp duty, legal fees, building inspections, strata or council fees.

If you are planning on renting the property, you can factor in the expected rental income to help offset the mortgage, but again it’s prudent to add a significant buffer to allow for rental management fees, maintenance costs and short periods of no rental income when tenants move out. It’s also wise to factor in changes in personal circumstances – the typical home loan lasts for around 30 years and a lot can happen between now and then.

What is equity? How can I use equity in my home loan?

Equity refers to the difference between what your property is worth and how much you owe on it. Essentially, it is the amount you have repaid on your home loan to date, although if your property has gone up in value it can sometimes be a lot more.

You can use the equity in your home loan to finance renovations on your existing property or as a deposit on an investment property. It can also be accessed for other investment opportunities or smaller purchases, such as a car or holiday, using a redraw facility.

Once you are over 65 you can even use the equity in your home loan as a source of income by taking out a reverse mortgage. This will let you access the equity in your loan in the form of regular payments which will be paid back to the bank following your death by selling your property. But like all financial products, it’s best to seek professional advice before you sign on the dotted line.

How can I get a home loan with bad credit?

If you want to get a home loan with bad credit, you need to convince a lender that your problems are behind you and that you will, indeed, be able to repay a mortgage.

One step you might want to take is to visit a mortgage broker who specialises in bad credit home loans (also known as ‘non-conforming home loans’ or ‘sub-prime home loans’). An experienced broker will know which lenders to approach, and how to plead your case with each of them.

Two points to bear in mind are:

  • Many home loan lenders don’t provide bad credit mortgages
  • Each lender has its own policies, and therefore favours different things

If you’d prefer to directly approach the lender yourself, you’re more likely to find success with smaller non-bank lenders that specialise in bad credit home loans (as opposed to bigger banks that prefer ‘vanilla’ mortgages). That’s because these smaller lenders are more likely to treat you as a unique individual rather than judge you according to a one-size-fits-all policy.

Lenders try to minimise their risk, so if you want to get a home loan with bad credit, you need to do everything you can to convince lenders that you’re safer than your credit history might suggest. If possible, provide paperwork that shows:

  • You have a secure job
  • You have a steady income
  • You’ve been reducing your debts
  • You’ve been increasing your savings

What if I can't pay off my guaranteed home loan?

If you can’t pay off your guaranteed home loan, your lender might chase your guarantor for the money.

A guaranteed home loan is a legally binding agreement in which the guarantor assumes overall responsibility for the mortgage. So if the borrower falls behind on their mortgage, the lender might insist that the guarantor cover the repayments. If the guarantor fails to do so, the lender might seize the guarantor’s security (which is often the family home) so it can recoup its money.

How much can I borrow with a guaranteed home loan?

Some lenders will allow you to borrow 100 per cent of the value of the property with a guaranteed home loan. For that to happen, the lender would have to feel confident in your ability to pay off the mortgage and in the security provided by your guarantor.

Who offers 40 year mortgages?

Home loans spanning 40 years are offered by select lenders, though the loan period is much longer than a standard 30-year home loan. You're more likely to find a maximum of 35 years, such as is the case with Teacher’s Mutual Bank

Currently, 40 year home loan lenders in Australia include AlphaBeta Money, BCU, G&C Mutual Bank, Pepper, and Sydney Mutual Bank.

Even though these lengthier loans 35 to 40 year loans do exist on the market, they are not overwhelmingly popular, as the extra interest you pay compared to a 30-year loan can be over $100,000 or more.

Are bad credit home loans dangerous?

Bad credit home loans can be dangerous if the borrower signs up for a loan they’ll struggle to repay. This might occur if the borrower takes out a mortgage at the limit of their financial capacity, especially if they have some combination of a low income, an insecure job and poor savings habits.

Bad credit home loans can also be dangerous if the borrower buys a home in a stagnant or falling market – because if the home has to be sold, they might be left with ‘negative equity’ (where the home is worth less than the mortgage).

That said, bad credit home loans can work out well if the borrower is able to repay the mortgage – for example, if they borrow conservatively, have a decent income, a secure job and good savings habits. Another good sign is if the borrower buys a property in a market that is likely to rise over the long term.

How can I pay off my home loan faster?

The quickest way to pay off your home loan is to make regular extra contributions in addition to your monthly repayments to pay down the principal as fast as possible. This in turn reduces the amount of interest paid overall and shortens the length of the loan.

Another option may be to increase the frequency of your payments to fortnightly or weekly, rather than monthly, which may then reduce the amount of interest you are charged, depending on how your lender calculates repayments.

Does Australia have no cost refinancing?

No Cost Refinancing is an option available in the US where the lender or broker covers your switching costs, such as appraisal fees and settlement costs. Unfortunately, no cost refinancing isn’t available in Australia.

Can I change jobs while I am applying for a home loan?

Whether you’re a new borrower or you’re refinancing your home loan, many lenders require you to be in a permanent job with the same employer for at least 6 months before applying for a home loan. Different lenders have different requirements. 

If your work situation changes for any reason while you’re applying for a mortgage, this could reduce your chances of successfully completing the process. Contacting the lender as soon as you know your employment situation is changing may allow you to work something out. 

Can I get a home loan if I am on an employment contract?

Some lenders will allow you to apply for a mortgage if you are a contractor or freelancer. However, many lenders prefer you to be in a permanent, ongoing role, because a more stable income means you’re more likely to keep up with your repayments.

If you’re a contractor, freelancer, or are otherwise self-employed, it may still be possible to apply for a low-doc home loan, as these mortgages require less specific proof of income.

Will I have to pay lenders' mortgage insurance twice if I refinance?

If your deposit was less than 20 per cent of your property’s value when you took out your original loan, you may have paid lenders’ mortgage insurance (LMI) to cover the lender against the risk that you may default on your repayments. 

If you refinance to a new home loan, but still don’t have enough deposit and/or equity to provide 20 per cent security, you’ll need to pay for the lender’s LMI a second time. This could potentially add thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in upfront costs to your mortgage, so it’s important to consider whether the financial benefits of refinancing may be worth these costs.